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Youth, Women Hold the Key to Sri Lanka’s Prosperity

MD Staff

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photo: World Bank

In 2017, Sri Lanka had an estimated 497,000 job vacancies. Critical skills mismatches between the qualifications job seekers possess, and the expectations of employers, have left key industries like tourism feeling the pinch. With the country currently reporting high rates of youth unemployment, the figures underlined the importance of the reform agenda in Sri Lanka.

In a discussion held to mark the launch of the World Bank’s latest edition of the Sri Lanka Development Update [SLDU], panellists noted that when it came to job creation, the island was grappling with complex and interlinked challenges that spanned the spectrum from education to legislation. As technology forced rapid evolution in the world of work, youth would drive change.

We need youths to be at the forefront of creating jobs…We need them to push policy makers, the private sector and the public sector to lift hurdles in their way so they can get on with being tomorrow’s employers and innovators,” said Dr. Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

As Sri Lanka strove to increase its exports, the island’s workforce would be thrown into competition with global players. Ralph Van Doorn, senior economist and one of the author’s of the SLDU said: “We think that the job agenda is the competitiveness agenda – if you become more competitive, you will create more and better jobs.

Below are highlights from the hour-long panel discussion, moderated by economist Kithmina Hewage.

Realising the potential of women and youth

The SLDU notes that Sri Lanka needs to create jobs opportunities appropriate for its labor force, in particular for youth and women. In 2017, the unemployment rate for those between 15 – 24 years old stood at 18.5 percent – as compared to just 0.9 percent for those aged 40 and over. Among all age groups, women were more at risk of unemployment than men.

The way our tertiary system is structured now, it cannot react to fast enough to changes in the markets. We need to figure out models which can help us produce graduates demanded by the market,” said Dr. Nisha Arunatilake, Director of Research at the Institute for Policy Studies, sharing her conviction that finding a role for the private sector would inject resources and drive innovation in the education system. She emphasized that this must be done while ensuring equity and access to education for all.

Prof. Dayantha Wijesekera, former Vice Chancellor of Open University and University of Moratuwa, suggested that by reintroducing once popular apprenticeship schemes and making course admission criteria more flexible, universities could better support students willing to add new skills and knowledge to their resumes. “We should have more and innovative methods of attracting youth to the already adequate facilities for vocational training, rather than spending more money on infrastructure,” he added.

While such reforms would help young people across the board, more needed to be done to ensure women joined the workforce. The expansion of quality subsidised or community-funded childcare is critical, said Ganeshan Wignaraja, Chair of the Global Economy Programme at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre. He added that the level of harassment women faced on public transport and in the workplace was shocking and called for a strong, well-considered response from the state and from employers.

Addressing the legal and policy constraints creating bottlenecks

Critical to creating confidence in foreign investors and improving Sri Lanka’s business environment will be updating Sri Lanka’s labour laws. “Reform to the labour law is essential,” Ayomi Fernando, Industrial Relations Advisor for the Employers Federation of Ceylon noted, adding that efforts have long been underway to update and simplify the relevant laws, some of which date back to 1950s.

Quite a few of them pose huge restrictions to employment generation, to people moving jobs,” she said, explaining that investors naturally baulked.

The laws also weren’t made with the modern market in mind – for instance, many local offices must now consider the working hours of colleagues in other timezones, for which no allowances are made. The rising numbers of freelance and part-time workers, and those wishing to work from home were also not addressed, creating challenges for employers and employees both.

Meanwhile, SMEs in Sri Lanka’s large informal sector needed incentives to formalize said Ralph, pointing out this would in turn give them access to institutional support, market linkages and financial backing that could help them grow. Studies estimate that 60 percent of all employed people work in informal work arrangements. Here, reforms could pave the way for extending the protection of labor laws to such employees.

Designing protections for the most vulnerable

One of the fastest ageing countries in the world, Sri Lanka faces a demographic transition that will leave the country with fewer earners and a larger proportion of dependents. Highlighting that pensions were one of the key deciders for job seekers, Ganeshan pointed out that there was a pressing need to create viable alternatives for the private sector, perhaps by allowing reputed private pension providers to set up shop in Sri Lanka. Ralph added that it was important to gradually expand pension coverage and to increase portability of pension schemes to reduce the bias to public sector employment and protect informal sector workers.

The panel agreed that Sri Lanka’s existing social protection programs lack adequate coverage, and need to be better targeted. Currently, upon retirement private sector employees receive inadequate pension benefits, a lump sum payment at retirement or no pension at all. “Pension reform, as we age, will become the number one issue, otherwise I fear the country will face a crisis of old age poverty…” said Ganeshan.

Ayomi cautioned that the gender aspect of the issue should not be ignored: “One real problem that we have with pensions in Sri Lanka is that they are linked to employment, and what we are seeing is that 50 percent of females never work and they are the ones who live longer – they live eight years longer than men – and they are ones who don’t have access to pensions. So pension reforms should delink pensions from employment.”

In the end, the panel agreed that neither the public sector nor the private sector could rescue the economy alone. “We need to build financial literacy and encourage people to plan for their old age,” said Wignaraja. “The state cannot do everything, not in the macroeconomic situation where we are. I think it’s time that people woke up to this reality.”

World Bank

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A Review of the Draft National Education Policy 2019

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There is an urgent and imperative need to rekindle dialogue on the shaken education structure in India among politicians and decision makers. While there is a proliferating realization to the finite financial limits of ‘improving literacy rate’, there is a detrimental lack of alternative discourse on the way forward, a futuristic dialogue on the achievable. It is rightfully said that a life without education is like a boat without a rudder. While the solutions to the problem may seem simple to layman’s eyes, it is as multifaceted and dynamic from a microscopic lens. This paper will attempt to review and critique the education system in India in light of the recent National Education Policy 2019 developed by the ministry of human resource development that seeks to propose transformative changes.

The field of education essentially is viewed through a narrow outlook of having normative or static foundations that can be generalized. This is however far from reality. Education system and structure is highly contextual and subjective to the jurisdiction it is studied in. While it is necessary to take cognizance of the fact that metamorphic changes, if any, are gradual, access to basic quality education for many is a far cry. India demands a comprehensive nationwide policy such as this and more importantly the implementation and enforcement of the same. The paper shall enumerate few highlights of the policy as no specific selection can paint an accurate picture of the well-integrated and comprehensive policy.

One of the fundamental solutions to the policy focuses on a key demography to foster a massive positive multipliers effect on the Indian society. It promises high quality education and childhood care for all children between the age bracket of 3 to 6 years by the year 2025. This encompasses the holistic development of the child including healthcare, nutrition and skill development. The vitality of the early years of brain development have been consciously highlighted in the past few years with growing awareness and study in this field.

It is essential that we tackle the grassroots of the issue being the quality of teachers and their accessibility. Professional teacher education and improvement of the quality of the educators is vital to better education and hence multidisciplinary programs for teachers are proposed to be included in large universities. Weak educators lead to weak professional in all fields. A four-year integrated stage – specific B.Ed. programme has been proposed by the HRD ministry and the Draft Committee alongside a restructure of the technical and medical education in the country. It outlines a proposal for the exit examination for medical professionals to create a robust filtering system to enable qualified and erudite individuals into the medical industry, enabling them to do justice to their respective professions.

Back to the fundamentals, the policy seeks to achieve foundational literacy and numeracy through a spectrum of programs and measures that have been carefully drafted and articulated to promote the same. Correspondingly, the draft policy aims to transform the pedagogical structure of the curriculums in the Indian education system for more effective learning that holistically encompasses cognitive, social and emotional development. The learning model will serve equitable emphasis on all fields and subjects, inherently leveling the balance of importance in academic and vocational cum co-curricular training. The examination structure within the Indian education system has for long been critiqued as counterproductive and toxic. It separates the individual from the real process of learning. With that in light, the policy proposes a complete radical revamp of the exam structures to relive the stress factor, strive for improvement in the learning pursuit and assess real learning.

The political and governmental handhold must undoubtedly begin with a substantial increase in the public investment for the normative expansion and vitalization of public education at all levels. While the policy extensively focuses on amending the tangible flaws of the education system in India, it leaves behind the lived reality and cultural context. I believe that it is far more fundamental to break the stigma that revolves around educating people and address the deterrents to pursuing education. The cultural withdrawal of the reluctance of educating girl children and women in rural spaces is a problem that can’t merely be broken down through financing but through a cultural shift in mindset and an awareness of its criticality. Similar is the case with low income workers such as farmer, plumber and technical workmen that seek to pass on the profession to their heirs under the assumption of retrieving faster interest on their investment of time as opposed to the uncertainty that comes with a hard earned financial investment on poor quality education.

Another cultural adaptation to the policy must be vocational categorical training for specific target groups that diverge from the mainstream education such as training of young mothers or single parents in not just rural but also urban spaces. Finally, the indestructible caste system that is simple inseparable from the education system. The reservation system and its debate has been prolonged for decades and a cause for plentiful havoc uprising in urban spaces as merit seeks to triumph status. This is however often shunned through non-discrimination policies but is far more complex than meets the eye.

The crux of the situation in India is the mismanagement and ill balance between the supply and demand of educational resources in the country. There seems to be a wide gap between the allocation of financial expenditure by the government and the actual tangible change it has created in the recent years. Most importantly, a contextual negligence of tackling issues through the lens of different perspectives, actors and stakeholders. India is not necessarily a resource deficit nation, rather the lack of monitoring and utter negligence of the resource management consequently traps many regions of the country under illiteracy. Future development and economic growth of the nation calls for immediate action and a microscopic outlook of the issue by state actors. To deduce, the policy aims at addressing the diverse plethora of needs of multiple stakeholders in a harmonious manner with the goal of providing quality education to all.

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The Torn Red Carpet: Welcome to Nepal in 2020

Sisir Devkota

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In Google’s search rankings, the official website of project Visit Nepal 2020; comes second. Travel agencies in Nepal have replaced their landing pages at the expense of the overall legitimacy of the most genuine online resource. There is a wealth of videos shot in and about Nepal in Youtube; from ticketing companies to vloggers, visiting Nepal in 2020 might entail different things for various people. However, Mount Everest is not getting pink every passing day; the year 2020 will comfortably succeed the prior geologic timescale. All is not lost if one does not make it to Nepal next year. Hence, why the calling?

Across the world, nation branding for tourism is not a new catch. Egypt, Bolivia, Holland and Guatemala, advertise themselves with their official names. For others, a well thought phrase follows the brand image. Maldives-the sunny side of life, Imagine your-Korea, Belize-is closer than you think are other examples. For the rest, global events, does the work. Visit Nepal 2020 sounds the most ambitious of all; despite of less thoughtful investment over the slogan, it is clumsily competing with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, across internet search engines. A lack of strategic branding can cost an entire project. Hence, why the ignorance?

As much as the slogan promises for a great experience, things are not quite ready for the incoming tourists. A national plan aimed for the visit year has stalled and stakeholders are looking for a safe landing. As long as the tourists arrive, Nepal will make money in 2020. Even though farsightedness is out of capabilities, stakeholders are not promoting the false promise; instead, Nepal’s promise has been promoted wrongly. Nepal is one of the poorest nations in South Asia and the economy largely depends on salaries from abroad. It does not take much to comprehend the economics, the 2020 project, is a cash cow for a reclining economy. For all the wrong reasons, Nepal is calling for a temporary settlement. One-step at a time, for now, tightening up for the next year only.

Start a business in Nepal 2020. Explore Nepal in 2020. Seek opportunities in Nepal 2020. Beware of money sucking agencies and institutions, when you visit Nepal in 2020. Nepal’s southern neighbour, India, invites entrepreneurs from all over the world; however, Make in India, has not gained steam, like once anticipated. The think-tank behind Visit Nepal 2020 have lost an edge over possible opportunities; scaled business policies are missing from the project structure. Moreover, Visit Nepal 2020 sounds like a welcome for the newcomers, but history suggests that, incoming tourists are largely returnees, thanks to majestic natural richness.

“Visit Nepal 1998-Once is not enough”, was largely successful in terms of arriving numbers; however, after work has been a sorry state of affairs. Unsurprisingly, if Nepal were not enough at once, there would not have been the need for a visit year, two decades later. Therefore, Visit Nepal 2020 is a re-launch, from the supply perspective. For anticipating visitors, this information seeks responsibility. The visit year would only succeed whilst bottom level stakeholders would benefit from spending. In addition, if the economy manages to thrive from the revenue generated in 2020, it would largely be successful. It is another misconception that recycling slogans would lead to the same result. Local suitors in Nepal would be most excited; for them, it is another chance to rekindle with international visitors. Technology and social media will make the difference; at last, Nepal is waiting to stamp its tourism potential.

Visit Nepal in 2020 for lifetime experiences. Visit Nepal later again for unlimited life experiences. Then, repeat.

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Sri Lanka Appoints New Minister for Foreign Relations

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Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as the Minister of Foreign Relations (Picture source news .cn)

The newly-elected Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as  the Minister of Foreign Relations after his  Presidential election in 2019.  In addition to Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena was also appointed as the Minister of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations. The new foreign minister  Gunawardena  hails from a well known political family in Sri Lanka .His father Philip Gunawardena   is a famous national hero known as ‘the Father of Socialism’. Gunawardena  a  graduate  from the University  of Oregon in the US, entered politics in 1972. In 1983 as  the general-secretary of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna’s (MEP)  he entered Parliament in a  by-election held in Maharagma.  He  is well-known as a  long-standing parliamentarian and has served as a minister several times since the mid 90s.

The new  Minister of Foreign Relations Gunawardena  is  supposed  to  implement a friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy.   In a recent newspaper interview he stated  “Sri Lanka will have a strict neutral foreign policy where it will strive to have only friends and not foes among the global community”(Sunday Observer,2019).In this context there  is a history to this non-aligned policy.     At the outset, Sri Lanka was a founder member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM).  As part of this approach, the new  Sri Lankan government had outlined in the  manifesto how the  presidency would implement the Foreign Policy over the next five years. The   manifesto mentions a key phrase “Friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy .We will not fall on our knees before any country in maintaining foreign and trade relations. We will always be mindful of our national sovereignty and maintain friendly relations with other countries from a standpoint of equality. Our government will restore Sri Lanka’s national pride and dignity”. (Gotabaya Rajapaksa manifesto, 2019)

Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena assumed duties at the Foreign Ministry on Monday 25 November 2019. While meeting staff members of Ministry of Foreign Affairs the Minister    mentioned that the “Foreign Service is highly regarded and the entire country is looking towards the Foreign Ministry to find solutions for external pressures and challenges”. Sri Lanka being an Indian Ocean island nation strategically located at the international maritime crossroads has significant diplomatic influence with the international community. Therefore Sri Lanka needs a far-sighted foreign policy vision along with well-aligned and sound domestic policies. It is, therefore, vital that the new Foreign minister sets out the country’s position towards Asian, African  nations and the West to ensure that Sri Lanka is able to achieve its foreign policy goals  over the next five years.

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