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Sri Lanka - Education for All

Last Updated: June 2007
IDA at Work: Sri Lanka - Education for all


Prior to the project, Sri Lanka policy makers had concentrated mainly, although not exclusively, on promoting universal access to primary education. However, by the middle 1990s, policy makers had also become concerned about expanding access to secondary education (less than 50 percent of students completed secondary school at that time), and improving the quality of both primary and secondary schooling.


- To improve the quality, access, management and financing of the primary (grades 1-5) and secondary (grades 6-13) education system.
- To support a new education reform program under the leadership of the National Education Commission (NEC).
- The key areas of the reform program were the provision of education for all children aged 6-14 years (grades 1-9); the reduction of inequalities in the distribution of resources to public schools; the introduction of a new, child-centred curriculum for the primary cycle (grades 1-5); and the rationalization of facilities and expansion of learning resources to improve education quality.


Primary school completion rates increased from 90 percent to 95 percent - which mean that 100,000 more students completed primary school each year, using a modernized curriculum with child-friendly learning. 200,000 more students completed grade 9 each year (up from 59 percent in 1996 to 78 percent in 2004), with gender parity.

- Assisted the government to introduce a modernized primary school curriculum with child-friendly learning.
- GEP2 supported the creation of a National Education Research and Evaluation Center (NEREC) that specializes in the measurement of learning outcomes. NEREC conducted the first national assessment of learning outcomes in 2003. In addition, NEREC has undertaken a series of research studies and evaluations on a variety of topics, including teacher education and training, education management, civic education and school based management, that have been useful to policy makers and development partners.
- The first national assessment of learning outcomes, focusing on first language (Sinhalese and Tamil), English and Mathematics in the primary education cycle, was conducted in 2003. Prior to this national assessment, Sri Lanka did not have objective information on cognitive achievement to measure education quality. The national assessment of learning outcomes showed that about 37 percent of primary school children attained mastery (a score of over 80 percent) in first language (Sinhalese or Tamil) and mathematics, but only 10 percent of children attained mastery of English.
- The project has enabled the government to introduce a resource distribution formula that has reduced the ratio of public resources distributed for quality inputs between the richest and poorest schools from 300:1 to 15:1.
- Before the project the distribution of resources for education investment to provinces was done through the central Ministry of Education. The project assisted in the strengthening of provincial Departments of Education to formulate and implement investment budgets for education, so that the Ministry of Finance is now able to transfer resources directly to the provinces. This has strengthened decentralization in Sri Lanka, which is one of the key strategies that the government is seeking to adopt to improve service delivery.
- The government introduced a new policy to promote the teaching and learning of English from grade 1 upwards, in 2001, to improve the capability of the future Sri Lankan labor force to work effectively in a global economy. About 1,000,000 primary school children have benefited from English language teaching to date , although it is too early to observe the final impact on the labor market yet as these children are still in the school system. In addition, English was intended to act as a link language between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, to promote communication and understanding among the two communities. The main source of support for this key policy was provided by GEP2.


- IDA helped the government to design and implement the project with a focus on creating the capacity to measure learning outcomes.
- Use the information from outcomes for policy making, strengthening decentralization, establishing a systematic method of distributing resources to schools to improve equity, and promoting social harmony between different ethnic groups.
- These key reforms are all now a regular part of the education system, which ensures the sustainability of the project’s support.

Next Steps

- The government has designed a new Education Sector Development Framework and Program (ESDFP) for general education, based on a five year rolling plan. The ESDFP has a range of policy initiatives to: (a) increase equitable access to basic and secondary education; (b) promote education quality; (c) enhance the economic efficiency and equity of resource allocation and distribution; and (d) strengthen education governance and service delivery. The Bank is supporting the ESDFP through the SDR41.5 million (US$60 million) Education Sector Development Project (ESDP), which adopts a sector-wide approach (SWAp). The ESDP became effective in February 2006, and has made satisfactory progress.

Learn More

General Education II (1997-2005)
Project documents

For more information, please visit the Projects website.

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