A change in our education system

Friday, 7 September 2018 opinion

Unemployment is a problem experienced in many countries, especially in developing countries. Sri Lanka is also experiencing a similar problem. According to the available statistics, 4.2% of the total population is unemployed. However, 24.5% of women between the age group of 15 and 24, and 18.2% of the males in the same criteria are unemployed (World Education News Reviews, 2017).

Based on this data, it is plausible to argue that youth unemployment is an acute problem, which can lead to social, economic, and political consequences. This problem can’t be seen as a problem of unemployed people alone.

This affects individuals, their families, society, and the nation at large. Unemployment leads to many psychological and social problems. It affects their morale, self-confidence, motivation, social status, career opportunities, increases the risk of depression and can promote unacceptable social and family behavior (e.g. gang robbery, domestic violence). The summation of these problems can therefore impact the political stability of the nation.
A root cause for unemployment is a mismatch between knowledge and skills possessed by the unemployed youths, and requirements of the labour market. By reducing or closing the gap, we can transform our unemployed youth into employable youth. 
One way of achieving this transformation is through changes in our current education system. Honourable Minister Dr. Amunugama declared that there has to be a change in our present education system, in order for youth to secure sustainable employment.

The change he proposed is Technical and Vocational Education. Further, he added the change also be a solution to the current graduate unemployment problem and alleviate pressure on those who are unsuccessful in obtaining university admission. (Sunday Times, 26th August 2018). 
In Sri Lanka university admission is very competitive, and students have a very limited opportunities for higher education.

According to the 2012 census, only 4% of the populated age 25 years hold a degree level qualification. In the 2014/15 Advanced Level Examination, of the 149,489 students who were eligible for university admission, only 17% were admitted to state universities. 120,000 students who qualify for higher education abandon their ambitions (Dr. Saman Kelegama, Daily Mirror, 27th Feb 2017). This statistics clearly suggest that not all eligible students are given the opportunity for higher education. An alternative pathway must be given to all eligible candidates. 

Introducing a change in our education system requires meticulous planning. The right vocational courses, can not only create employment opportunities, but promote self-employment and encourage young entrepreneurship. Organisations should actively participate in providing the right training to unemployed youths, and provide internship, casual and permanent employment opportunities. 

Unfortunately, some parents and youths have a negative attitude towards vocational education. They believe vocational education trains people for a blue collar job, and is not considered a ‘higher education’ program. This attitude is a barrier to motivate youths to actively participate in these courses. This stigma can be overcome by providing the right information to parents and youth, and sharing success stories from youth that demonstrate the benefits of vocational education programs.

It is also important to note the success of vocational education programs in other countries. For example, in Germany, the vocational education and training system, also known as the Dual Training System, offers an excellent approach to skills development.

The main characteristic of this system is a strategic partnership between small and medium companies and publicly funded vocational schools, that promotes a skills based, practical approach to learning. Trainees spend part of each week at a vocational school and the other part working in a company (Federal Ministry of Education and Research). Students who complete vocational studies can later enroll in university to obtain degrees. 

Research undertaken between 2005-2009 across 21 European countries, including Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom revealed that vocational program provide both economic benefits and social benefits, which may vary between countries.

The economic benefits include lower unemployment, reduction of skills mismatch, increased productivity and positively impacts productivity, innovation, and organisational culture. (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 2011).

The social benefits include prevention of unhealthy behavior such as smoking and drug addiction, reduction in criminal activities, and non-material benefits such as social peace, democracy, and tolerance. Vocational education also has a positive effect on the psychological state of disabled people, proving that disability is not the main obstacle to employment (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 2011).

Introducing changes in our current education system, by introduction Vocational Education Programs will help address the unemployment problem, by providing a pathway for skills development and career advancement, and therefore help build a bright future for our youth. Effective planning, adequate human and physical resources, modern technology and commitment from stakeholders all play a significant role in ensuring the success of this change.

Dr. Jeyaraman Devarajan
Former Senior Lecturer in Management
University of Jaffna.


A change in our education system