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Early Childhood Care and Education in Sri Lanka

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In Sri Lanka, Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) have been recognized for its benefits, and efforts have been made to integrate ECCE services. The country has a history of acknowledging the importance of nursery education, with the 1978 Constitution declaring the state’s responsibility to promote the entire development of children. Despite this, the preschool education system in Sri Lanka still functions in a non-formal manner, and there have been various administrative and financial challenges in establishing nursery schools.

The World Bank has highlighted the importance of integrating Early Childhood Care and Education in Sri Lanka, emphasizing that well-designed ECCE systems can improve the lives of children and families and provide significant advantages to national economies.

Early childhood care and education (ECCE) has been in the spotlight in recent years. Studies show that 85 percent of brain development is complete by the time a child is five years old and that a child’s early environment and experiences set the stage for life. Also on the long-term benefits of early interventions has found that young children need both care and education in their early years. According to studies, the overall goals of preschool education should be to provide a safe and stimulating environment in which children can feel happy and secure while also encouraging their emotional, social, physical, creative, and intellectual development. Furthermore, preschool education should encourage positive attitudes towards the self and others, develop confidence and self-esteem, and support children to explore and respect their environment.

Sri Lanka provides free access to primary and secondary education, with a net enrollment rate of 99 percent for primary and 84 percent for secondary education. By contrast, the government does not provide free preprimary education to children.

According to the Early Childhood Development (ECD) census of 2016, the national enrollment rate among preschool children ages three to five years was 55.6 percent. The government has made significant efforts to invest in Early Childhood Development, but access to preprimary education is not yet universal and the quality of Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs remains a challenge. The government of Sri Lanka is increasingly focused on expanding access to preprimary education. According to the 2016 Early Childhood Education census, only 19.8 percent of Early Childhood Education centers in Sri Lanka are government operated. The majority (70.8 percent) of centers, is privately operated, about 6.5 percent of centers are run by religious entities, and 3 percent by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

In addition to preschools for children three to five years old, the government is aspiring to expand childcare services for children, including for those under age three. Access to affordable childcare is even more limited in Sri Lanka, and most childcare centers levy fees and are privately operated. Since 2000, successive governments have recognized the value of and the need to invest in the early years. Consequently, the country has seen some development in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) sector, but much more could be done.

Different approaches can be used to provide learning experiences. Children, especially can be given exploratory experiences through play. Also, it is important that the child can explore, experiments, imagine, imitating be created through play activities. It has been highlighted that learning through play is the best method for children. It is necessary to provide challenging experiences to develop high- level thinking skills in children.

Goals and Aims of Preschool Education

In Sri Lanka, the goals and aims of preschool education have been mentioned in the 2021 proposed preschool curriculum and it has suggested the following aims:

  1. Creating an environment conducive to the development of good health habits, as well as physical fitness and safety.
  2. Creating an essential learning environment in which an inquisitive investigative mind can understand the world around, experiment, and think logically about the various events of daily life.
  3. Laying the foundation for a child who can demonstrate socialist behavior and have good social relations with others.
  4. Laying the foundation for a child to have emotional balance, who has developed positive attitudes based on cultural and religious values that are in tune with the Sri Lankan identity.
  5. Creating an environment conducive to the acquisition of basic literacy skills that enable one to handle the language properly, to express one’s ideas correctly, and to understand ideas.
  6. Creating an environment conducive to expressing one’s creative ability while enjoying the creative arts with an aesthetic appreciation mindset.

Key Challenges in Sri Lanka’s Early Childhood Care and Education Sector

Although many public and private centers are now moving toward integrated service models that include both childcare and preschool services, the level of integration within these centers is insufficient. Although they do provide childcare and education under one roof, in practice most centers have a long way to go in applying meaningful integrated Early Childhood Care and Education.

A few of the key challenges in Sri Lanka’s Early Childhood Care and Education are discussed as follows:

  1. Limited adherence to minimum quality standards

Although efforts have been made to introduce minimum quality standards in Early Childhood Development settings, adherence to these standards is limited. The Guidelines for Childhood Development Centers introduced in 2006 set out minimum standards for preschools and Early Childhood Development centers, and the National Daycare Guidelines introduced in 2017 set out the minimum standards for childcare centers. This duplication has led to difficulties in enforcing uniform standards across the country, exacerbated by the lack of effective enforcement and monitoring mechanisms and the unsatisfactory registration system for preschools and childcare centers.

  • Lack of facilities

The availability of necessary facilities to provide integrated services in centers remains a challenge. Although the potential for financial gain has led to growing interest in integrated service models, many centers that offer integrated services do so without the required space, infrastructure, and facilities. In many cases, one room in a preschool is designated for infants and younger children, and the preschool classroom is converted into childcare space after school hours.

Regular monitoring is required to ensure that centers are not overcrowded and that they are able to serve the needs of the children, not only during preschool hours but after school as well. The societal demand for childcare options must be balanced with the importance and need for high-quality childcare in the early years. Although it is important to support and promote the establishment of more childcare facilities, it is equally important to ensure that the quality of childcare is not sacrificed in the process.

  • Ineffective monitoring

The monitoring and regulating of childcare centers affiliated with preschools are impeded by the divided responsibilities between different authorities. As a result, the monitoring of centers at the ground level is conducted by different officers attached to different institutions, even when the services are provided in integrated centers. In practice, the division of responsibility and authority has led to confusion, and in some cases, it has been a challenge for the effective regulation of services.

  • Inadequate staff qualifications and training

Teacher qualifications are also a barrier to improvement. Some teachers and assistants who work in childcare centers are unqualified and untrained. This deficiency is partly a result of the traditional belief that caring for children is a natural function for women, and that no specific training is required for such work. As the demand for training and qualifications grows, the country is likely to see an expansion of academic courses and professional training options in the early childhood field.

  • The disconnect between preschools and primary schools

The difficulty in facilitating a smooth transition from preschool to primary school, for instance, is a result of the disconnect that existed between authorities, which handles primary education. Because of limited admissions in some schools, entrance requirements for many primary schools, particularly in urban areas, have become more stringent.

In some schools, children seeking admission to Grade 1 are expected to sit for an informal entrance examination in which their basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills are tested. Although the National Early Childhood Development Guidelines do not recommend reading and writing, many preschools focus on this component because of pressure from parents. These issues are less relevant in government primary schools. There is a disconnection between the expectations of primary school teachers and the competencies of the children entering Grade 1. The effects are transferred to children. Many have a hard time adjusting to the academic expectations and pressures they face when they enter primary school. The focus on academic competencies in preschool deviates from the principles of holistic development and are counter to a child’s right to develop at his or her own pace.


Education in early childhood | UNICEF Sri Lanka, https://www.unicef.org/srilanka/education-early-childhood

Malini Munasinghe. (2022). A Comparative Study of the Impact of Preschool Education Goals on the Overall Development Of Children https://ours.ou.ac.lk/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/ID-190-A-COMPARATIVE-STUDY-OF-THE-IMPACT-OF-PRESCHOOL-EDUCATION-GOALS-ON-THE-OVERALL-DEVELOPMENT-OF-CHILDREN.pdf

NATIONAL POLICY ON PRESCHOOL EDUCATION – NEC, (2019). https://www.nec.gov.lk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/PreSchoolPolicy_EN.pdf

Warnasuriya, R., Sosale, S., & Dey, S. (2020). Integrating early childhood care and education in Sri Lanka: From global evidence to national action. World Bank Publications. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/626491603440496920/pdf/Integrating-Early-Childhood-Care-and-Education-in-Sri-Lanka-From-Global-Evidence-to-National-Action.pdf


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