What is your view on the current youth unemployment crisis and what needs to be done to address it?
We find that the majority of young people under the age of 35 in the country are unemployed. Although this has increased with the covid situation, we find that the education system of our country is solely based on knowledge and does not provide children with the skills and experience needed for the world of work. Though there are job opportunities in the private sector, the existing school education system has not created proper candidates suitable for those vacancies.
Therefore, I believe that there is a need to update and reform the educational curricula to suit the world of work.
Secondly, only four per cent of the students who sit for the G.C.E Advanced Level Examination are eligible to enter the university. Owing to the fact that there are pension benefits, out of that four per cent, the majority expects a government job. Nevertheless, the reality is that there are no vacancies to offer government jobs to all graduates who pass out from government universities. We need to make an attitudinal change in the younger generation with this regard. ‘Even if you do not receive a pension, you will receive other benefits along with an attractive salary from the beginning of your career in the private sector. Therefore, the youth should be made aware of this as well’.
Further, I believe that we should also look at the future of children who drop out of school after the G.C.E Ordinary Level Examination. If these children are directed to an education that suits the world of work through technical colleges etc, it will be very effective for the country’s economy. However, there is a problem with the quality and standard of these colleges.
We need to deeply analyse the problem to find solutions. It is my view that there is a need to reform the existing education system from its primary education level to suit the modern world of work.
We are not undermining the youth holding bachelor of arts degrees, however, we see they lack the skills and experience needed to face the modern world of work. We need to find solutions to these problems. For example, there must be a change in the subjects in the arts degree.
How should the syllabi of Colleges of Technology/Technical Colleges be changed to suit modern technology?
We need to gather experts for this task. Owing to Covid 19 pandemic, as a country we are far behind. In my personal opinion, the mismanagement of the economy by its rulers have been a contributing factor to this situation. We must all work together towards a solution. In order to get out of this situation, the scholars should help voluntarily. Therefore, the syllabi required to produce professionals for the foreign job market should be prepared with the involvement of scholars who are knowledgeable in their respective fields.
Do we need to allocate more resources for this?
We must allocate resources for this effort. Other countries allocate about six-seven per cent of their annual budgets for education. In our country, about 1.3 per cent is allocated for education. We need to change this.
What are the barriers for young women to enter into politics?
We see that the politicians of our country have ruined their image by behaviour, speech and actions. Therefore, not only women but also the younger generation is reluctant to enter politics. First of all, adult politicians need to change their behaviour in order for young people to understand what real politics is. Thereby encourage the younger generation to enter politics.
The second point is that in the current electoral system, there are many obstacles for newcomers to enter politics. If he or she is already not popular in any other field, is not already a member of a political family or cannot afford to spend a lot of money, it will be very difficult for a newcomer to enter politics within the existing electoral system. Therefore, significant changes need to take place in the electoral system as well. In the past, there was a 35% quota on the nomination list for youth. I believe it should be reintroduced.
The important point here is that if the party leaders have a genuine interest to bring women into politics, there will be no need for separate legislation. Therefore, women should get a significant percentage in the nomination list as well as in the national list.
Furthermore, as Members of Parliament, as Ministers, and as the 12 female members, we have the duty and responsibility to set an example. We are still carrying the flag taken by Mrs. Molamure. However, we have failed to take the representation of women in Parliament beyond 12. We have a responsibility to motivate the people to vote for women candidates and to encourage young women to enter politics. We as women who are currently engaged in politics have to dedicate and act as role models to achieve this.
The other fact is that, in our country as well as in South Asian culture, women are placed below men. It is believed that “Women are good at kitchen and household work”. But apart from politics, the majority of women have achieved many heights in other professional fields. But outdated ideas in society hinder women, especially those who enter the political arena and succeed in it.
That is why I strongly believe that party leaders should give women the opportunity to enter politics. It will undoubtedly help to change these outdated, baseless misconceptions.
In your opinion, would counselling programmes, led by the senior women engaged in politics, be a solution to the problems and political realities faced by young women in politics?
I believe that through such programmes, we can encourage young women to engage in politics to a certain extent. By sharing our practical experiences and how we managed to overcome the barriers as women politicians, we will be able to encourage young women to counter those obstacles successfully. For example, if a woman, enter politics, various parties will inevitably attempt to harm her reputation. Such attempts are to put you down. Sharing our experiences would help them successfully encounter these obstacles.
Also, I strongly believe that women who are currently engaged in politics in Parliament, in the Provincial Council or as social activists should keep in mind that example is better than precept. Together, we should send a message to society as to why women need to be active in this field.
See how the Female Prime Minister of New Zealand holds her office and wins over the whole world and how that country successfully copes with problems under her leadership. Further, how she dispels the outdated misconceptions about women in society. We should all follow that example.
Why should women representation in parliament be increased?
We have already discussed how the Prime Minister of New Zealand successfully governs the country. In addition, if we look at Bangladesh in South Asia, we can see that there is a very strong representation of women in that country. In the past, Bangladesh was at a much lower level than our country. However, today Sri Lanka has gone to a level where they seek loans from Bangladesh. In our region, we see examples of countries where women hold positions and successfully manage the economy. Management is an inborn quality of most women. If we take our house, for example, it is my mother who manages household affairs. Moreover, women have the ability to multi-task. Also, women by nature are ashamed and afraid of bribery and corruption. That is why we need more women representation in politics.
In a society where we still believe in beliefs such as man was created by the dust on the feet of the great Brahmin, we still believe that women cannot be in decision-making positions of a country. In this male-dominated society, these ideas are created by men. However, the practical examples we have discussed, prove that they are baseless misconceptions in society.
As I see it, there must be male and female representation in the decision-making positions of a country. Decision-making power and ability are the same for both men and women. In the past, by giving the decision making opportunity only to men, they not only undermined the women but also undermine the issues, skills and abilities of the majority of the country. We must face the future by learning through our mistakes.
If someone questions me as to why women should be in parliament, My answer would be why not?
In particular, why should young women be involved in politics?
The majority of politicians are from the 20th century and now already 1/5th of the 21st century has gone by and we need to plan ahead thinking of the 22nd century in mind. In my opinion, most of us who are in politics are outdated. I have no intention of undermining anyone. In order to plan for the 22nd century, we first need to foresee it. Those who have been around since the early 20th century failed to do this, they failed to foresee the 21st century and plan for it. Therefore, a timely question arises as to how to successfully face the 22nd century. As our younger generation will last till the beginning of the 22nd century, we need the vision of the new generation to build a country that suits the 22nd century. That is why we need youth representation. It should not be limited to Parliament. The younger generation needs to contribute at various levels in the political arena.
If the ideas of the younger generation are not allowed, an expired and outdated Sri Lanka will be seen in the 22nd century.
Does gender-based violence and inequality hinder young people from entering the workforce?
Such violence affects young women the most. In the private sector, there are instances where some institutions prevent young women from being recruited due to maternity leave. We know that women make up less than 35% of our workforce. Women are being treated unfairly in relation to employment opportunities.
In fact, we see situations where verbal, physical, mental and sexual harassment in some institutions prevent women from going to work and quit their jobs altogether. Recently, we saw videos of a woman being assaulted by a head of an institution on social media. Such violence is one of the reasons why young women are prevented from entering the labour force.
What measures should we take to prevent such matters?
We need legal reform. We have already called for the enforcement of the ILO 190 convention of the International Labour Organization in relation to violence and harassment in the world of work. It provides workplace security for both men and women. I hope that through this we will be able to create a common workplace for both parties.
What is the impact of the online education system on youth?
Reports show that less than 45% are utilizing online education. In fact, the economic status of a family has a huge impact on online education.
Some households do not even have the equipment needed for online education. Even if they do, we see a situation where there is only one device for everyone. The children have to wait for their parents to come home to access the device. As a result, such children miss out the lessons taught during the day.
In addition, many provinces do not have 3G / 4G coverage. Therefore, even university students who possess such a device often miss out lessons. These students will realise the loss and impact of these issues in the future.
At the same time, through this type of education, these children are deprived of social and life skills along with the experiences required for a decent living.
If we take the little children let alone the youth, these small kids who joined the first grade have not got proper schooling till they reach the third grade by next year. These children have not learned life skills but have only been given a knowledge-based education. If you take Advanced Level students; the situation is the same, only the required knowledge is given, especially the science stream students, they have not been given any practical knowledge.
University students will pass out without any practical experience when it comes to university life. It is through the university that we get to know people, clash with peers, learn about society, and learn to make decisions that become milestones in life. These children are deprived of the practical side due to the covid pandemic.
So the quality of online education is challenging for these young people who are emerging as professionals.
Many ministers claim that online education is 100% successful. However, we are aware of the problems faced by children and youth in rural areas.
What are your recommendations to achieve success in this regard?
We need to bring together experts in this regard and study the steps taken by countries that have successfully faced these obstacles and plan how to deal with them successfully in the future. My opinion is to promote educational programs on TV channels allowing everyone to participate.
In Parliament, some ministers claimed that educational programs were being aired on channels such as 101,102. But they are broadcasted on satellite television. Can village children access satellite TV? I believe it would be even more successful if such programmes were aired on a regular TV channel which has proper coverage.
We can also conduct such educational programs through YouTube as students can even use night-time data to view them. It will also help the students who missed classes during the day.
We must support our children to get an education by any means. We should take steps to minimize the mishaps of online education.