Never Say Enough
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage Ceylon Today Features
Sri Lanka is a country that places a high value on education, especially from State institutions. I’m sure you might feel some of that ‘importance’ as term tests and other major examinations such as GCE O Levels and A Level draw near.
Although there is high regard and emphasis on getting a quality education and our current educational system having created many great minds who have done us proud both locally and internationally, there are some barriers and misconceptions within the system and among the people that are holding Sri Lankan students back from achieving even greater heights.
These misconceptions however, did not stop Tuhan Sapumanage from achieving his ambitions. He is one of the youngest people in the world to complete a BSc (Hons) degree in Computing with First-class Honours at age 18, earning him the Gold Medal for best performance and a mention in the Dean’s List. He then completed CIMA at age 19, even becoming CIMA Global Student of the Year, the only Sri Lankan to win the award.
He is also the Founder and CEO of his very own social enterprise, Transpire Sri Lanka. Besides all that, he is an Educator in Higher Education, a Researcher in Artificial Intelligence, an Advisory Committee Member and a Recurring Guest Speaker on a national TV show. He’s also a team member in charge of business strategy and finance for a patent-pending product that is under development.
We reached out to Tuhan to learn more about him and his thoughts about education and its importance to unlock opportunities in the world.
Thoughts on education
Being born to a family of highly educated individuals who have achieved much professionally, Tuhan saw the importance of education early on in his life. Having gone through this education system himself, he identified some of the flaws in today’s scenario and the socio- cultural attitudes towards education.
“Contrary to other developing countries, Sri Lankans believe education is a necessity and that’s a good thing,” he said. “But unfortunately, many parents still think A/L is a benchmark. It’s not. If you take a step back and look at the big picture, A/Ls is merely an exam the Government conducts to award a free scholarship to the top students since they cannot accommodate everyone in their universities.”
Tuhan believes that there are many opportunities out there, and that “people should come out of the standard path and actively seek other opportunities without trying to waste two to three years of the best time of their lives, trying to get this free scholarship.”
He also believes that it’s important that parents realise, “not everyone is meant to be good at everything.” Instead, Tuhan hopes that each parent will allow their child “to be themselves,” without making the pursuit of academic excellence, a burden on their child.
“If your child repeatedly fails something, it is great. Then you already know that they are meant to do something else.
A good, but flawed system
“People think the current education system favours the so-called ‘smart kids’ while it leaves behind the kids good at other things such as aesthetics or sports. In reality, it’s not the case.” Tuhan explained that while there is opportunity for talent to succeed, there are many flaws in the prevailing system that hinder the potential of local students.
“I have seen many, so-called smart university graduates struggling to do a presentation, not being able to interact with someone from the opposite gender or a different religion. It’s not their fault. Our education system does not train them for these skills, and it’s alarming.”
He also noted how long it takes for a student to graduate in the prevailing educational system. “Globally, one can graduate at an age as early as age 22. In India, students can even follow a master’s degree at age 21. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, the average age to graduate can be as high as 26.”
Why is it a problem?
When that happens, he points out; our students do not even have a hope of competing with global talent who graduate almost half a decade earlier, making them their bosses.
Not only that, “let’s say they become a CEO –then they not only lose the five years of time to contribute in that position but also 60 months of that CEO salary because of retirement, which is a lot to lose. Graduating early allows them to contribute more and be rewarded for that value.”
Making a change
Aiming to solve this problem, Tuhan created Transpire Sri Lanka, “with the goal of making a story like mine possible for every Sri Lankan. Transpire’s mission is to build a globally competitive workforce in Sri Lanka, helping our talent to graduate as early as 18 along with work experience; thereby giving hope to our youth and building a Sri Lankan dream.”
Transpire’s efforts are certainly a great contribution to helping Sri Lankan education reach greater heights, however, it’s important that our current educational system undergoes a complete overhaul as well. Tuhan has three suggestions that he sees as important in revamping the current system.
“First, we must make a learning environment,” he said. By facilitating students to collaborate with people from all genders and religions at a young age, Tuhan believes that doing so will help our students become more confident in collaborating and communicating.
“Second, we should make every subject optional in early grades, which can help students actually enjoy what they learn and later choose the subjects they loved the most to follow in-depth.”
“Third, it’s time we start building a truly educated generation, not a bunch of people who do not even remember what they learnt after completing their studies. We need to incorporate new subjects such as finance, law, basic economics and entrepreneurial studies into our syllabi. Not to see who can get the highest marks, but to teach them these life skills. We also need to help them understand and tell them why they learn these. Because these are life skills that we need to survive in the present world.”
Opportunity calls for those who seek
“People think education is an end. It’s not. It’s a means to an end,” Tuhan shared, pointing out that it was not only education, but also through participating in extracurricular activities and actively seeking out opportunities, expanding his own network is what led him to success.
A message for you
In order for that to happen, Tuhan strongly believes the motivation to pursue an education and achieve goals must come intrinsically. “Expand your horizons. If you put a shark in a goldfish tank, the shark will stop growing. If you restrict your goal to a doctor or an engineer, you are restricting your potential.
“They are great careers for sure. But if you come out and see the world out here you would see millions of others, possibly more satisfying and even higher-paying jobs. When I was young, I wanted to go to NASA. So, in my degree, I did much better than others who wanted to be Software Engineers in order to achieve that goal. Like that, expand your horizon, set higher targets. Unleash your hidden potential and go the extra mile. Also, keep exploring yourself. When I discovered my leadership skills, I changed my ambition. Expand your goals and keep exploring. Never settle.”