A group of migrant workers receiving their ICT training at a SLANA Centre.
Microsoft together with Sri Lanka Anti Narcotics Association (SLANA) and the Foreign Employment Bureau launched a series of IT Training sessions for migrant workers and their families. The five-day sessions, held at the SLANA auditorium, are part of a project to impart basic IT skills to migrant workers with the objective of developing competencies through a multi pronged training process that include IT, skills development, provision of information and mentoring towards enhancing the employability/economic security.
The project was created and planned by merging the expertise and knowledge of Microsoft, SLANA and the FEB. SLANA founded in 1998, is an independent, Non profit service organization committed to the prevention of drug abuse. At present SLANA have over 9000 members throughout the country, ranging from government officials of the highest rank to high school students, creating the backbone of the association to facilitate interpersonal communications against drug abuse as well as a direct link to local communities.
Over 1.5 million Sri Lankans are part of a migrant worker population that brings back 27.5% of the country’s much needed foreign exchange inflows – the highest foreign earning sector. Of these migrant workers, a vast majority are drawn from marginalized and underprivileged backgrounds. Their standard of living, typically, is characterized by poverty, low literacy levels and language barriers. Grappling to support families with a spiraling cost of living and rising inflation amid political and economic instability, many men and women are attracted by the prospect of employment overseas – mostly in blue collar jobs.
One of the key differentiators of quality of life in Sri Lanka is access to technology – and this is particularly of significance among the migrant worker population, many of whom are not computer-illiterate. It is significant however that those with basic technological skills would be able to enhance their employability in better jobs, increase their communication and overall improve their quality of life.
Microsoft Sri Lanka together with SLANA entered in to a partnership with the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau in an ambitious project to enhance the quality of migrant workers lives by addressing this skill-gap and helping to bridge the digital divide. With the vision of providing a boost to the economic, political and social empowerment of migrant workers, the project aims to impart basic computer literacy through a specially designed accelerated five-day programme, which will become a compulsory addition to the two week training programme conducted by the Foreign Employment Bureau for migrant workers.
The Curriculum of the Certificate Course was designed by SLANA, the implementing body, using the Microsoft Unlimited Potential curriculum as a base with technical input from the Bureau on the development of a suitable curriculum for adoption within a limited time frame to persons of low literacy levels and little knowledge of English. Essentially, the programme aims to instill in the migrant workers an appreciation of the need for computer literacy and how this would improve not just their employability but also their relationships – by enhancing communication with the families back home. The course content includes an abridged version of Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Curriculum, components of e-mailing and internet browsing, an introductory snapshot of excel and insight to money management. The course will also address areas of particular interest such as how to send pictures and receive text messages through mobile phones. They will also be made familiar with using Microsoft’s Sinhalese language package to assist them in developing communication skills in local languages.
Commenting on this partnership, Mrs. Janakie Karunaratne, Manager – Community Affairs, Microsoft Sri Lanka said, “Adding value and dignity to migrant workers is of national importance – raising their skill set and profile in the international market place will benefit not only the families of these workers but also the country as a whole. This project was launched to expose migrant workers to the benefits of technology and to facilitate insights to the global environment. By improving their technical aptitude, we hope to empower them with the capacity to harness access and apply the knowledge gained, on activities related to their work and settings. We hope this project will create the potential for new economic activity, and employment opportunities enhancing their productivity through ICT while also enabling easier communication among families and friends. It is our desire that this effort at facilitating digital access will help them develop self confidence and broader outlooks, while raising the quality of their lives and in the long term, helping the nation battle poverty and low living standards”.
Colombo, Chilaw and Kurunegala will be the target locations of this project, being areas that enjoy a high concentration of the envisaged beneficiary groups. These areas were also chosen as the project could tie up with SLANA centers at each location – where the five-day course would be conducted. The Bureau has stepped forward to provide resident facilities where necessary for the participants, and will also be engaged in referring families of the migrant workers to the project.
Dharshinie Guniyangoda, Director SLANA commented on the project, saying "We at SLANA have always been concerned of the migrant worker’s families, especially the children they leave behind, as we have seen the enormous impact the lack of communication is having in making families dysfunctional, and the unfortunate consequence of substance abuse. ICT can be a powerful tool in counteracting this devastating eventuality and ensuring a better tomorrow for the workers and their families, enabling them to win their dreams more often than they lose them. At SLANA, we address the prevention angle on a human resources development platform, this program for equipping workers and families will be yet another milestone activity of ours for supporting the development process of Sri Lanka, by protecting its most valuable asset our workers and their children."
The Foreign Employment Bureau will drive the promotion of the programme among targeted groups through its training division while the Migrant Information and Services Desk would also provide information on the course. In addition, the project will be promoted through registered private employment agencies, Women’s Groups working with Migrant Workers, SLANA Telecentres, awareness programmers, SLANA Newsletter, Press releases, web pages, e- advertising, and print material will also promote the project among potential migrant workers.
Speaking of the initiative, Mr. Kingsley Ranawaka, Chairman Foreign Employment Bureau said “Foreign employment often comes with a downside - Migrant Workers are faced with a slew of problems, the most serious of them being families becoming dysfunctional. This project aims to address this social issue by enabling improved communication between family members by facilitating a more efficient and affordable channel of communication. The Sri Lankan government is committed to upgrading the quality of our migrant workers – who are one of the most important sources of foreign exchanges inflows. We are indeed pleased to partner with a globally renowned company such as Microsoft to equip our migrant workers with IT skills that they can use during their employment and upon reintegration. These skills will not only help upgrade their skills, they will also enable them to perform better at their jobs and become more receptive to new technology – adding overall value to their profile”.
Ms. A. M. Sajeevani from North Batagama, Kandana who leaves to Lebanon in August, where she will be employed as a nurse in a hospital, is part of the programme launched today. She expressed her appreciation of the opportunity, saying “I had never before used a computer and after just one session, I feel confident and am no longer afraid of using IT. I think it’s very important to learn how to use a computer as this makes keeping in touch with our families back home much easier, cheaper and quicker. I am very thankful to the Foreign Employment Bureau, Microsoft and SLANA for affording me this opportunity and enabling me to become IT literate. I hope many other migrant workers will be able to gain this same benefit that I have from this programme.”
Going forward, the project is expected to expand considerably – plans are in place to target migrant workers’ children who show a high aptitude by further strengthening their IT skills through an advanced course at the centers on a subsidized or scholarship scheme. Microsoft is working in collaboration with the Bureau as well as a series of other international and national organizations to ensure that the project becomes sustainable in the long term.