Across the globe, there has been a renewed commitment to expand early years’ services for children under five years of age. Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) includes both education and childcare, and while they have traditionally occupied distinctly different spheres, there has been a growing trend to integrate the two to provide more efficient and effective ECCE services for families.
In Sri Lanka, the government provides free access to compulsory primary and secondary education, but not to preschool education which is not mandatory. 70.8 percent of preschools and 78 percent of day care centers are privately operated and entail levy fees, thus reducing access and affordability for a sizeable segment of the population. Enrolment rates in primary and secondary education are high at 99 percent and 84 percent respectively. These rates were 56.6 percent in 2016 for preschool children between 3-5 years of age.
Access to affordable childcare directly affects the country’s labor force. It is worth noting that despite the high educational attainment of Sri Lanka’s women, the country’s female labor force participation rate was just 34.5 percent in 2019. A 2018 study by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) found that having a child under five years of age reduced a Sri Lankan woman’s participation in the labor force by 7.4 percent as compared with a woman who did not have young children.
What’s more, as Sri Lanka’s population ages—it has the most rapidly aging population in South Asia—family structures and gender roles change. Reduced support from the extended family is likely to leave families less able to care for young children at home, increasing their demand for childcare.
The good news is that employer support for childcare is growing. However, it does not reach parents who work in the informal sector, which in 2019 accounted for 57.4 percent of all workers.