ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka may be looking at automation and robotics as potential solutions to labour shortages brought on by the country’s aging population amid a sharp rise in migration of skilled and unskilled labour, according to a remark by President Ranil Wickremeesinghe.
“Our population profile suggests there will be more older people and fewer young people. Why don’t we start now with being semi-automated and then go on to automation, to robotics?” Wickremesinghe said addressing the Post-Budget Forum 2023 organised by the Colombo University MBA Alumni Association last week.
An official from the Ministry of Technology told EconomyNext that the department under whose purview robotics comes is not functioning at present due to a staff shortage.
According to the World Bank report in 2021, Sri Lanka holds an aging population of 12.3 percent, showing the highest proportion of adults over 60 in the South Asian region.
The privately owned Sunday Times newspaper reported that Sri Lanka’s aging population for 2022 could be up to 16 percent and could increase up to 23 percent by 2032.
A research by H R Anulawathie Menike from the Kelaniya University shows that the high rate of aging population is due to a decrease in the rate of fertility, a decrease in child population and a drop in the rate of mortality, all contributing to increased life expectancy.
“In order for automation and robotics to be implemented in Sri Lanka, it must be established with clarity. For optimum results to be seen it will take two to three years. You cannot expect overnight results,” said Silmy Ahamed, an IT specialist.
“Sri Lanka has a decent workforce that can undertake these futuristic measures, but there are certain inefficiencies. Cost of automation is also a potential downfall.”
Speaking at the event, President Wickremesinghe said: “We might as well encourage for automation and robotics, for which we need a completely new system of education.”
The president stated that he had been criticised for the budget having insufficient allocation for education for 2023, as the country’s Education Ministry is still recovering from the pandemic.
“Even if you give more money, they will not be in a position to spend that money effectively. It is much better to plan and give them more money from next year onwards,” he said.
Nihal Ranasinghe, Secretary to the Ministry of Education, told EconomyNext that a draft policy document will be submitted to the president with regard to island-wide implementation of new procedures and developments that can be undertaken.
“The policy covers all these new developments that can be undertaken for futuristic approaches,” he said.
The official said that assistance is also being provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank and UNICEF.
Senior Research Fellow at LIRNEasia Sujata Gamage told EconomyNext: “These are pipe dreams because our young people are leaving and when they leave who is going to assemble and put all this technology in place?
“To do automation and robotics we need a prepared population. They want to teach Artificial Intelligence (AI) in schools. That’s nonsense. They can barely teach and use Microsoft Word,” said Gamage.
Although Sri Lanka strives to leap into automation and robotics several industries claim that the country is not cash ready and culturally ready to accept the technological challenges posed. (Colombo/Nov21/2022)