|Distance Education in Engineering for Developing Countries - Education Research Paper No. 13 (DFID, 1995, 102 p.)|
|Sri Lanka: A country report|
Sri Lanka's strategy of becoming a 'newly industrialised country' requires the development of human resources across the board. In particular, and if this strategy is to be achieved, skills are needed in export-oriented industries and in tourism as well as in traditional sectors such as agriculture. Textiles and garment manufacture are already making a significant contribution to export earnings.
The technical and vocational education sector, which conventionally might provide such training, is large, uncoordinated and impossibly fragmented. This has led to unplanned growth in training institutes resulting in inefficiency, duplication and limited resources being spread too thinly. Links between education, training and industry are few and far between.
The deeply ingrained public attitude of free education as a fundamental right of every citizen politically constrains opportunities to reallocate resources. However, impressively high levels of literacy and participation at schools and the very high value placed upon educational qualifications result in a large number of school leavers severely disappointed at not achieving places in further or higher education. However, even now, lack of employment opportunities and unrealistic expectations result in high levels of unemployment amongst people with qualifications. Political decisions will have to be made whether to educate for its own sake or whether to train towards employment.
These issues are being considered with the utmost seriousness and two National Commissions, one covering education generally, the other technical and vocational education specifically, have had and will continue to have considerable influence.
The general awareness of distance education and its benefits is extremely high, no doubt as a result of the high profile of the Open University of Sri Lanka. However, the ability of individuals and of industry to afford even the low and subsidised fees of the Open University is limited.
There is, however, a tremendous value placed upon education, and cost-effectiveness and flexibility will be very important when government, industry, business and individuals make decisions on their educational and training needs.
Potential demand for distance learning
The opportunities for distance education in Sri Lanka are considerable.
· If the Government wishes to pursue a social policy of providing higher education for qualified school learners, then within its limited resources distance techniques will be the only solution
· The scale of demand, and need, for technical training is so large that distance education will have to play some part in the provision
· The existence of the Open University in Sri Lanka (OUSL) provides an invaluable starting point, so long as some of its internal difficulties can be addressed
· Limited resources, and reasons of pure common sense, insist that distance courses should not be developed ab initio where appropriate courses are available elsewhere. However, in-country modification would be essential and it will be necessary to develop people with expertise to do this, either within OUSL or in other organisations
· The size of the technical training need and the actual level of training requires careful thought as to whether OUSL should develop this role. The practical nature of apprentice training and the existence of many institutions satisfying this need makes distance education inappropriate at the apprentice level.
· Subjects where an urgent need exists include textiles, environmental issues, exporting, management and information management
· The problem of competence in English will need to be addressed at the earliest stage
· Translation would be necessary at some levels
· Pricing would need to be appropriate to the cost of living.