Avinya Academy – The First Day of School

It is a historic day for Avinya Foundation. Today was the first day of school for the students t Avinya Academy Bandaragama, our first campus. After many months of planning, building, replanning, organizing, reorganizing, training, preparation and  commitments, we were able to find the 120 students and the journey has started.  

Avinya Academy Bandaragama Campus

The purpose

I am super excited to work for Avinya because I am part of a “good cause.” When Sanjiva first explained this to me, he was explaining me two aspects, on one part we will help students who did not get a proper opportunity during school life to succeed in life, and on the other hand, we will empower the community surrounding the families of the students and those around the campus.

Our purpose is to help provide opportunities to those who were not privileged enough. Even if you they were not able to pass the O/L, we will help the students to build a lifelong vocational career.

Even if they do not have means to afford a quality education at an institute, we will ensure they are funded to be able to complete the vocational certificate courses successfully.

We would ensure that these students are empowered with employability. For employability, they will not only get the technical vocational knowledge and training, but more importantly they will be empowered with 21st century skills. This will ensure that they would not be prepared merely to find and do a job but they will be empowered to build a career themselves.

The wicked problem

Every year, we have about 350,000 doing O/L born in the same year. However, out of these, only around 10% to 12% of that student population make it to government university.

People who can afford will go to private universities. That too will account around 3% to 5%.

If we average the number who make it to universities, both public and private sectors, to 15%, what happens to the rest of the 85%?

There is a considerable number of students who does badly or fail O/L and they cannot even do A/Ls. Then doing A/L with the dream of entering a university is a dream for vast majority. And many will realize this only after lots of expenses, both monetary and more importantly time. They some of them fall back doing a course. Those who do not do A/L go into do some “Course” or attend vocational. However, even from those who does alternate educational vocational programs, how many are employable? And talking about employability, from those who attend universities, how many are employable.

We also need to take into account that another large number of students try to find a job right after O/L or A/L. The question again is they could get a low earing job, yet what is their ability to get a career without proper technical knowhow or skills?

This is a massive and an overly complex problem to solve.


Our objective is to have an impact at least on 10% of the 350,000-student population. That would not solve the complete wicked problem. But we will have a considerable positive impact.

A school will take 120 students from each year’s O/L batch. And at scale, we plan to have around 320 schools. That is around 38,000 students every year.

We do not want to disrupt the A/L dream. In other words, we do not want to encourage anyone who is willing to do A/L to come to Avinya. However, if students are looking for alternatives to A/L after their O/L and even if they did not do great with their O/L we would like to invite them to apply to Avinya.

And for them, we are offering 2.5 year long programs on multiple vocational fields with NVQ level 4 to 6 certification.

Why Vocational?

Given the economic crisis in Sri Lanka, there is lot of talk about industrial or production economy. For this we need industrial expertise. However, for this, we not only need engineers, doctors, or management graduates, we also need lots of support staff.

How can we keep the lights running, AC working, water flowing? What about all the support staff that every industry needs. We need vocationally educated, trained and skilled workforce.

This workforce needs to be treated well, have a decent income and leads to a decent life style. In addition to technical skills, they should also have 21st century skills that would make them presentable, respectable and more importantly employable.

Their skills, both hard and soft, will help build sustainable income for them and the economy in general.

The Empower Program

Avinya’s key differentiator in the vocational education space is the Avinya Empower program.

May organizations start with the subject matter and focus on soft skills, digital literacy is secondary or an afterthought. Teaching English is a sperate course. Employability is hardly spoken about or even if it is spoken about, it is seldom practiced.

Avinya Empower program comes with three pillars.

1.       English language skills  

2.       Digital literacy

3.       21st century skills

The program is based on project-based learning (PBL) model. The student is not assessed with exams at all. Rather the student is evaluated with growth rubrics in for each empowerment pillar and given one-on-one feedback on a regular basis.

The program is run for 6 months. During this time, in addition to empowering the students to grow in relation to the above mentioned three pillars of focus, they are also given mentoring on what vocational stream to choose based on their interests, skills and traits. Most of the time, parents and students would assume that something would fit them and jump onto a vocational program to figure out halfway that it is not the thing for them. This often happens in with students going through A/L steams as well. The Avinya differentiator is that we help the students to make informed decisions on their field selection with 6 months of mentoring and mutual discussion between teachers and each student.

My Observations

Today being at the Bandaragama Avinya Campus, I was fortunate to witness the activity and sessions of the classes of the inaugural batch.  The first day of engagements between students and teachers were impressive. The attention paid and active participation was very high. Even though it is only the first day of school, I can already see the kind of positive impact the Empower program would have on these kids.

It is a different environment, a different style (namely PBL) and the students seem to be adopting really well.

I can see that they are bringing the social and the cultural influences. That is natural. Our objective is not to override their cultural or social orientations. Rather to empower them to see the world and learn the world with a novel perspective. It seems that the students are living well up to expectations and catching up really fast.

I also observe that these students and are talented on multiple fronts, listening to their interests, discussions, and lunch chit-chats.

I am pretty sure that these kids will do great with the upcoming vocational programs.

Final Notes

It was a long day at the Bandaragama Campus. I had walked more than 5 km up and down within the premises. Yet I had to write this today and publish to mark this magical day. Even though I am tired, the purpose attached to what we do as an organization and as a team at Avinya keeps me energized and spirited.

I am confident that Avinya will be a great initiative that would grow, scale, expand and succeed across the country and empower thousands of families and millions of people.