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Alumna making a difference in Sri Lanka’s education sector

Posted: 11 June 2024

Sri Lanka, Alumni, Impact,

Ten years ago, Australia Awards alumna Poorna Perera was a mid-level manager in Sri Lanka who was passionate about broadening her knowledge in the field of education administration. This interest led Poorna to investigate an Australia Awards Scholarship, which she saw as a great starting point in gaining fundamental knowledge in the field. She was pleased to discover that ‘Education’ was listed as a priority study area for the ensuing round of Australia Awards Scholarships in Sri Lanka. This persuaded Poorna to apply, and she received a Scholarship to study a Master of Education at Monash University.

Poorna began her Scholarship journey in Australia in 2014 with excitement but also with a little anxiety, as she had been born and brought up in a completely different sociocultural background. Apprehension about relocating to an unfamiliar country wasn’t the only issue—as a further complication, she was doing so with her very young son in tow. She knew that it would be challenging as well as educational.

However, the opportunity to study and live in Australia was a lifechanging experience for Poorna. She not only learnt to be independent, but also adapted to a new culture and a new environment while studying with students from different nationalities. Poorna recalls that her most rewarding experience was meeting her next-door neighbours, who were students from other South-East Asian and South Asian nations, and learning more about the development of the Asia-Pacific region. Participating in many events, networking with colleagues, travelling to new places and experiencing the Australian way of life were incredible experiences for Poorna and gave her a new perspective on life.

Poorna (third from left) with other Australia Awards Scholars in 2014.

“The opportunity that I got to visit and study in Australia was a major turning point in my professional and personal life. If I am to describe my experience in a few words, it will definitely be ‘the most memorable and lifechanging time in my life’,” says Poorna.

“Transitioning from a responsible professional career back to being a student was indeed challenging. Moreover, achieving a study–life balance required a lot of adjustments. But with time I became more comfortable and confident in my routine, thanks to the facilities and unimaginable support from all who were around me. To this day I cherish each and every moment and each memory that I made in Australia. I treasured the diversity and the natural beauty Australia had to offer. I made so many dear friends and we are still in contact today. I feel that I returned as a mature and wiser person.”

After completing her studies, Poorna reprised her role at the Ministry of Education as an Assistant Director. In this position, she coordinated government- and foreign-funded projects, such as the English Language Enhancement project and the 13 Years of Certified Education project. In addition, she serves as the National Coordinator of the National Education Reforms Project and the National Coordinator for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education at the Ministry.

In June 2023, she was promoted to the role of Director of Education (Education Reforms). In this position, she oversees the national program on general education reforms, which is a current priority of the Government of Sri Lanka. She was able to bring together relevant stakeholders from diverse sectors to initiate the implementation of the proposed curriculum reforms in Sri Lanka’s education system.

Poorna actively takes part in alumni engagement activities and also participated at the 2022 Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia Regional Alumni Workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal. In addition, she has received two Australia Awards Alumni Small Grants. She received the first grant for a group project, ‘Bridging vocational education with general education’, on which she collaborated with other Australia Awards alumnae from the Ministry of Education. The project involved the group preparing motivational videos of success stories from different vocational fields in Sri Lanka and conducting awareness workshops for primary and secondary schools in Sri Lanka.

Poorna received the second grant in 2023 for an individual project she conducted on gender equality and empowering women and girls. The grant supported 10 stay-at-home mothers from a marginalised community to pursue training in batik techniques as a pathway for self-employment. Poorna obtained technical support from the Sri Lanka Institute of Textile and Apparel in carrying out the batik training. As part of the program, participants were taken on a field visit to a batik workshop, where they received hands-on experience, learnt about transforming a small-scale business to a large-scale business and witnessed an authentic workshop environment. The participants also received a starter pack of material required to start their own batik business.

Poorna is an ardent supporter of Australia Awards and has been at the forefront of organising virtual Scholarships information sessions for officials at the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service. She also mentored applicants throughout the Scholarship application process, two of whom are currently studying in Australia.

Poorna (second from right) receiving her certificate along with other alumni from Sri Lanka from Australia’s Ambassador to Nepal, HE Ms Felicity Volk, at the 2022 Regional Alumni Workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Additionally, she appreciates the networks and linkages made through various Australia Awards workshops and events. These networks enable her to share best-practices in relation to work and support other alumni in their endeavours, making the network more dynamic.

Speaking of her future professional aspirations, Poorna says that, as a Director of Education, she has reached the highest possible position in her field in the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service. She credits her study in Australia at a world class educational destination for playing a pivotal role in enabling this achievement. “I know that I am a different person now who is able to see things from different perspectives and with a different attitude,” she says, adding that the opportunity to live outside her homeland, to meet new people from diverse nationalities and professions, and to experience a different lifestyle has “helped me to transform into a different, strong and informed personality , and to contribute effectively to the field of education and the Sri Lankan community at large”.

However, learning never ends, and Poorna’s academic aspirations involve a desire to pursue a PhD in the near future. She believes a PhD would enable her to serve with more credibility, as education is a field that is ever-evolving.

Poorna traces much of her success in the past ten years to her decision to apply for a Scholarship. “I am grateful for the opportunity to develop personally and professionally. I am also thankful for the various opportunities I have received post-Scholarship, which have enabled me to make a tangible difference,” she says. “All this would not have been possible without Australia Awards!”