Turning excellence into practical use is precisely

(Ambassador Robert Blake's Remarks at the Opening Ceremony of Hikkaduwa Vocational School, August 28 )

by Robert Blake

(September 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Venerable Bhikku, Minister Gamage, Major General Ponnamperuma, other distinguished invitees, staff and future students and residents of Narigama and Hikkaduwa - thank you all for coming today to inaugurate this new vocational education school.

I am here to represent the American people, who funded this school, and to convey a message of friendship to the people of Hikkaduwa and the people of Sri Lanka.

I am pleased to see some familiar faces today - many of you were here with me a year ago when we celebrated the groundbreaking for this school. Today we are back to celebrate its completion. I am proud of the final result.

As part of the United States Government’s $135 million tsunami reconstruction program, USAID is building five vocational schools in southern Sri Lanka and four in eastern Sri Lanka. This morning, we opened the first of these nine schools in Koggala, and now we open the second here in Hikkaduwa.

Of all the initiatives by the United States to help Sri Lanka recover from the tsunami, promoting vocational training is in many ways our most important project.

While today we mark the completion of a large construction project, we are also marking another significant milestone: the beginning of training. Now that the bricks and mortar are in place and the doors to the school are being opened – it is the teaching and learning that will take place inside this new building that becomes the most important focus.

Young people attending this school will learn trades in plumbing, electrical work, refrigeration and air conditioning, masonry and carpentry. Such training will help them to find good paying jobs in the near term, and will help boost both family income and wider economic opportunities in Sri Lanka in the longer term.

Minister Gamage, in June this year, you told Parliament that only 16% of Sri Lanka’s workforce has higher education and technical qualifications. At that time, you presented a bill outlining plans to provide a higher percentage of the national workforce with an opportunity to gain further qualifications.

The US Government shares your commitment. That is why we are not only constructing the school buildings; we are also equipping the schools with all necessary items such as furniture, tools, sewing machines and other commodities to make them fully functional. To make sure the skills acquired by the students here at Hikkaduwa are in tune with the needs of the growing economy, we also helped develop the vocational skills curricula in consultation with the private sector, which will employ most graduates.

It is now the task of the Ministry of Vocational and Technical Training and the Vocational Training Authority to make sure that this school’s potential is realized so that it can help to expand economic opportunities for young people and turn out a workforce whose skills are in demand.

The ancient Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle once said: “With regard to excellence, it is not enough to know, but we must try to have and use it”.

Turning excellence into practical use is precisely what the Hikkaduwa vocational education school is all about. Through practical education, the bright young students here at Hikkaduwa will become productive members of society. You will learn trades that will lead to well-paying jobs. In this way, you will help yourself, the Southern Province and Sri Lanka as a whole to become more prosperous.

There are many who deserve our thanks for their assistance and hard work on this project. First, I want to thank Access International and CH2MHill, the contractors who have built this impressive school and been our strong partners.

I also want to commend some private donors who have made important contributions. The Chevron Corporation, Prudential, the Mellon Foundation, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, have provided generous funding to ensure this vocational education school is complete and equipped with modern equipment for the use of the students.

Lastly I’d like to thank our Government of Sri Lanka partners in this project, the Ministry of Vocational and Technical Training and the Vocational Training Authority

Minister Gamage, Major General, distinguished invitees, staff and future students – I wish you every success with making the Hikkaduwa vocational education school a center of excellence and a place that offers new opportunities to Sri Lanka’s youth.
- Sri Lanka Guardian