ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka could see automation and robotics as potential solutions to labor shortages caused by the country’s aging population amid a surge in skilled labor migration and unqualified, according to a remark by President Ranil Wickremeesinghe.
“Our demographic profile suggests that there will be more old people and fewer young people. Why not start now by being semi-automated, then move on to automation, to robotics? Wickremesinghe said addressing the 2023 Post-Budget Forum organized by the Association of MBA Graduates of the University of Colombo last week.
An official from the Ministry of Technology told EconomyNext that the department responsible for robotics is currently not functioning due to a lack of staff.
According to the World Bank report in 2021, Sri Lanka holds an aging population of 12.3%, having the highest proportion of adults over the age of 60 in the South Asia region.
The privately-owned Sunday Times reported that Sri Lanka’s aging population for 2022 could reach 16% and increase to 23% by 2032.
Research by HR Anulawathie Menike of Kelaniya University shows that the high rate of population aging is due to a decrease in the fertility rate, a decrease in the child population and a decline in the death rate, all contributing to the increase in life expectancy.
“For automation and robotics to be implemented in Sri Lanka, they need to be established with clarity. For optimal results to be seen, it will take two to three years. You cannot expect results overnight,” said IT specialist Silmy Ahamed.
“Sri Lanka has a decent workforce that can undertake these futuristic measures, but there are some inefficiencies. The cost of automation is also a potential downfall.
Speaking at the event, President Wickremesinghe said, “We might as well encourage automation and robotics, for which we need a completely new education system.”
The president said he was criticized for the budget having an 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 won’t be able to spend that money effectively. It is better to plan and give them more money from next year,” he said.
Nihal Ranasinghe, Secretary of the Ministry of Education, told EconomyNext that a draft policy document will be submitted to the President regarding the island-wide implementation of the 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 assistance is also being provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank and UNICEF.
Sujata Gamage, senior researcher at LIRNEasia, 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. It’s absurd. They can barely teach and use Microsoft Word,” Gamage said.
Although Sri Lanka is striving to embrace automation and robotics, several industries claim that the country is not ready for the money and culturally ready to accept the technological challenges posed. (Colombo/November 21, 2022)