Sri Lanka is a densely populated island nation, with about 20 million people whose per-person income is $US 1,500, well above the South Asian average. During the 1990s, Sri Lanka’s policymakers had achieved considerable success promoting universal access to primary education, with more than 95 percent of students completing grade 5. However, enrollment in the compulsory basic education cycle (grades 1-9) was inadequate. Furthermore, learning outcomes in both primary and secondary education needed improvement. One factor was that education management was highly centralized, with insufficient scope for school communities to contribute to school management and help meet resource needs.
The Education Sector Development Project was launched in 2005 to increase equitable access, improve quality, enhance efficiency, and strengthen service delivery in basic (grades 1-9) and secondary (grades 10-13) education. The project followed a programmatic sector-wide approach, in which the World Bank Group’s assistance was aligned with an existing government program, and resources provided directly to the national and provincial education authorities to support the achievement of annual performance targets.
The survival rate through basic education (grades 1-9) increased from less than 80 percent prior to the project to more than 90 percent, which means that more than 300,000 new students are currently completing the basic education cycle—with gender parity.
- Community involvement led to results. The Program for School Improvement—which enabled local communities to support school management and help meet resource needs—was introduced in more than 5,000 schools. More than 2 million students benefited.
- Curriculum improved. The project improved school curriculums to be more child-friendly at the primary level and activity-based at the secondary level. About 3.5 million students began studying under the modernized curriculum.
- Guidelines and standards strengthened. It published guidelines for more than 50 subjects and prepared a collection of 10,000 test items for examinations at Grades 11 and 13, thereby standardizing them with school curricula.
- Policy analysis improved. The National Assessment of Learning Outcomes provided feedback on student performance to assist education policymakers and develop policy, and
- Learning materials enhanced. It strengthened the quality and distribution of textbooks: about 28 million textbooks are published each year now—benefiting more than 3.5 million students.
The Education Sector Development Project was launched in 2005. IDA financed the total project cost of $US60 million. IDA also works with the National Ministry of Education and the nine Provincial Councils to prepare annual education sector development plans that are then jointly financed by the Government and the Bank. Also assisting generally in the education sector are the Asian Development Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the German international cooperation enterprise, GTZ.
IDA has provided an additional US$10 million to support activities that can promote social cohesion between different communities, such as English as a bridge language between students from different language backgrounds, multi-ethnic curricular activities, and the review of history and civics curricula.