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Speeches & Transcripts October 22, 2018

Launch of the Sri Lanka General Education Modernization Project

Hon. Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Minister of Education, Distinguished Guests, Officials and Colleagues.  A very good morning to you.

It is my pleasure to have this opportunity to address you today on a subject of value to all Sri Lankans and one that is very close to my heart - Education.

But before I start talking about the launch of the General Education Modernization Project, aka GEM, the main reason we are gathered here today; I want to first congratulate the government and the people of Sri Lanka on its recognition and well-deserved achievement in the recently launched Human Capital Index.  Sri Lanka is in the 74th position out of 157 countries; and is the leading country is South Asia.  Indeed, something to be proud about.

The index measures countries’ contributions in health and education to the productivity of future generations of their workers.  It also tells us that Sri Lanka’s productivity is currently at 58 percent of where it could be if a child born today could benefit from adequate access to health and to a complete education.  This means that while the rating is good and noteworthy, there is still a way to go to get to 100 percent or to a place nearer to the top most performer - Singapore.

Sri Lanka is in a good place to make meaningful changes that will help it climb the HCI ladder.  And the GEM project that we are launching today is an important step to strengthening learning and skills development that in turn will yield a future generation that is more productive in the work place. 

The GEM project builds on the lessons and achievements of about three decades of joint Government of Sri Lanka and World Bank efforts to improve education in Sri Lanka. Unlike investments in physical infrastructure, investments in people take a longer time to translate into real improvements in people’s lives.

This project will focus on many areas, but I would like to highlight two critical ones that will increase Sri Lanka’s competitiveness and productivity of its work force.

1)    English and Math learning outcomes. English language learning levels, in an increasingly globalized world, are key to employment and economic success. Mathematics provides an excellent foundation in reasoning ability; and moreover, numeracy is vital for many types of modern jobs.

2)    Promoting equitable access to education in the hard to reach rural, plantation and in inner urban areas where education outcomes are lowest.

But just as much as what is being taught has changed –teaching methods must also change.  Teachers, like the students, need to be aware of the soft skills needed to succeed.  Curriculars must be adapted to the changing environment – with a focus on teaching students to think and anticipate new problems; be problem solvers and agile thinkers.  This will be discomforting for some and will require courage from policy makers and parents.  Change is always hard!

We believe that Outcomes from GEM will have two very concrete and tangible results in the long-term:

1)    Firstly, it will contribute to further reducing poverty and vulnerability.  According to our research, heads of households who don’t have any education have much higher poverty levels than those with educated heads.  Better education leads to better paying jobs.

2)    Secondly, a healthy and educated population can create future jobs.  We live in a fast-changing world, with many jobs now being done using non-traditional methods and even being performed in locations that have only been made possible through access to technology.  To compete in this new world, one must be a creative thinker, problem solver, and possess analytical skills.   

So, the additional resources put in education will yield substantive outcomes, if the necessary changes required to improve the sector, many of which are also being supported by GEM, happen.  Investing in people is a must, as that is what generates a country’s wealth!

Congratulations again for the launch of this important project, and for the HCI ranking.  The hard work starts now!

Thank you.