292,706 A/L Sitters: But What Next?

MIT Global Start Up Labs Colombo 2013

A team of Moratuwa University students demonstrate their e-commerce product to academics and industry leaders at the MIT Global Start-up Labs Launch Day 2013 at the Kingsbury Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka (image courtesy guest contributor)

The MIT Global Start-Up Labs project had it’s launch day last week (1st Aug), where dozens of bright young Moratuwa University students displayed their techno-entrepreneurship prowess. Talking to them, hearing their ambitions and ideas, watching them confidently present their products to industry leaders, was truly inspiring. But I couldn’t help but say to a couple of them – “work hard, don’t screw this up! – you’re the lucky few who got in to uni”.

On Monday this week (5th Aug), 292,706 applicants sat for their first day of the 2013 GCE Advanced Level (A/L) exams. As each of the boys and girls take their seats at the exam centres this week, open up the question papers, and draw on months of exhausting revision to frantically write great answers – they must all have one thing on their minds – “will I do well enough to enter university?”. Their anxiety is not misplaced. Going by statistics from 2010, only 6 out of 10 of all of them would pass the A/Ls with sufficient results to be considered to enter university. But what must make them most anxious, and indeed most frustrated, is that they could qualify to enter university but never get the chance to pursue their ambition. Why? Because less than 20 of every 100 of those who qualify will actually get admitted to state universities – just not enough capacity to cater to all. This means that each year Sri Lankan universities shut out around 100,000 bright young boys and girls, who have gone through the rigors of national exams and achieved the right results, but simply cant be accommodated. In 2012, 40,000 more of them were shut out than in 2011. Best case scenario – from the batch that is sitting their A/Ls this year, around 32,000 of them will get the chance to pursue university education, leaving behind another 140,000. The hallmark of a knowledge-driven economy is that more people are following higher education and tertiary training programmes, gaining the critical skills that a new economy and a globalized world requires of them.

Leaving behind hundreds of thousands of our brightest minds to figure this out for themselves – often unable to afford expensive private programmes – surely this cannot be compatible with our ‘Knowledge Hub’ aspirations? 

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