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Sri Lankan Education System and Current Situation

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The Sri Lankan education system, improved from the free education concept, is now in a better state using official development support. Millions of valuable professionals benefitted from this education system for the last 74 years, and they indeed reveal to the world the quality of Sri Lankan education. However, the whole world is changing, and Sri Lanka should always try to move parallel with everything including facilities, systems, and technologies. Hence, the capability, superiority, and quality of the current education system would further improve and increase.

Sri Lanka has a long history of educational evolution dating back two millennia. It is believed that the education system was established in Buddhist temples with the arrival of Buddhism from India. Nonetheless, the British Empire established the modern education system in the nineteenth century with the arrival of Christian missionaries. Education then was not given free of charge, but in 1938, C.W.W Kannangara initiated the establishment of a free education system on the island in order to provide an excellent education to all children.

The free education program has become more committed to ensuring the quality of Sri Lanka’s national education system. As witnesses, we can demonstrate that the free education system has propelled this country to a valuable position in South Asia in terms of literacy rate, gender equality in education, and school enrollment rate. Furthermore, under the free education policy, every child between the ages of 5 and 16 has the right to free education.

Accordingly, Sri Lanka’s educational structure is divided into five levels, as shown below.

  • Primary Education (From Grades 1-5)
  • Junior Secondary Education (From Grades 6-9)
  • Senior Secondary Education (Grades 10 and 11)
  • Collegiate Level (Grades 12 and13)
  • Higher Education

It is a government regulation that all children should attend school until grade 9. Still, the Ministry of Education recommends that all students continue their studies until they obtain the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (G.C.E O/L). Quite a several students fail to complete grade 9 and G.C.E O/L due to poor economy, lack of food, clothing, transportation, school materials, qualified teachers, and conflict-affected areas. As a result, they are not recognized as having received an academic education. These students enter the labor force without the necessary skills or vocational training. This is a major issue in the Sri Lankan economy.

Issues of Sri Lankan education system

Today, the education system in Sri Lanka is facing a massive crisis because of the rigid syllabus, heavy content, a stereotype of learning, more academic and examination-oriented. As a result, the student’s overall development, such as personality development, soft skills development, co-curricular and social activities at school, has been negatively impacted.

In primary and secondary school, a student must take three major examinations administered by the Department of Education: the Grade 5 Scholar Ship examination, the G.C.E O/L examination, and the G.C.E A/L examination. These national examinations are primarily concerned with content memorization and academic achievement.  These tests are less concerned with a child’s latent abilities, capabilities, competencies, beliefs, proficiencies, interests, and attitudes. It focuses solely on determining how many students passed the exams by storing the data in the Department of Education. These public examinations, as well as the massive overloading of the curriculum, have put pressure and stress on students and parents.

Today, the preschool sector in Sri Lanka is also largely unregulated. Many children do not receive the high-quality preschool education they require to enter primary schools and succeed in life. Curriculum must be standardized and updated, and their implementation must be supported. Teachers must be trained in age-appropriate delivery methods that prepare students for school life by developing their motoric, socio-emotional, and cognitive competencies.

To address disparities and gaps in the preschool sector, UNICEF is collaborating with government and private sector partners to create a system that supports and guarantees quality preschool education for all children in Sri Lanka. UNICEF also provides analysis, technical assistance, and coordination support to ensure that policies and plans are founded on a thorough examination of the preschool education sector.

Current situation of Sri Lankan education system

Sri Lanka is currently experiencing its worst economic crisis to date, with a severe lack of foreign currency, looming debt repayments, high inflation, and food, fuel, and medicine shortages. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, education was already in crisis prior to the current economic conditions. During the peak of the pandemic, Sri Lankan students (approximately 4.3 million of them) were among the worst affected, with school closures lasting for extended periods of time. In Sri Lanka, closing schools for one day cause a loss of millions in learning and teaching hours.

During the pandemic, many schools implemented distance learning with limited access to computers, smartphones, and internet connections. Still, up to now, one-third of students did not benefit from e-learning opportunities. And many parents have lost their income generation as a result of the high cost of living with inflation. Parents with school-age children must spend more than their salary on private tuition and data packages for their children’s online classes. Private tuition is more expensive and transforms a business, but it has established a standard for national examinations.

Over the past few months, fuel prices have sky-rocketed, and fuel shortages have severely hampered operations of school transport service providers, who spend hours in never-ending queues at fuel stations. Teachers’ unions proposed a temporary solution to this problem by allowing students and teachers to attend schools closest to their homes. While the solution sounds a creative one, in practice it seemed unlikely to work, because it may be difficult for students and teachers to seamlessly transition from one school to another, just for this short duration.

It is not just shortages of fuel, but also other imports that are affecting education. The lack of foreign currency to import essentials, and the sharp depreciation of the Rupee, has caused severe import shortages, including for printing paper. Then the Ministry of Education postponed school examinations due to printing paper shortage and the inability to print exam papers. This resulted in an unnecessary delay in the completion of relevant assessments, time that students could have spent on other academic/extracurricular activities. It is likely that all children (6 million) will be affected by this crisis.

Fuel shortages have also resulted in electricity shortages. Frequent island-wide power cuts have exacerbated the learning constraints faced by Sri Lankan students, who are unable to complete their schoolwork, iron their school uniforms, or even get enough sleep due to power interruptions lasting six to ten hours per day.

According to global surveys, during economic downturns, many students leave the country in search of better educational opportunities. If the government does not address its students’ concerns and provide immediate solutions to their needs, the country will not only lose an entire generation of young people due to lower educational attainment during critical developmental years, but will also suffer from severe brain drain in the years ahead. While the country works on macroeconomic stabilization measures, it is also critical to address the education crisis.

Future of Education in Sri Lanka

As a result of the spread of the Digital Era; English, communication, and Information Technology have become essential competencies that students must possess before entering the corporate world. People who have mastered those competencies have numerous opportunities both locally and internationally. The majority of activities in the future will be automated and performed using AI. Hence, Sri Lanka should prioritize shifting its education system toward such valuable skills, so that students can create more value.

Furthermore, society is filled with corruption, aggression, and theft. Therefore, it is critical that everyone learns and practices good manners, ethics, and discipline from an early age in the educational system. Thus, we believe that Sri Lankan education will adjust accordingly. Besides, technologies, systems, business models, and lifestyles are rapidly evolving. As a result, students should have opportunities to learn about the most recent technologies, systems, and business models in order to compete in international markets. Therefore, practical subjects and student skill development strategies will be an important part of the future Sri Lankan education system.

Likewise, in the future, authorities would introduce student-centered learning strategies to the Sri Lankan education system. Thereby, students will be able to gain knowledge through experience, collaboration, and teamwork. And with all these things, the Sri Lankan education system in the future would be more impressive and beneficial beyond a doubt.




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