“Purpose of Education is to Improve One’s Thinking”


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No one is born excellent; they start from the bottom and work their way up. He started his career as an Assistant Lecturer and climbed high up in the career ladder on his own, to become a giant in the Sri Lankan educational field. Through holding many positions in the educational field, Professor Gunapala Nanayakkara devoted his strength and wisdom to nourish the minds of the younger generation of this country. As the Additional Director General of Faculty of Education Leadership Development and Management of National Institute of Education (NIE) he shares his thoughts with Exposition.

Q:

Sir, could you take us through your university experience?

A:

I always wanted to be in a teaching sort of a job. It was probably when I was doing A/Ls that I saw the potential of pursuing an academic career. The choice of career was based on self-assessment because there was no career guidance or anyone to get any advice from. I was one of the forty-three students who were taken as the first batch of full-time students in Management Studies at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in 1966. After completing the degree, I joined the university as an assistant lecturer in 1973. Then I went to Canada for higher studies in 1974, with a scholarship. I completed my Masters in York University in 1976 and my PhD in 1979 at Carleton University in Canada.

Q:

It is well known that you pioneered in setting up the Post Graduate Institute of Management. Can you tell us your experience on starting the institute?

A:

While studying in Canada, I realised that one of the requirements in the arena of Human Resource Development in Sri Lanka was lack of management education. So, I had a series of discussions with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in Ottawa. I submitted a proposal on behalf of Sri Lanka, and was lucky enough to get a project approved for five years to help University of Sri Jayewardenepura to start an MBA program in Management Studies. In 1980 with the support of the Vice Chancellor and the Dean of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, I was able to sign an agreement with CIDA to provide lecturers the opportunity to run the MBA program for five years. The MBA program started in 1981 and by 1984 we were able to successfully convince the University Grants Commission that we could operate as a separate institute. So, the Post Graduate Institute of Management (PIM) was set up in December 1985 and I became the first Director in January 1986. After some time, we took the Institute outside the university, to a place in Dehiwala. In 1994 the Institute was moved to a permanent place in Lesley Ranagala Mawatha in Borella, where it is currently operating. By 1997, PIM became self-financed and doing well since then.

Q:

How did your career evolve from that point onwards to where you are now?

A:

I became a Professor in 1996 and a Senior Professor in 2002. In 2006, I was appointed as the Vice Chancellor of the University Grants Commission (UGC). I was handling finance, capital budget and human resources. I did my best to meet the requirements of Universities; visited them and provided facilities accordingly. However, I resigned from the Vice Chancellor position in 2007. In 2007, I set up a ranch of PIM in Dubai. It had a good demand, so we opened another branch in Doha Qatar too. However, with the economic downturn in 2008, it became less financially viable. So, I had to close it down and let the remaining students to continue their degree programs in Sri Lanka from 2009. In 2012, I retired from the university and started a private company, called Graduate School of Management, to offer MBA and PhD programs. I signed an agreement with the Open University of Malaysia. I set up the institute at the World Trade Centre in Colombo and later moved to Narahenpita and was able to conduct the program till 2016. In 2015, I was appointed as the acting Director General of the National Institute of Education (NIE). After that, I was appointed as a Consultant in Human Resource Development in the Ministry of Education. Then I became the Advisor of the Minister of Education after 3 years. I was appoined as the Additional Director General of Faculty of Education Leadership Development and Management of NIE (Meepe branch of NIE) when the post was vacant. That is how I came all the way here, starting from the university. I also conducted a lot of research projects and have published twelve books. At the same time, I think the institute I created helped me to grow with that.

Q:

Could you briefly tell us what is Human Resource Development (HRD) and Strategic Management, in your point of view?

A:

Human Resource (HR), not Human Resource Development (HRD), is the most important factor of production. About a century ago, economists saw that the key factors of production were Land, Labour, Capital and Entrepreneurship. In the 1930s and 1940s, finance became a key factor, and in the 1950s and 1960s, technology was considered as the most important factor in production. By 1980s people started paying attention to Human Resource. HRD is a futuristic approach to Human Resource. Development of people is a strategic management requirement of a country or a company. So, the future requirements of human needs should be calculated at present, and a development program should be planned. It is not training; training basically means improving the skills and attitudes of people to suit the current job. Development is about identifying the attitudes of people on hand, future requirements of the company, individuals who could cater those future requirements and send them for higher education or long-term programs. So, developing human resources is something that is strictly aligned with the strategic goals of a company or a country.

Q:

There are different theoretical approaches to HRD. In your opinion, what is the best and the most effective approach?

A:

When looking from a company’s point of view, HRD could be done either internally or externally. Multinational or transnational companies have enough capacity to train their employees internally. As an example, a company in Sri Lanka which is connected to an international company can train their employees by sending them to universities or programs conducted by the mother company. Such an arrangement is internal, but some other companies will have to depend on external facilities. It is very important to recognize which employees to develop. Generally, an organization must recognize jobs in terms of core-businesses and non-core-businesses. If we look at a garment manufacturer, designing, cutting, sewing are core-activities and accounting, financing, HR are non-core-activities. Strategically it is important to develop people for core-businesses, because if they are expanding the business, that means they are expanding the core-business. An organization needs to have its own core-business employees, but non-core-business employees can be hired from the open market, and there is no need for developing. Even though they are developed, there is a chance for them to leave the organization eventually. So, strategically more attention should be given to people in core-business with regard to their welfare and training.

Q:

As a consultant for HRD, how did you apply HRD and strategic management in terms of real applications, i.e. in business crisis situations or practical situations?

A:

In order to do what you are saying, decisions should be made. A consultant does not make decisions; only recommendations. Decisions are made by the line organization. In an organization, there are two parts; line organization and staff organization. Vital decisions are made by the line organization and the staff organization makes decisions to support core-decisions. So, as a consultant, I made the decisions on allocation of resources with the consultation of Directors of various divisions.

Q:

What kind of companies have you worked with, as a consultant? Can you give some examples of recommendations that you have
given them?

A:

I did a lot of consultancy when I was in the university. I had to do studies in various fields to excel in decision making. State Printing Corporation was one of my clients. I consulted them on re-structuring the organization, focusing on better quality products, improving the printing revenue and introducing new technology. I have done various consultancy projects with banks like Commercial Bank, People’s Bank, Bank of Ceylon and Sampath Bank to improve their operations. Last year I worked with Ministry of Health, to set up a Human Resources Division.

Q:

How did you apply the theoretical knowledge you had, to provide services to those companies?

A:

I believe that it is the purpose of consultancy; to bring outside knowledge to the organization. As an example, the Ministry of Health did not know how to set up a Human Resources Division. HR was handled by various individuals and it was distributed everywhere. They however saw the importance of collecting all that information to one place. My proposal was to set up a higher-level division, smaller in size but driven by IT to gather all information and analyze them. Likewise, outside people have to bring some theoretical knowledge into the organization. A Consultant should also have some recognition, else people doubt his/her recommendations and try to bring in their own objectives.

Q:

Sir, you have worked as an Educationist. Can education theories be applied to the business world and entrepreneurship?

A:

First, we must be able to match the aptitude of individuals with business requirements. According to education psychology, there are eight intelligences; verbal, numerical, spatial, analytical, musical, kinesthetic, environmental and intrapersonal. Education must recognize those aptitudes of individuals and enable them to further develop those aptitudes through the curriculum. One should recognize the areas in which they are strong as well as weak, and use their strengths to improve their lives and focus on improving their weak areas. So, education is there to enhance one’s inborn abilities. Then a business must recognize the type of intelligences that are useful to them and make the recruitments.

Q:

You have experience working with entrepreneurs. What are the differences between someone who has approached entrepreneurship through an educational background and someone who has not come from an educational background, yet has succeeded as an entrepreneur?

A:

As an example, let’s take Siddhalepa production. Victor Hettigoda, the one who started it, is a well-known entrepreneur, but he did not come from a highly educated background. There were two outstanding characteristics in him, which made him successful; perseverance and a good understanding about the society. Even through the hardest times, he did not give up on his business. His knowledge came from his awareness about the society, the way the Sri Lankan society operates and Sri Lankan values. So, he came up with the idea “Sema gedarkama sitiya yuthu weda mahaththaya”. Later, when his son, Asoka Hettigoda became the Chairman, he came up with an international marketing plan. Then they set up some operating projects in Europe, India and some other countries. They also opened up a showroom in Colombo International Airport and even came up with a contract with Sri Lankan Airlines to provide their herbal products to passengers. He brought an international dimension into the company through his knowledge. Dr Yaddehige, the CEO of Richard Peiris group, is another example. After he bought the company, he expanded it to various fields. Mr Dharmadasa also known as ‘Nawaloka Mudalali’, the owner of Nawaloka Group also did the same. He saw the possibilities of expanding his business. Though he was not someone who had higher education, his experience in foreign countries widened his vision.Purpose of education is to improve one’s thinking; not the amount of facts that someone knows. As an example, look at the Chairman of Laughs company, Mr Wegapitiya. He had entrepreneurial blood and thinking, but I think education would have definitely sharpened his ways of thinking.So according to my view, if the entrepreneur is not that educated, growth will be limited, but if the person is educated, he will see more dimensions and diverse to provide and expand.

Q:

What is your opinion regarding the popular argument that our educational system suppresses the creativity of students?

A:

Actually, that is one of the reasons for not having much entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka. That is why we do not have educated entrepreneurs. Even when you look at the world, some entrepreneurs are not there because of the education. For example, Bill Gates was not an educated entrepreneur. He was an outcast from the education system. Education is not supporting creativity. It is only pushing one to pass exams. In order to pass the exam, one must do what has been given to them. There is nothing to be creative, we just memorize and write it. So in my opinion, Sri Lankan education system is not supporting creativity.

Q:

The main idea behind our magazine, is to bridge Management and Information Technology. What is your opinion about this integration?

A:

IT came into businesses somewhere in 1960s. Even when I was doing my Masters in York University in 1974, there were no desktops or laptops, only one mainframe which was big enough to fill a room. We did not get to see the computer, we had to typewrite programs in cards, give them to the office and wait till the next day to see if the program is correctly written and thereby the results. But after the 1960s, when IT came to the industry, people saw that data processing is much more effective than manual ways. In the 1980s the idea of ‘Information’ was introduced. Then people started collecting data and making reports. One advantage of bridging IT and Management is that it helps a CEO to take better decisions. An effective IT system must enable the CEO or the head of the company to be aware about the operations in the company; in other words, to sit on top of the business. If it is a hotel chain, CEO should know about facts like absenteeism of each hotel, how menus are changing, occupancy rate and how the food mix should be changed according to the occupants. These are important for a CEO, to take key business decisions. The challenge for IT is to collect experiences of people. In any business, all employees learn new things every day, but there is no specific way to collect them. Data can be easily collected, but IT has to encourage people to record experiences and personal knowledge. Managing customer relationships also is something IT should be used for. A business should have a strong database about customer behaviours. IT should enable companies to recognize customer preferences which will help them to interact with customers and it will ensure a strong relationship between the customer and the company. Likewise, IT can play a big role in management.

Exposition Magazine Issue 15

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