Policy Statements of RW and AKD On Education And Industrialization
Posted on April 14th, 2024

Sugath Kulatunga

It is gratifying to note our President and a leading politician Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) making emphatic and unequivocal statements on two vital policy issues.

Present stated repeatedly that the country has to convert itself into an export economy to be a developed nation by 1948. He was in the JR government when the the Export Development was established in 1979, and a comprehensive export development drive was launched under the policy direction of an Export Development Council of Ministers under the Chairmanship of JR the President.  The implementing agency of the national drive was the Export Development Board (EDB) which consisted of the Secretaries of nine Ministries responsible for production for export and key service functions and five representatives of leading exporters. The rallying slogan was EXPORT OR PERISH”. What happened to that national drive is tragic. What perished was the whole organizational infrastructure built with care to develop export.

Export Development Council of Ministers was not convened after 1984 as the EDB did not have the professionalism to submit fresh policies to the Council and the Ministers in charge did not have the interest nor the courage to go before the Council. Exporters Forum which was chaired by the Minister of Trade where day to day problems exporters were resolved was not held. The Presidential Awards for significant contribution to export which was a notable incentive looked forward by exporters. Export Production Village Program which mobilized rural exports by establishing a collective apparatus as a Company and linked them with export associations was totally overlooked and made to fade away. The financial autonomy of the EDB which depended on the EDB cess which in terms of the EDB Act had to be remitted by the Customs directly to the EDB was seized by the Treasury. This deprived the EDB the authority to plan for incentives  to exporters and investment in pioneering projects. The EDB was starved of funds and were happy with that as they had abandoned the development concept and focused only on traditional trade promotion which was the field of the Department of Commerce. The exclusive venture capital facility where The EDB took shares in pioneering export ventures was discontinued and even the Unit the Project Division was disbanded, and the trained personnel attached to other Divisions.

During most of this time President RW was a minister of the UNP cabinet. He was the Minister of Industries and also the Minister of Education. These Ministries had a crucial role in supporting export led development of the country.

A few days back the President stated that the education system has to be radically changed to meet the skills essential for the future development needs of the country. It is most encouraging that the President has become enlightened in such a critical need at least now after more than four long decades.

Mr. Wickremasinghe was our Minister of Education in 1980.

This was the time when the East Asian Tiger economies were making radical changes in their systems of education to meet the emerging needs of industrialization and economic development. They used education to spur growth, create jobs and raise productivity. In these countries Education was a prime driver of their long-term development strategy and was a high priority for policy makers. There was strong alignment in their growth strategy, labor market needs, and education policies.”

But at that time in the 1980s, Minister Wickremasinghe was not cocerned in the developments taking place in those fast growing economies. Neither did the Ministry bureaucracy interested in learning from the experience of these countries. Our diplomatic representatives in those countries followed the philosophy of the three wise monkeys of ‘no seeing, no hearing, no speaking’, while enjoying their perks.

South Korea transformed itself in a few decades from an underdeveloped nation to an industrialized country exporting high-technology products (Domjahn 2013, p. 16). Much of this development is attributed to improvements in the country’s education system. South Korea placed education at the center of its long-term development strategy, Various South Korean and international scholars (Ellinger and Beckham 1997; Han 1994; Kim 2000) have credited the nation’s economic success to an efficient education system that provides the quality workforce necessary for economic expansion. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284831895

Taiwan ROC” is an Island smaller than Sri Lanka with a similar population. Before 1980s it was a predominantly an agricultural economy. Today it is a high tech powerhouse leading the world in a number of high tech industries. It has a per capita income of 36, 000 dollars. At the beginning of the 1980s, Taiwan changed its education policy radically, gave priority to technical education and increased the ratio for senior vocational schools and general high school to 7:3. By 2012 there were 155 senior vocational schools, 14 junior colleges, and 77 universities/colleges of science & technology, totaling 246. It is the education system that has sustained the significant development of this small nation. According to the Minister of Education in Taiwan Technical and vocational education has played a decisive role by nurturing the range of human resources required for our basic national infrastructure and for promoting economic development, and contributed enormously to bringing about what has been acclaimed as Taiwan’s economic miracle”. Se-Hwa Wu, PhD Minister, MOE

An attempt to introduce an element of practical education in the form of the NCGE for School leavers introduced during the government of Mrs. Bandaranayake was scrapped by the next government falling back on the SSC. While SL deliberately ignored technical education, with independence India established in 1950 five Institutes of Technology (IITs) in the main States of the country. These IITs were modeled on the best example of higher technical education from Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They have been the cutting edge of technology development in India and are highly recognized internationally.

Even if the government of 1980 were not impressed with the Asian examples, they could have learned from the dual system of education in Germany which has a major role in the German education system, attracting almost 60% of a typical age cohort at upper secondary level. The dual system in which 75% of VET students enrol is a highly effective way of imparting a wide range of occupational skills and integrating young people into the labour market, attracting global admiration. A central principle of the dual system is that of complementarity between school and work-based learning with more theoretical types of learning in school balancing more practical learning in the workplace. The two elements are mutually reinforcing: theory facilitates a well-grounded approach to practical problems; while practice in turn supports theory by providing a continuous flow of real world examples and applications.”

The world is now in the fourth industrial revolution. The lack of vision of our politicians and policy makers have left us at least half a century behind in technology and industrialization. We may still have a leapfrog advantage to graduate from elementary technology into emerging high technology. For this the present education system has to be completely overhauled. Patch work measures will be unproductive.

Just as the President hopes to convert the country to a thriving export economy the Presidential hopeful AKD has expresed strongly the need for industrilization of the country. The above comments apply equally to the statement of AKD that the county must Industrialize. Industrialization does not fall from heaven and not from radical statements. It  depends on the skills and basic technological knowledge of the manpower in the country. They go a long way to attract foreign investment which accelerates industrialization. It is hoped that the presidential prospective is prepared simultaneously to overhaul the system of educattion without the intervention of the Grants Commission and the Academic community which have not shown interest in change and in fact defy change. AKD will also have to deal with opposition from misguided students.

Let the overlooked and neglected reforms in the system of education and industrilization be main themes of the forth coming election campaign.

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