Sri Lanka: Language study would increase employability of graduates

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri May 4 13:21:35 UTC 2007

Friday, 4 May 2007

 Policy adjustment needed for employability

KELANIYA: Finding employment for Arts graduates has posed a major problem
in a country where the State is no more the single employer in the country
and in the current scenario the main requirement is to construct and
adjust policies that would guarantee employment and employability, Higher
Education Minister Prof. Wisva Warnapala said. Speaking at the opening
ceremony of the Confucius Institute Laboratory at the University of
Kelaniya Prof. Warnapala said the study of modern languages to some degree
could solve this problem of employability for Arts graduates. The Minister
said, in Sri Lanka, primarily due to the nature of the beginning of
University education, the Social and Humanities began to develop in the
Universities and today, in terms of student enrolment, it accounts for
nearly 22,000 students.

In other words, the largest undergraduate enrolment is in this area of
study and it, therefore, needs due attention. Sri Lankan intellectual
enterprises, as Howard Wriggins once rightly noted, came to be developed
in the initial phase around scholars who specialised in Humanities. It is
in this light that the importance of the establishment of the Language
Laboratory needs to be assessed, and I, before adverting my attention to
that task, would like to speak a couple of words on Confucius, whose great
name has been used for this Institute; it was Confucius who founded a
philosophy which dominated Chinese life from AD 124 to 1906. His writings
seem to be concerned with moral self-cultivation and self-improvement. His
view was that knowledge is not knowledge until applied in action.

Yet another important idea of his, which attracted me, was that only the
enlightened scholar can explain and predict the rise and fall of States
and scholars, therefore, are the repository of accumulated political
wisdom and social norms. His political and educational thoughts had
influenced China for over two thousand years. The name of such a renowned
scholar has been used for this Institute, which I am told, is established
for the purpose of promoting studies relating to Chinese langauge and
culture. In other words, the teaching of the Chinese language is to be
promoted as a modern language. The University of Kelaniya making use of
its association with a historical center for learning in the country, has
now emerged as the main centre in the Sri Lankan universities structure,
which specialises in the teaching of Modern Languages. They include such
languages as German, French, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean and
nearly 1,000 students are registered for Degree and Certificate Courses.

The courses in the Modern Languages have been organised with a view to
meeting the requirements of the world of work. Today, in the present
context of the process of globalisation, different countries have emerged
as global players in the area of economic development and they, through a
process of economic integration, are competing in the global market place.
China, as an emerging economic power in the region, has entered this
process, and the Chinese language, therefore, has now become an
international language. Several decades, for that matter, immediately
after de-colonisation, international language status was given to four or
five European languages, and this again was due to their economic

The ability to gain proficiency in those languages helped to find jobs
abroad, and today, with the emergence of several countries in our part of
the world as economic giants, the languages of these countries though not
belonging to the European linguistic traditions, have become very relevant
to the process of development.

Today there is a global market for advanced human capital, and the
international mobility of skilled human resources can have a positive
impact on development. In my view, the production of more graduates with
modern language skills would help the country, as their skills are
marketable in the globalised world.

If the students are interested in studying modern languages, they need to
be provided with facilities and it is in this way that Sri Lankan
Universities can break away from their traditional mould which, at the
given point of time, has become outmoded.


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