By Ratnam Nadarajah –
Development Of The Nation: Education System To Fit A Globalised Economy
The role of education, especially higher education is a major player in the development of the country and a prime-driver of economic growth. This role will increase further with emerging changes in technology and economic needs in the whole world and individual countries. Globalisation poses new challenges for all inhabitants. This is more so for developing nations such as ours. The rate of technological change will continue to increase exponentially. The only thing permanent is change itself. People expect living standards to be higher with more ‘luxuries’ becoming ‘necessities’ and a greater proportion of income will be spent on education, leisure, household services, sports and culture. To remain competitive in the light of these changes, the country will need to improve productivity, change mind-set and adopt an innovative spirit. This is easily said than done in Sri Lankan context. This is not because of the lack of intellectual capacity but the absence of adequate facilities and in many cases affordability makes it harder to achieve a competitive base.
Higher education is in a unique position to help achieve these goals. Sri Lanka’s future in the global knowledge economy depends critically on the country’s intellectual and human capital. If the country is gearing to take off and advance as a fast growing middle-income country, it is critically important that Sri Lanka has the human capital needed to compete with global knowledge economy. The ability of people to think and act creatively, work productively and efficiently; communicate effectively and innovate and adopt new technologies to strengthen economic activities is vital. (Singapore is a living example, thanks to the vision of its founding father(s)). Thus Lanka needs a higher education system that can produce skilled, hard- working and enterprising graduates. Also, the country needs a research and innovation capacity capable of promoting dynamic economic development. We do not want Sri Lanka to be a dumping ground for unsustainable productions and services.
Where do we start, or what is the base line? As discussed in part one there are no easy options or fit for all panacea. To be competitive it is essential that nation like Sri Lanka have an education system and standard in place be at least in par with competing economies. There is an urgent need to organise the educational institutions at all levels not only to meet the global challenges but also be ahead other players. The starting point I would imagine be the secondary education followed by vocational education and finally tertiary education.
Secondary education is the base where foundation for further education can be cultured. Science education is an essential component if we are to produce students capable of meeting the global challenge, in product design development, world class manufacturing and most importantly the opportunities digitised world.
Knowledge, Education And Training
The Information Revolution, and the Information Age that it engenders, is being defined by an on-going process of economic, social and political globalisation. While the term globalisation has become quite widespread, even in the popular media, there are confused and often conflicting definitions and conceptions of the phenomenon. In order for this concept to maintain any analytical usefulness, it must be unpacked, carefully defined and examined for its impact on society, the economy, and the world system. At its most organic and fundamental level, globalisation is about the monumental structural changes occurring in the processes of production and distribution in the global economy. These structural changes are responses by many global enterprises that confront tremendous pressures and fantastic opportunities presented by the increased application and integration of advanced information and communications technologies (ICTs) into their core business processes (e.g. R&D, manufacturing, testing, back-office operations, marketing, distribution). Through the application of information and communications technologies, enterprises have the ability to diminish the impact of space, time and distance. Global companies can break apart business functions that were previously thought to be best co-located and spread them across the globe in a globally disarticulated labour and production process. Globalisation requires the existence and development of an advanced information and communications infrastructure, based on a network of networks of telecommunications, broadcasting, computers, and content providers. In Sri-Lanka the Internet and World Wide Web currently come closest to meeting these requirements. We would need an un -interrupted high speed fibre -optic broadband service as a minimum requirement. Developing countries such as ours are facing a tremendous tidal wave of changes, opportunities and challenges in this new era of globalisation and economic restructuring, which in many cases is overwhelming capacity. The knowledge intensive nature of this development model—Innovation-Mediated production—requires organisations to invest heavily in research and development (R&D), not as a luxury or solely to gain competitive advantage, but to survive. The incessant technological development of the new techno-economic paradigm, the convergence of telecommunications, computers, and broadcasting, along with the increased pressures for global deregulation, liberalisation have brought about radical changes and challenges to the global political economy.
This is what has been happening in the world in the last 30 years or so; China being the champion of the league. Companies from the America, Europe, and Japan moved, firstly their manufacturing operations to China; initially due to the cheap labour cost. This aspect of Globalisation per se in my view peaked about 5 to 7 years ago. Nonetheless there are new opportunities for emerging nations who are equipped and committed to meet the challenges.
Globalisation and the Information Revolution present increasing difficulties for national states as they attempt to make choices about how to respond and allocate their scarce resources to confront this challenge. As discussed above, knowledge as a factor of production within this new information-intensive economy, is gaining in importance in the era of globalisation. The education and learning paradigm around the world is under increasing pressure to better meet the demands of this new knowledge and information-intensive global economy. This is where the thinkers and planners/architects in Sri Lanka have to focus when they are designing the courses for teaching and more importantly lead to learning new skills.
Implications of Globalisation for Knowledge, Education and Learning
Education is not a measure of intelligence or knowledge. It is also a fact that an educated person may not be an intelligent person and an intelligent person need not necessarily be an educated person. My late mother, bless her soul, was not educated but in my mind she was one of the most intelligent persons I have ever come across. That said, given the increasing economic globalisation and restructuring in the world political and economic systems, and the requirements for knowledge and information within that system, educational needs (in terms of structure, function, curriculum and approach) at all levels, especially at the tertiary level, have changed. These educational requirements for the workforce of the future are extremely important. However, the systems developed for informal learning, specifically for adult learners to engage in life-long learning, are important as well. At the workplace multi-disciplined workforce is the order of the day! The implication of existing labour laws and unionised labour are some of the aspects that need to be addressed by our lawmakers. Admittedly these are hard choices given the political manipulations and power brokering of vested parties to be in power or return to power. “You can’t have the cake and eat it”
There are significant contrasts between knowledge, education and learning. “Education is generally seen as a formal process of instruction, based on a theory of teaching, to impart formal knowledge in a class/lecture room context.” The process of learning can occur, with or without formal institutional education. Knowledge accumulation and the accumulation of skills for using ICTs will occur increasingly outside the traditional institutions of formal education. Learning can take place in the workplace, self-learning (through cd rom, distance learning etc.) and through collaborations, to site a few. Knowledge should not be limited to a select few, manicured by politicians and polished by power brokers. There should be universal opportunities for all Sri Lankans, as the store of knowledge expands throughout the world, all of the world’s people should have as much access as possible. This would enhance community spirit and a sense of belonging amongst the divided communities. This is a chance also to show case to the world that Sri Lanka is genuinely an equal opportunity nation, with to all its apparent short comings. We need the heart, mind and soul of the nation to march forward.
The formal institutions of education that exist in Sri Lanka today, and even if any of these are in the planning stages, would become less relevant to the requirements of emergent digitised societies; unless otherwise these are addressed at the conceptual stage as a matter of priority by the lawmakers and planners. The role of knowledge within the digitised economy leads to a whole range of new industries and new developments in biotechnology, new materials science, nanotechnology, informatics, computer science, 3-D printing, augmented reality, optical connectivity and communication (photonic integration) to quote a few. Are we equipped or at least in a position to accommodate and develop any of these technologies? Suffice to say that computers of today will be obsolete in 2 to 3 years. And the half-life of a degree, I suspect would be a matter of months rather than years. That is the pace of change!
* The first part of this series published in Colombo Telegraph on 4 May 2016