Interview : Lakshman Dissanayake
To what extent can technology complement teaching capabilities and enhance access to education?
LAKSHMAN DISSANAYAKE: The increasing use of technology to improve educational access and methods is key to the growth of all areas of higher education worldwide, and Sri Lanka is no exception. There is a trend within the education sector to innovate through technology. There are government initiatives to introduce technology to schools by providing ICT facilities, which can enable the required technological environment for teaching innovation. At the University of Colombo we have already introduced learning management systems (LMSs) as a teaching innovation tool to improve the quality of learning and the quality of teaching. Implementing LMSs at a university or another learning environment is beneficial to students as they are invaluable learning tools in the classroom. LMSs also benefit educators and other staff through administrative tools that can streamline the management of the institution.
This kind of technology can increase motivation, active participation, collaboration, creativity, responsibility and self-esteem, while also improving knowledge and skills. Similarly, the benefits to lecturers include improving effective teaching, easier assessments, record keeping, reduced paper waste, and easier communication between staff and students. There is little doubt that technology can make a measurable positive impact on an institutions’ quality of teaching and learning.
How can policymakers ensure that new graduates meet the needs of the modern economy?
DISSANAYAKE: If we accept the fact the employment is generated by the private sector, providing necessary knowledge and skills becomes a critical asset for graduates. However, so-called soft skills, or socio-economic skills, cannot be added to someone’s skill set overnight. Building basic skills has to occur throughout school, before higher education. Strengthening career guidance centres is imperative, because high-quality career guidance helps inform educational and career choices that are in line with available, and anticipated, labour-market prospects. Therefore, policymakers should provide the necessary directives and funding to higher educational institutes in order to prepare career guidance staff and counsellors to understand labour market information and job demands.
These policy directives can include promoting dialogue between university and industry representatives to engage in continuous dialogue for undergraduate skills development. This is crucial to the development of qualifications and curricula relevant to the labour market, and in expanding internship and apprenticeship schemes for undergraduates. It is important to introduce a diversified approach to education, recognising that both medium- and higher-lever skills are required in the labour market and for economic growth.
Has progress been made on the aim of enrolling 50,000 university students annually by 2020?
DISSANAYAKE: With the limited resources available, it will be difficult for universities to increase intake unless they introduce new faculties, which is dependent on the demand and needs of the economy. If the government can devise an appropriate mechanism to monitor the quality of the programmes through the already established University Grants Commission’s Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council, it could be possible for the country to accommodate another 20,000 to its university system without much difficulty.
However, introducing fee-levying undergraduate programmes is a politically sensitive issue, as the country highly values its free university education system. Therefore, introducing private university education would definitely negatively provoke students and some academics in the state system. It is essential for the government to ensure the quality of private education and safeguard the free education system, with the provision of increased funding to improve facilities.
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