Colombo, Sri Lanka, 6 October 2021: With the onset of COVID-19, the world has seen disruptions to traditional forms of education. In Sri Lanka, since the first wave and the resulting lockdown in March 2020, schools have been largely dysfunctional with the levels of online learning varying between public and private institutions.
To this end, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka convened a virtual discussion on Friday, 1 October 2021, for the second in a series of three policy discussions on inequalities and human development. The session focussed on ‘Accessing Education: Technology’s Potential for Divergence and Convergence’, a paper commissioned by UNDP and authored by Prof. Ajith de Alwis, Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa. The paper examines the use of technology in the education sphere and the future of education in a post-COVID context. Turning the lens on Sri Lanka, Prof. de Alwis stated, “The world is shaped by technology. Education must provide for this changing world. There is a race between education and technology – if technology is lagging within the education system, we will be positioning students for a world of work that they will not be suitable for”. The paper calls for a focus on blended learning, remote labs and flipped classrooms to enable students to prepare for a future in which technology will be predominant.
Addressing participants at the discussion, Mr. Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative, UNDP in Sri Lanka stated, “Embracing technology helps ensure continuity and resilience; it allows the education system to carry on in the face of external shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic and other unforeseen exigencies. More importantly, bridging the digital divide will help tackle a range of other social inequities such as the gender divide, urban-rural disparities and challenges faced by the urban poor. However, let us not forget technology’s potential to create divergence. It is an integral aspect to be carefully understood in the process of equitable education for all. Bridging the digital divide will open access to quality education to all and reinforce other national efforts towards SDG attainment, leaving no one behind”.
Joining the dialogue, Prof. Kapila Perera, Secretary, Ministry of Education stated “Education is a primary driver for sustainable development. By ensuring inclusive and quality education for all, we also have the potential to catalyze the achievement of the SDGs”.
The panel discussion included insights from Ms. Himali Athaudage, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research and Innovation; Mr. Indika De Zoysa, Vice President, Enterprise Business Group, Huawei Technologies Lanka Co (Pvt) Ltd; Dr. Sujata Gamage, Senior Research Fellow, LIRNEasia; Dr. Frank Van Capelle, Education Specialist, UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia and was moderated by Ms. Ayushka Nugaliyadda, Economist and Systems Design Lead of the Citra Social Innovation Lab.
The discussion paves the way to strengthen the final recommendations of the policy paper, which will discuss key nuances pertaining to intersections between education and technology in Sri Lanka, to support policy makers and other stakeholders in this space. The third policy discussion of the inequalities and human development series will take place in the coming months under the theme of ‘Gender Inequalities: Between social norms and power imbalance’.