I used to joke with Tracy that my relatives would never understand what I studied (Cognitive Science). The joke was that’d I’d pretend to be a relative and ask ‘Docta, Lawya, Engineer?’ in an accent more Chinese than Sri Lankan. They don’t, but I didn’t know what CogSci was before I studied it so it’s OK. I just say Psychology. Then I get the other question – “So, what do you do with that?”. That is a seperate misunderstanding, to be addressed later. The central issue here is the Indo-Lankan doctor, lawyer, engineer fetish.
This article is in reference to a Lanka Business Online article, btw. My God, their hyperlinks are like 3 pages long, they really need to fix that.
According to the Ministry of Education, annually around 400,000 children enrol into State schools but local universities can accommodate only around 14,000. Because of the single-minded attitude to education children are often never exposed to other types of careers, particularly since most Sri Lankan schools do not offer career guidance or student counselling. And the local tertiary education network is spread so thin the majority that don’t make it into university fall out of the education system completely. As a result the country is chronically short of qualified personnel with lower and middle level technical skills. To fill the skill gaps local private sector is already surreptitiously importing skilled labour despite thousands of unemployed graduates demanding jobs.
So to start, the education system here is generally FUBAR. Given my American High School performance I simply couldn’t get into University here. What you get in Sri Lankan Universities are the extreme keeners, not the mid-range balanced human beings that actually contribute to business and culture. Furthermore, it’s not like these kids are competing to get into the Harvard of the South, more like the Southern North Dakota State Institute of Thinking and Stuff. That is, a lot of graduates aren’t even smart enough to wipe their own ass with their degrees.
I don’t mean that they don’t know their physics or whatever (thought they probably don’t). I just mean that the attitude is all wrong. When I graduated from High School I felt like I was finally getting started. Here’s it’s exactly the opposite. If you get through the gauntlet of A/Levels then you’re done. University is a vacation before you join the Trinity. You let your brain atrophy dicking around for 7 years (seriously, there are that many strikes), waiting to get rubber-stamped as one of the nations 14,000 best-and-brightest. That should assure you a job, oh wait, that was 7 years ago and now you’re actually stupider than when you came in. Many graduates come out without much more than a sense of entitlement. That’s literally all they have, a title. Here’s it’s customary to put your Bachelor’s Degree on your business card.
Sri Lankans have mastered the symbolism the British have left behind, but none of the work-ethic of America. People assume that the degree – not the education – is valuable. They assume that Doctors, Lawyers and Engineers will always be employed – despite a market where only 5% of the population can afford those services.
There’s no similar honor attached to turning a kottu-kade into a national chain and creating jobs for the 95%. Right now the Trinity is just a Colombo 7 Circle Jerk, getting sick, suing their doctor and building a new wing to the house. Before it can get any bigger someone has to get off their ass and start a Walmart or Kinkos. Then maybe the Trinity could get clients besides immediate relatives.
Sri Lankan culture creates Employees, not Employers. For all their value, Doctors, Lawyers, and Engineers are – at the end of the day – employees. A Doctor generally works for a hospital, and Lawyers and Engineers work for Firms. You spend 10-15 years educating this guy and then he employs – himself. Or leaves the country if he’s smart. Sam Walton, on the other hand, was a entreprenuer who ended up employing 1.4 million people. Those 1.4 million people need Doctors, Lawyers, and Engineers now, but someone had to give them enough money to stop dying, getting evicted from their land, and getting their houses trashed by the elements first. Sri Lanka needs generally educated mid-range students to brainstorm, drop out, and do something. We got plenty of Doctors, Lawyers and Engineers waiting to take our money, we just need to get some.
Note: this is pretty much a rant. There are some actually researched pieces in the Education Category.