Promoting professionalism and continuity | Daily News

Promoting professionalism and continuity

Office workers
Office workers

I move today from suggestions for Constitutional reform to examples of how the sheer lack of professionalism of successive Governments has brought this country low. A recent pronouncement of the President’s Media Division (PMD) that he ‘instructed officials to implement languages and vocational training programmes targeting foreign job vacancies’ exemplifies the dysfunctionality we suffer from.

This is an excellent idea, but successive Ministers, he and his predecessor appointed have not bothered about this at all. The ADB which has funded such training has reported endlessly on the need to provide soft skills to ensure greater and more lucrative employability, including abroad, but except for Mahinda Samarasinghe no Minister bothered about this.

Indeed the last few Ministers deliberately destroyed the Career Skills courses that had been introduced earlier, and the short English courses that attracted hundreds of post Ordinary Level students were banned.

I was reminded of this when I attended last week a celebration by Aide et Action, the international organisation for educational aid, of alumni from its ILead Programme which has been conducted in Sri Lanka over the last decade and a half. I had been deeply impressed by this when I saw its products in Jaipur where it was initiated by the visionary Aishwarya Mahajan, way back in 2009. The confidence of those trained through the programme, in particular the girls, led me to use them for the training I started in the North through my decentralized budget, extending this later to the Ratnapura District too.

The philosophy of ILead is to build up youngsters who can not only work well but can also engage in management and even entrepreneurship, so they could contribute to productive employment in their own localities. What the ILead programme has achieved in this respect was highlighted at the ceremony last week at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI), when a range of students acknowledged handsomely what it had done for them, and many showed that they had been able to set up their own businesses. Registering how pleased they were to offer employment to others, and also what they were doing to guide those younger than themselves in need of support, was a feature much admired by those who attended, including the French ambassador, the local Rotary Governor and the Principal of the Technical Training College in Trincomalee.

This last had participated actively in the Soft Skills Trainer Training programme conducted by the South Asian Director of Aide et Action, at the time when Mahinda Samarasinghe moved on the adjustments all reports had advocated. The TVEC advertised for Consultants and the cheapest turned out to be the best, including AeA for career skills. And the English course with the production of textbooks cost an iota of what the British Council had charged. They indeed had charged twice for the same course, but when I upbraided my friends at the Council they said that they had told the official in charge that the course had been conducted already. But the Ministry was anxious to spend the aid funds and pushed the Council to run the course again, with even smaller participation. This seemed to have been a joke, unlike the joint training run with AeA participation, and support also for the English Trainers from Australian volunteers, catering to dozens of trainers at Technical Colleges and Vocational Training Centres all over the country.

But no one had bothered to tell the President about this, and in fairness to the incompetent Ministers of the last five years, I would presume officials did not tell them about what had happened previously. That is why, in the articles I wrote on Constitutional reform I also referred to the need for administrative reform and suggested the need for ‘handover consultations when senior personnel are changed, including Ministers.’

But of course, such consultations, and the development and implementation of productive policies require able personnel, and these I fear have been lacking. That is why I suggested that appointments to positions of authority should be accompanied by reasons for such appointments, and should be decided on by independent bodies, not left to ministers who often appoint for grace and favour reasons.

The President is reported to have declared that ‘there is a wide demand for the nursing profession in many countries, including Europe. The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment estimates that there are more than 350,000 job vacancies in caregiving for the elderly and catering industry in Japan alone.’ He is quite right, but does he believe that those he put in charge of training did not know this? For this has been obvious for years, and those individuals should have studied what was done under Mahinda Samarasinghe to develop curricula in health care and in catering, both of which the State system had ignored. Indeed when the World University Service of Canada offered to equip a kitchen at a Technical College, they were told there was no interest in the subject there.

To develop such courses the TVEC engaged in close cooperation with the Hotel School which is the lead agency for professionally acceptable curricula in the field. They were helpful and precise, unlike the totally unprofessional productions of a cabal which wanted NVQ Level 4 awarded for just 63 hours of training in one subject, 144 in another. They did add the Level 2 English and Career Skills course that had been developed by the TVEC, which in itself took three months, so what they were playing at is incomprehensible. And now one wonders whether, in responding helter-skelter to the President’s pronouncements, sycophants keen to please will produce yet more substandard curricula.

The AeA courses were systematically conducted over three month periods, with most of the centres based in schools so as to encourage the next generation too to take up such training. The youngsters who spoke referred to this, and also to the guidance their teachers provided, support that they had not received in their schools. AeA promotes counselling, whereas in the education system counselling is not done properly, and the efforts to promote it when Diyanath Samarasinghe served on the General Education Sub-Committee of the National Education Commission bit the dust with a change of personnel.

AeA then filled a great gap, in the poorest areas in the North, and for poor communities in Ratnapura as was testified by the daughter of an estate worker who almost broke down in expressing her thanks to the programme and her teachers. The ceremony also included a video that showed how these youngsters have moved on to be change agents in their areas.

That is the sort of programme the President should ensure, if he is to fulfil the aims he outlined. But officials and Ministers with no regard for professionalism or interest in best practices are not likely to get us anywhere.

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