Learn how the World Bank Group is helping countries with COVID-19 (coronavirus). Find Out

Skip to Main Navigation
Results Briefs October 17, 2018

Three Decades of Support to Improve Sri Lanka’s Education


This is Part 1 in our series on IDA-supported education programs in Sri Lanka. Part 2 Four Education Successes in Sri Lanka is available here

Investing in education is really about investing in people.

Education is closely related to poverty reduction. Among household heads without any education in Sri Lanka, the incidence of poverty is almost 46 percent while it is only 18 percent for those with secondary education.

The International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank fund that helps the world’s poorest countries has been the largest foreign development partner in the education sector of Sri Lanka since the mid-1980s.

A series of ambitious programs have engaged with every level of the Sri Lankan education system, evolving from primary education to higher education sectors and expanding both horizontally as well as vertically to support hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries.

Currently, 10,000 public schools, 15 public universities, and more recently 6000 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers are covered.

However, while significant challenges remain, the education sector has many achievements to celebrate:

Improving access and equity in education

Early on, we recognized that not all schools were created equal - disadvantaged schools often lacked the most basic equipment. This challenge was embraced by the first project financed by IDA in the basic education sector in Sri Lanka.

The $49 million General Education Project (GEP) kicked off in 1990 and went on to exceed its project goals. When it came to supplying education equipment to schools, the project covered the priority needs (mathematics and science) and accounted for the largest vehicle, equipment, and educational materials inputs to Sri Lankan schools and administrative offices during the preceding decade.

Additional Financing targeted conflict-affected schools and improved essential facilities such as water and sanitation in more than 4,000 schools. Students in poorer rural schools, who prior to the project had only about 40 percent seating, were all seated by the end of the project.

Under GEP II, an investment of $70.3 million saw almost 9,700 schools (97% of government schools) receive inputs including ICT, electronics and laboratory equipment. The project helped create about 50,000 additional school places in the Grades 6-9 cycle.

These projects did so well in part because they were based on critical needs assessments of zonal plans and resource distribution to schools on a per capita basis, with schools in “difficult areas” and “very difficult areas” receiving about 40-70 percent more resources than other schools.


Closing the skills gap and improving employability

It was clear that a skills mismatch existed – IT and English language competency were in demand but in short supply. Under GEP II 6,400 teachers received training in IT literacy and 400 schools were given the equipment they needed to commence IT-based teaching and learning in schools. This enabled the introduction of a new technology stream into the GCE A-Level curriculum.

The first higher education project funded by IDA in Sri Lanka, the Improving Relevance and Quality of Undergraduate Education Project (IRQUE) included components designed to increase market-oriented courses. The project directly benefitted all public university undergraduate students (about 73,500 at time) and included some private higher education institutions. Under the project, the average waiting time for the first job decreased significantly from 14 months in June 2004 (baseline) to 4.5 months in September 2009.

The Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century Project (HETC) built on the work done with IRQUE. Between 2011 and 2015, 76,000 undergraduates benefitted from English language skills training, while approximately 81,000 undergraduates – 89 percent of enrolled students – underwent the UDG ICT Skills Development Program. New programs such as a Higher National Diploma in Tourism and Hospitality Management were created to strengthen alternative pathways while the curriculum for the Higher National Diplomas in IT, Technology and Agriculture were revised.

Academic staff education

Teachers are the pillars that support the education system, and yet prior to the HETC programme, for instance, 89 percent of Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education (SLIATE) staff did not have master’s degrees and 60 percent of university staff did not have Ph.D. degrees. So, HETC supported 4,148 academic and professional staff to enrol in either degree courses or short-term training (3-6 months).

The projects were expanding the work already done in schools, where under the Education Sector Development Project (ESDP) the number of Teacher Centres conducting multi-ethnic teacher training programs increased. Teacher Instructional Manuals (TIMs) were revised in all grades. All schools had teaching plans by 2010, and the number of In-Service Advisors trained increased 3,265 to 21,779 in 2005 and 2010 respectively.

Under ESDP, the educational qualifications of teachers had also improved. By 2010, 95 percent of schools were staffed with graduates or certified trained teachers.


Last Updated: Oct 17, 2018