Molding Sri Lanka’s graduates into Leaders & Suggestion for National Service
Posted on May 27th, 2011

Shenali Waduge

As customary there is much hue & cry over the grand initiative to provide a phased out 3-week leadership training for 22,000 undergraduates with food, lodging (separate for males & females) & attire that will include 171 periods of learning. So when a Government in a country that has been enslaved by numerous aid packages given often with agreement to structurally adjust state services continues to provide free education upto tertiary level & is presently allocating Rs.200million for an exercise that would really change the mindset of university entrants for the better through a series of well-planned & designed programs why would anyone choose to complain & on what grounds? In reality all Sri Lankans should show gratitude to the State & a program of National Service as done in many parts of the world would be perfect & timely.

The Government spends 2.8% of GDP on education which covers free school uniforms, free breakfast for students in underprivileged schools, free textbooks from grade 1 to grade 11. Yet youth unemployment is high & poses a major problem. Less than 6% gain admission to one of 15 universities in Sri Lanka. Graduates are unemployed because there is little demand for the degrees they have completed. They need to then have a set of skills that would help them absorb themselves in to industries & sectors that they could find employment in & with time be able to qualify further as well. Even though the degrees may not match market requirements, undergraduates need to at least learn the soft skills needed to eventually fit into the corporate world.

Despite a literacy of 92.3% the majority amongst us find emerging leaders & adults of the future lacking what is essential for the corporate world. That responsibility must first fall upon all successive Governments & their lackluster education policies, academics who have not been initiative enough to project a force upon policy makers to enforce the need to change curricular to suit the changing needs of the world, students themselves for not realizing the real status of affairs & attempting themselves to come out of the tendency to fall into the vacuum that politically motivated students devise for them.

Politically motivated student unions would like students to be failures for it would mean a strength to their numbers & their demands. Frustrated unemployed graduates would help to inflate their political will amongst the masses & against a government that is the major reason why the present students unions are opposing the leadership training. The seniors of these student unions most of whom have been consistently failing their exams yet hold these portfolios on the strength of their ability to push their weight amongst the freshers & with the backing they receive from political parties. Moreover, given the mental torture most university entrants are subject to no sooner they enter university straight from the innocence of their homes, the 3 weeks of training would be a welcome departure! This initiative is obviously a subtle way of overcoming the ragging problem & the commitment of university authorities to end ragging.

Purely because the residential training is located throughout 28 military facilities (18 army, 2 naval, 2 air force, 4 cadet & police camps) around Sri Lanka is a very lame & unfair argument to use by those who are presently opposing the initiative. We should instead think positively since we are in agreement that present day graduates do not make the mark of suitability for corporate employment & the corporate sector is what steers the engine of economic growth. We cannot produce students just to show off their qualifications. They must be able to utilize this not only for themselves but the betterment of the nation.

Can any of these university entrants be able to obtain training in leadership skills, conceptual skills, strategic management skills, conflict resolution skills, human skills, psychology, social etiquettes, time management, sports, laws pertaining to the country & personal hygiene, without paying for it if they wanted to learn these to further enhance their ability to gain employment? How much would a private institute charge for these subject matter?

WhatƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s more, the Ministry of Higher Education has plans to offer laptops on a pay later basis, WiFi facility in university premises & dongals to students while special programs in English & IT is also expected to be conducted for the freshers. Therefore, why would anyone want to deny these youth the chance to learn something that would be of benefit to molding their personalities on the one hand & eventually using these to uplift the status of service once in employment? This initiative is something that is much in need of to help them breakaway from the psychological pressures that most students suffer from since the majority do suffer an inferiority complex due to their humble upbringing.

Therefore, at the outset we must understand that we belong to the global village where international trade will continue to dictate how we function. Though education is provided free only parents will know the toil they go through to ensure that their children receive sufficient learning to compete in schools. Today, the business of education has made sure a substantial amount of parents earnings go towards tuition in the ultimate desire to have oneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s child continue to pursue higher learning. This is so even in rural Sri Lanka. For the affluent the means to obtain foreign education has been a preferred option. The marking methodology ensures that the majority of students that eventually enter universities come from humble homes. In fact over 80% of university entrants are from beyond towns & cities yet as proud parents they would somehow try to find means to ensure their children are sent something extra as pocket money. Most of these students lack even basic English knowledge skills other social traits would also be lacking. Apart from what is taught free they would be financially unable to bridge their weaknesses unless corporates through their corporate responsibility programs & other such private or non-government initiatives are made available to them. These programs however cannot entertain all university students & are not consistent as a lot of financial commitment is involved.

The general objection is that the training is in military camps & thus the assumption that the training given is military training. This is certainly an unfair & unjust assumption & the course syllabus itself will reveal how customized the course is to suit university entrants with nothing close to the training a military recruit will receive.

With the military often maintaining a distance from civil life it is naturally for anyone to feel a sense of fear nevertheless we have seen for ourselves the manner in which the military today stands transformed from how it had been perceived & how it had functioned previously. Anyone stopped by the military at a security post will immediately see the difference in the courtesies shown by military personnel as against police personnel! Holding the training in these military centers makes logistical sense as these centers are all well equipped, they have the necessary facilities & expertise. The program is very similar to that which is commercially conducted through outbound training though there is very limited physical effort in the present program & certainly not what military personnel have to undergo. A similar exercise had been conducted for the Sri Jayawardenapura university with the collaboration of the army with much success.

Everyone needs to accept that this is a remarkable move, it is timely & farsighted & should be considered to extend beyond the proposed 3 weeks.

It is not difficult to comprehend that apart from the soft skills training through the personality & leadership development program many other changes need to take place in the university system. Curriculums need to match the contemporary world, resources to enable new technology, practical experiences combined to theoretical study, departing from the trend to memorize & write answers as encouraged by most lecturers who insist their tutorials are repeated word for word, lecturers need to continuously upgrade their own knowledge, assessment system must give more weight to application, medium of instruction where possible needs to be in English, library services & IT access need to be made available to all & text books should include home-examples are just a few that is vocalized by most university students.

Sri Lankans & in particular university students themselves need to understand that education is an expensive investment. For a developing country such as Sri Lanka to continue to provide free education upto tertiary level is commendable. Education in fee-levying countries is very expensive & increases annually. In US tuition fees vary from $5000 to $30000 per year (about $9000 for a resident student). In Canada average tuition fees are $9000 while international tuition is $25,500. EU countries charge 5000 euros to 8000 euros, while in the UK, a citizen would have to spend on an average ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚£3000. In France, which has 1.5m students all are public & no tuition fees & undergraduate enrolment is just ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢¢”š¬…¡ƒ”š‚¬165. Lecturers are civil servants. German universities charge 1000 euro as enrolment fee annually (for EU & non-EU countries) while in Australia free education was given until 1988, but today full time & post-graduate degrees cost between AUD 10,000 to 20,000 per year.

It is perhaps now opportune to create a system whereby Sri Lankans can show gratitude to the State for providing free education. Compulsory or Voluntary National Service (different name tags will be used in different countries) are very much in vogue & provide those serving the nation a means to show their gratitude as well as feel they too have done their share for the nation. In a time where much is being spoken about reconciliation & reform, it would be prudent for policy makers to think about drafting a scheme that would entail all graduates & non-graduates to serve the Nation either voluntarily or through a compulsory scheme (for a year with a stipend) & divide the national service in to categories that would cover the following areas: health, education, environment, entrepreneurship, national security, administration, transportationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦so that key areas are covered & the youth will be able to provide excellent leadership in these areas.

Such an initiative would create a National Service Obligation because it is wrong to believe that living in a free society entails little or no obligations. Whatever rights we have should not predate our social contract, our rights are only a privilege of living society & not an entitlement, which means we need to contribute to society & creating a national service system would be another way to change the mindset of the people & start building up our nation towards prosperity.

10 Responses to “Molding Sri Lanka’s graduates into Leaders & Suggestion for National Service”

  1. aabey Says:

    This letter is very interesting & I wish all parents with children wishing to be University entrants may read it clearly . Excellent!

  2. KingSasanka Says:


    According to your own statement, if bulk of those who have had Three (03) to Four (04) years of university education are unemployable, what made you so convinced that Three (03)weeks of “Catch All, if You Can?” style Boot Camps would do the trick?

    Convince me.

  3. geoff Says:

    Leadership sessions take only a few weeks.There are similar training sessions for business leaders. Maximum 2 weeks and they cost a fortune. These kids are lucky to get it free at the right time.

    A totally foolish argument is if leadership skills can be developed in 3 weeks why a further 3-4 years. 3-4 years they study the subject matter not leadership!

    Only the homosexuals’ party and the JVP (for obvious reasons) are against this. Most people have no problem with this. Pathetic anti-socials. This session is anyway going ahead bulldozing the anti-socials in its tracks.

  4. ranjit Says:

    Only the homosexuals and the violent ones will be against this noble thing which the Government was trying to do to bring more disciplined and educated lot to our society. These parties and organizations who are against this were funded by NGO’s and they create uneasyness among the students. Majority like the idea and more and more will appreciate when this is all over. This kind of training costs too much in other developed countries and we give it free to make our young generation to be par with the best of best in the world. Who is the idiot who doesent like to get English,IT and leadership knowledge free of charge? Those bankrupt JVP’ers and Divided UNP and those NGO funded groups must be rejected by our society for good. These snakes are poisonous and enemies of our land. They never appreciate anything except they want to keep their positions and harass the population unneccessarally. We have to get rid of this lot faster the better.
    Shenali keep on writing the truth how much opposition you face. We cannot make these homesexuals happy except they themselves make them happy. Those garbage collectors and rumour mongers in the opposition will be purly rotten garbage in the near future for their idiotic arguments and opposition for every right thing we do.

  5. nilwala Says:

    The government’s decision to provide this training is timely and very desirable. and as Ms. Waduge has advocated so very well here, this is an essential part of training for the leadership roles, with responsibility and national commitment that must be evoked in students entering the Universities for higher studies where they are to be provided an education at no cost to themselves, through state funding.
    Both the Govt. and civil society expects much from these students in the way of service to the country, but that responsibility and obligation has not been inculcated through the secondary school education system. Getting an education at no cost to the student has with time been taken for granted as have other Govt – provided benefits; benefits that even many developed countries do not provide.
    This 3-wk. course is not a military boot camp as some detractors suggest. University days are cherished in memory as some of the best years of life. Learning about freedom and the responsibility that comes with freedom are essential prerequisites for making the best of that experience. I sincerely hope that the Govt. will not be deterred in its purpose by those who simply want to criticize and throw cold water on every suggestion made to make things better in Sri Lanka.

  6. geoff Says:

    Individuals’ sexual orientation is their personal matter no doubt. But when such persons go public and their homosexuality induced thinking goes public, then it becomes a public matter. This is what has happened to the once great now faggot infested political party. They don’t have children in the first place. So how can they think what is good for children!

    This is another straw held on to by the losers. It has already proven useless.

    Most Sri Lankans have no problem with this. Its only the homo camp and the como camp (communist) are against this. With their pathetic numbers, it doesn’t matter what they think.

  7. geoff Says:

    Students going through the leadership training sessions start to love it!

    Too bad for the homo and como camps. They always bet on the wrong horse.

  8. Chintha Says:

    Mocking bird whom are you trying to fool here?

    “As for the leadership training, majority of students who have come this far have undergone some form of structured leadership training programme or two during their school years in Prefects Guilds, Guiding (boys/girls), Societies and Associations etc and just a few “Pothe Guras” only have missed those opportunities.”

    * Prefects in schools get NO leadership training. They are selected for various reasons and no training given.
    * How many schools have guiding?By the way Guiding do not train on leadership.
    I am not able to say what is tought in Leadership training program but the schooling system does not provide ANY leadership training that’s for sure.

  9. Kithsiri De Silva Says:

    Chintha says ;

    “I am not able to say what is tought in Leadership training program but the schooling system does not provide ANY leadership training that’s for sure”.
    Further Prefects in schools get NO leadership training. They are selected for various reasons and no training given.
    How many schools have guiding?
    By the way Guiding do not train on leadership.

    And has the audacity to ask “Mocking bird whom are you trying to fool here”?

    Did you read his other postings?

    Give that chap also a chance to explain his point of views than use the moderation facility to smother them.

  10. KingSasanka Says:

    Chintha says ;

    “I am not able to say what is taught in Leadership training program but the schooling system does not provide ANY leadership training that’s for sure”.
    Further Prefects in schools get NO leadership training. They are selected for various reasons and no training given.
    How many schools have guiding? By the way Guiding do not train on leadership.

    After all that she even has the audacity to ask “Mocking bird whom are you trying to fool here”?

    Her comments, I do not think Mockingbird is the one who is trying to fool other but she goes beyond that by fooling herself too.

    Did you read his last posting?

    Give that chap also a chance to explain his point of views than to smother them.

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