Chairman / CEO, Vocational Training Authority of Sri Lanka, Dhammika Hewapathirana
Vocational Training Authority of Sri Lanka (VTA) was established in July 1995 under the provisions of the Vocational Training Authority of Sri Lanka Act, No. 12 of 1995, with the objective of providing job oriented training especially to the rural youth through 270 centers. During the last few years VTA has been providing various study programs including Information Technology. Currently there are 25,000 students following educational courses at VTA. Following are excerpts of an interview with Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, VTA, Dhammika Hewapathirana.
Question - Why should somebody select VTA instead of a private institution for vocational studies?
Answer - Our objective is to pave the way for youth to acquire skills needed to gain employment, either wage, self or foreign and thus lead a contended life and contribute towards the country’s economic development. We offer the courses at an affordable and reasonable price but with local and international recognition, which is not available with many of the private sector institutions.
We are the largest IT education network in Sri Lanka operating though 90 education centers found in all parts of the country. More than the size, unlike most private institutions that conduct courses, VTA is the only IT education center providing government accepted courses. The national vocational qualification obtained from VTA is internationally bench marked.
Not only that, multinational IT giant Microsoft has given us the Microsoft Advanced Academy status, which is not held by any other organization in Sri Lanka. If you take India, there are only four such institutions enjoying the Microsoft Advanced Academy status.
Another such company is the networking giant Cisco. We are one of the three academies in Sri Lanka accredited by them. Currently we have two out of five Cisco certified instructors working with us. In addition, we are in the process of building an Adobe Academy in Sri Lanka. Although all other institutions in the country teach Adobe products, none of them are certified to do so. Therefore, we will be the one and only Adobe Academy in the island.
Although we have not caught the public eye, we are the market leader in many aspects. We rely on word of mouth but not on heavy advertising campaigns. Following the government’s policy we are contributing to expand IT penetration and literacy in a sensible way. In the long run, the students who graduate from VTA will have a better chance over the others in BPO and other IT related sectors.
In return, the government will be able to build a pool of IT professionals in Sri Lanka, which will give better negotiating power in attracting IT related businesses into the country. These new ventures will guarantee better standards for our Sri Lankans.
We are also in the process of developing a curriculum with the coordination of the Ministry of Education. The MoU will be signed soon. There are some 40,000 students in the country following IT as a subject in the G.C.E. Ordinary Level. Then again some 1,000 students take IT as a subject in the G.C.E. Advanced Level examination. There are almost 2,000 IT labs located in the schools. The intention is to build a career guidance system where school leavers will select IT as a career. Our plan is to get accreditation from the University Grants Commission in providing degree courses as well in the future.
Question - In the IT sector what are the training options you provide?
Answer - As a vocational training institution we provide both hardware and software training programs. We offer both these courses in centers located island wide in 270 centers out of which some 68 centers offer up to National Diploma level. Before the end of this year some 90 centers will be upgraded to offer courses meeting the national diploma level. In addition to local certifications, international certifications such as Adobe, Cisco, and Microsoft are also offered.
Question - What are the eligibility criteria for such courses?
Answer - Our main target is the school leaver where he/she can obtain qualifications on hardware as well as software for an attractive price. Once completed these courses would easily open up the opportunity for you to secure a job, which will pay Rs.20, 000 at least. There is a growing demand for graphic designers, printers and pre press work in Sri Lanka.
Question - Do you assist the students in finding employment opportunities?
Answer - We will be starting a job portal, which is to advertise available vacancies as well as information with regards to students - those who completed the respective courses successfully.
Question - When did you start providing IT education?
Answer - IT was in our agenda for many years. But during the last six years with the ADB funds coming in we streamlined the IT education especially targeting the rural sector. Before that our centers were mainly focused on preliminary studies in IT.
Question - What are the courses that you provide?
Answer - National Diploma in Information and Communication (NDICT) course is designed for the students with basic knowledge in ICT. This is a one-year fulltime course consisting of all the major fields in ICT. This is a job oriented course design according to the ICT market requirements. It covers multimedia stream, network stream, web development stream, data base stream, programming stream, and computer hardware stream.
Adobe Academy is another course we provide. If you want to work in the creative industries, you will want to work with Adobe, master the tools of the trade and you will be well on the way to become a computer games or graphic designer, motion picture editor etc. The curriculum for CCNA Discovery includes networking based on application, covering concepts based on the type of practical networks students may encounter from home and small office, to more complex enterprise models. Students learn basics of routing, switching and advanced technologies to prepare for Cisco CCNA certification and entry-level network careers.
CCNA Security course provides the next step for individuals who want to enhance their CCNA level skills and help meet the growing demand for network security professionals. CCNA Security helps prepare students for entry-level security career opportunities and the global recognized Cisco CCNA security certification. The target audience is students seeking career oriented, entry-level security specialist skills. Target students include IT professionals who want to enhance their core routing and switching skills and students enrolled in technology degree programs at institutions of higher education.
Question - What differentiates your institution and other establishments providing IT related courses?
Answer - We are already working on a joint program with the Ministry of Education. Since the current syllabus includes IT at school education, after sitting for General Certificate of Examination - Ordinary Level, students could proceed to national vocational certificate (NVQ). Although we receive a considerably large number of applications some 80% would get the opportunity to enroll. The limited facilities hinder us from growing further at this moment. We are looking at charging Rs.2,500 to Rs.3,000 for a national certificate. This very attractive compared to other private institutions.