Hon. Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of the Parliament, Hon. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, State Minister of City Planning and Water Supply and Chairperson of the Parliamentary Caucus for Children, Hon. Harsha de Silva, Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Development, Hon. Dammika Dasanayaka, Secretary General of Parliament, Mr Tim Sutton, UNICEF Representative, Honorable Ministers, distinguished guests and colleagues from UNICEF and development partners. It is my pleasure to be here with you today to participate in this Parliamentary Forum on Early Childhood Development.
First and foremost, I would like to congratulate the Government of Sri Lanka for recognizing the importance of human capital formation in realizing the country’s long-term development goals and taking this initiative to invest in early childhood development for the future of the country.
We are happy to be a part of this initiative towards advancing the ECD agenda in the country with UNICEF, which has been a partner closely collaborating with us in the journey of promoting ECD together with the Government of Sri Lanka.
We recognize that early childhood development covers the physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development of children, starting before birth until they enter primary school. These interventions start with adequate maternal and child nutrition and include early stimulation and learning activities.
Providing early childhood development is both morally right and economically smart. Without it, inequality starts at birth, meaning children risk lifelong cognitive deficits through no fault of their own. Children who are poorly nourished, who are stunted, and who do not receive adequate parenting or stimulation before their fifth birthday, are likely to learn less at school and earn less as adults, perpetuating the cycle of poverty across generations.
Sri Lanka has made tremendous improvements in the areas of child health, early stimulation and early learning. But much remains to be done for both home-based services and center-based services. Evidence from a national survey of ECD centers indicates that less than half of the centers in the country meet basic requirements for ECD instructional quality and that only 50% of the children are enrolled. The coverage of ECD services is still low while the country has already achieved universal primary education. ECD provision is largely dependent on the non-state sector, and public expenditure on ECD is significantly lower when compared to expenditures in other middle-income countries.
Recognizing the importance of the role of ECD in achieving the country’s long term development goals, the World Bank is working together with the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and other partners to enhance equitable access to and improve the quality of ECD services in Sri Lanka. This support is being done through an ongoing project which includes the use of both demand and supply side interventions to enhance access to ECD services, the support for quality enhancement of both state and non-state managed ECD centers/pre-schools in recognition of the fact that over 80 percent of ECD centers are in the non-state sector. It also has a special focus on improving the access to and quality of ECD services in the plantation sector.
The Bank remains committed to working closely in partnership with the Government and UNICEF to achieve the country’s ECD goals.
Thank you very much again for your commitment and we look forward to our continued work with you all.