Sri Lanaka’s first award winning CIMA lecturer Gajendra Liyanaarachchi talks about success, modern teaching methods and how a business defines where a person goes
CIMA lecturer Gajendra Liyanaarachchi believes people should plan their lives in 10 year periods to achieve success and wants people to take a cue from accomplished individuals like actor Shahrukh Khan and American Programmer and business magnate Bill Gates who continue to perform despite all the successes achieved and monies earned. Gajendra hates people who are dishonest and states that this bad trait has largely contributed to the downfall of this country. He likes the country’s new found freedom after the conclusion of the war. However he says Sri Lankans must quickly find something that they have a passion for if there needs to be true growth in this island nation.
Here are excerpts of an interview done with Gajendra at his office in Borella.
Q-What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you think about wellness?
Health, economic stability, peace of mind. It’s a wide ranging thought where you can’t isolate any one of these aspects. It’s the equilibrium of all these. There is no point in being physically fit if you don’t have economic power. If you can’t afford decent hospitalization facilities for your loved ones, there is a catastrophe in your life. Wellness might not have any meaning if it is not connected to a domain.
Q- You teach business. Do you see people doing business as happy individuals?
Happiness can’t be explained from one parameter. Sir Richard Branson thrives on opportunities. Alexander the Great thrived on battles and he died on a battle field. Money isn’t important beyond a certain point. The Buddha has taught the middle path. Sri Lankans have the tendency for relaxing after they make their money. But we see the opposite happening with people like Bill Gates. Gates is one of the richest people in the world, but he is in his office by 8 am and working hard. The same can be said about Shahrukh Khan. These people keep on performing despite being successful. The two factors that drive people are need for power and affiliation. Sri Lankans are driven by the latter, but achievement is absent in their lives.
Q- Does your type of teaching ensure people find the job they like?
It’s hard for people to find the job they like because of the flaws in the education system of the country. Teachers make students memorize and this is what helps them at the exam. Lateral thinking is absent in Sri Lankan education. Students who ask questions are looked upon as trouble makers. Society is scared of individual brilliance. This system produces academically brilliant people, but from a practical perspective, a good number of them are nobodies.
Q- Does your type of teaching transform students as individuals?
I tell students to define ‘who you are’. I tell them to map out where they want to be in 10 years. I get them to do this early in their lives. I give ideas to students, not notes. There is no one answer for my questions. You get marks for the quality of the argument. Sometimes we can’t control the end result of things, but we can make a quality argument.
Q-Your goal is to see all students pass the exam. What would you tell students who don’t live up to your expectations?
I make an individual analysis of students when they first walk into my lecture hall. If students lack English skills I tell them to find a retired English teacher and polish-up their language skills. If students are lacking business skills I tell them to read up newspapers. I advise CIMA students to start work and not wait till they complete university to begin work. The early start helps them see the big picture. All this helps them to get the best out of their choice of studying accountancy and business. Right now I will tell you that attending university is a waste of time. I missed the group convocation photo at university because I was working that day and saw no reason to stay away from work. You can’t get emotional. You shouldn’t have an attitude. You get the best returns when you start work as early as possible while managing higher education. There is a negative response when you apply for a job and say you were unemployed while you were at campus.
Q- Doing CIMA is a trend so many embrace it. What if a person finds out half way through the course that his choice to do accountancy is wrong?
I’ll let him to go. But I must stress here that CIMA students unlike pure accountancy students are decision makers and can work anywhere. CIMA students will never be out of work. One has to go through the initial struggles in life. I tell my students that if photocopying is a part of their work, to do it and grab the opportunity. Don’t define your role before you enter a work place. Understand the demand at your workplace. The business defines where you go.
Q-You were picked as CIMA Lecturer of the Year (UK) in 2006. What did this achievement mean to you and the country?
At that time the pass rate in Sri Lanka for Top CIMA was 24%. There was a perception that Sri Lankans were weak in theory subjects because English is their second language. I made the students write the answers to question papers and bring to them to class. I rewrote the bad answers. Their English improved tremendously this way. But I kept telling them that these rewritten answers were my answers and not theirs and they have to work harder to produce their own answers.
From the country’s perspective it helped Sri Lanka show the world that it has quality in the education it offers. The standards of other CIMA lecturers also improved after the award because there were a couple of other Sri Lankans who went on to win the award after me. How UK viewed Sri Lanka as a nation doing CIMA totally changed too.
Q-Has CIMA maintained its popularity as an educational qualification that ensures an individual’s progress in the face of other accountancy and management courses in the market?
The global appeal is there for CIMA because the main association in UK has a long history. CIMA produces decision makers and there is a bond between the institutes that produce outstanding CIMA students and companies which wish to employ them. Companies request me to send them top students to be employed. This bond between academic institutes and companies has turned into a trust over the years. CIMA started in 1919 and the head start we have had positions us over the other players who entered the market later.
Q-Sri Lanka loses most of the top students because they leave the country for greener pastures. Does Sri Lanka need the top achievers in CIMA at this period of time when the war is over and development is taking place?
The talk about the war concluding and the present situation in the country providing opportunities is giving a wrong message. The war never restricted the ability in people to educate themselves. We went to school when bombs were going off in the country, but we went about educating ourselves. After the war concluded there is a vacuum. We Sri Lankans must find something so that we can have a passion for life. A good example is to tell the University of Moratuwa that Sri Lanka needs to produce its first mobile phone or computer. We haven’t produced anything small like even a spoon in this country despite having the potential to do that. Humans are the greatest assets we have and that needs to be developed.
Q-So many students are studying accountancy. Do you think there will be a need in the future to restrict the large numbers accountancy attracts?
Accountancy jobs are being made redundant because there are software packages for that. Business and demand define what jobs are available and people must understand this. The problem is that the word business has been loosely defined. CIMA creates graduates who think, so they can be employed anywhere. The problem occurs when you do pure accounting. You need to open up education. For example it is tough to get an appointment with a dentist, but easy to get an appointment with the doctor because there are less dentists. But those who don’t get enough marks for medical college and can settle into other areas in the medical industry repeat the exam so that they can become doctors. But they don’t see that there are more opportunities for dentists to earn money compared to doctors. So when an institute produces students who are multi-skilled and can undertake muti-dimensional tasks they are in demand.