The logo of the University Grant Commission, signifying the education system of Sri Lanka and its future
The logo of the University Grant Commission, signifying the education system of Sri Lanka and its future

The education system of Sri Lanka plays a major role in its culture and living. It is a fundamental human right imposed on every child in the country. And when considering Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, we can clearly state that the status of the education system of the country ranks at a good level. And yes, it not only creates opportunities for locals to excel in their academics but also for foreigners to pursue their studies. Thus, when considering this splendid tiny island, it is a must that we should pay attention to its education system as well. Thus, we thought of focusing this read on the education system of Sri Lanka, and its future.

Sri Lankan Education Vs Sri Lanka’s Literacy

The youth literacy rate of the country is 97%, which is way above the zonal and world standards. According to the records of the United Nations, Sri Lanka is one of the “High Human Development” achieving countries out of two countries identified in South Asia. Due to the quality education of the country, even the world bank funds Sri Lanka to conduct research projects at the tertiary level. Besides, it is a common fact that education is a major factor to consider in a developing country. Hence, the Sri Lankan government gives high priority to upgrade the national education structure.

Sri Lanka separates around 3% of its gross domestic product for education. Accordingly, the government provides textbooks, school uniforms and other basic needs of schooling, under the policy of free education. This enables educational access to many students regardless of their financial status.

However, deviating from the traditional educational structure, Sri Lanka now moves towards new teaching concepts.  Anyhow, concern towards the future of the education system in Sri Lanka would help to move forward in the developing stages of the country. Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education are the main authorizing bodies of the Sri Lankan education system. Besides, the central government and provincial councils control the education of current Sri Lanka.

Education System of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has five different stages of education combined in a chain with each other. Beginning from primary education it moves to junior secondary, senior secondary, collegiate and tertiary education levels consequently. Present Sri Lankan education system is totally free of charge from primary to tertiary level. According to the law of Sri Lanka, it is compulsory to provide education to students till grade 9 regardless of any status.

The medium of primary education in Sri Lanka is either Sinhalese or Tamil, and it mainly depends on the area the school is located. Still, some schools offer opportunities for students to choose English medium to continue their studies from grade 6. However, this English medium study facility is mainly available in the schools in the main cities.

However, apart from the government schools, there are international and private schools that teach Sri Lankan schools’ syllabus as well as foreign syllabus according to their policies. Still, they incur a cost for the service they provide, and the facilities they offer might vary from institution to institution.

The Structure of the Education System of Sri Lanka

The present education structure of Sri Lanka begins with primary education which starts with grade 1. Children over 5 years of age can enter any school and continue his/her education till grade 5. Sinhala or Tamil language, English fundamentals, environmental education and mathematics are the main subjects of primary education. Students sit for the scholarship examination in the middle of 5th grade. The main purpose of this exam is to select students to provide scholarships to learn in prestigious schools. Then from grade 6 to grade 11, the curriculum offers more subjects with a vast range. Accordingly, students learn Sinhala or Tamil language, mathematics, English, religion, Sri Lankan and world history, literature, health sciences, aesthetic subjects, information and communication technology, etc. as the main subjects at secondary and tertiary levels of the Sri Lankan education system.

Then at the collegiate level, students face another national-level certificate examination. It is at the end of Grade 11 to categorize students into four subject streams. Accordingly, students then have the chance of choosing a subject stream out of Science, Commerce, Arts and Technology to pursue their Advanced Education at schools. Students learn these subjects for a period of two years and then face the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A/L) Examination. This happens to be the final examination that a student faces in his school life. However, only 10-15% of the total participants of this examination get the chance to admit to a state university where they can continue their tertiary education. Nevertheless, other students can join other higher education courses to enhance their capabilities at an industrial level.

History of the Sri Lankan Education System

Sri Lankan education system has a long history that dates back to 2300 years. Education in Sri Lanka mainly evolved around Buddhist temples and pirivenas where monks did the teaching. The main teaching and learning language back then were Sanskrit which is an inherited language from North India. With time, Sinhalese and Tamil turned to be the teaching medium. However, after the colonial era of the country in the 19th century, Christian Missionary societies took the authority of modern education.

However, the medium of education was changed to English by the missionaries and thus the attendance of most Sinhalese students was reduced largely. Then a proper government schooling system started with the recommendation of the Colebrook Commission. First, it started as British colonial schools and later expanded towards separate male and female schools. The first government school established was Colombo Academy, presently popular as the Royal College, Colombo. Some other schools were also established with affiliation to Anglican Church. Then, the concept of free education introduced by Dr C. W. W. Kannangara, the minister of Education in 1938 came on stage. As a result, the government established Central Colleges all over the country to provide education to everyone. 

In 1942, a special committee was appointed to observe the education in schools. Some suggestions came out as a result to develop the essence of education.

  1. Make free education available to everyone.
  2. Make national languages, Sinhala or Tamil, the medium of instruction.
  3. Rationalize the education system to be more effective and efficient.
  4. Religious education is provided to every student according to the religion of their parents.
  5. Protect teachers from manoeuvring by school managers.
  6. Provide sufficient provisions for adult education.

However, it is a must mention that the free education concept contributed massively to the increased literacy level of Sri Lanka.

Present Status of Education in Sri Lanka

There is a hierarchy of schools in Sri Lanka.  National schools, provincial schools, pirivenas come under government schools which are totally funded and raised by the government.

Government Schools

All the government schools go with a unique dress code which mainly comes with white colour. Female students wear a white uniform gown while male students wear a white colour shirt with white or blue colour trouser. Uniforms are combined with a tie or a badge which represents the school identity. Private schools do not have this general white colour dress code schema but they do have a uniform dress designed by those schools themselves.

In government schools, education from primary level to collegiate level is free and this helped many students to develop their skills and knowledge regardless of their financial status. The government provides school textbooks common to every school and provide school admissions without any fee. The syllabus is common in all the government schools and teachers are assigned in schools to teach separate subjects and school administration.  Since education is a must till age 14, the majority of the students are capable of proper reading and writing skills.

Private Schools

Private schools in Sri Lanka go beyond the concept of free education. Thus, they demand to pay on the admission of each student. Annually, there is a fee to pay which covers the textbooks, facilities and services charges mainly.  Some private schools teach students the local syllabus. Meanwhile, some teach the Cambridge or EDEXCEL syllabus. However, the administration procedures are familiar with that of government schools to go compatible with them.

Education for Auditory and Visually Impaired Students

A largely neglected group of students in past Sri Lanka are visual and auditory impaired children. But now separate schools are maintained with skilled teachers and instructors to teach these students with special attention. Only a few such schools are currently situated in Sri Lanka. However, they use the sign language and braille method respectively as the teaching methods for auditory and visually impaired children. The same methods are used for examinations and there are student records that state that they have passed national exams with flying colours. That indeed is a remarkable achievement in the Sri Lankan education system.

Education for Differently-abled Students

Another special aspect of the Sri Lankan education structure is the education for differently-abled children. In Sri Lanka, there are special schools. Besides, even some mainstream government schools grant admission to them. In these regular government schools, special units are available for these differently-abled students and those units are integrated with special education programs. Accordingly, four education options are available for these students to develop themselves.

  1. Specialized schools
  2. Special education units integrated into regular government schools
  3. Admissions in regular government schools
  4. Special resource centres attached to regular government schools

Even though these children have these education options, still there are children and families who are not aware of these programs. Thus, these units have to grow towards rural schools to provide access to almost every differently-abled child. And yes, this aspect indeed plays a significant role to develop those individuals, so that one day they can contribute to society.

University Education of Sri Lanka

The apex body of the University Grants Commission (UGC) governs the Universities and higher education centres of Sri Lanka. Accordingly, there are 16 government universities providing free education to approximately 15000 students per year. These students are selected by the GCE A/L examination results. Education is done upon selected degree programs by each student and the duration of study could vary from 3 to 5 years depending on the degree type. The list of 16 state universities is as below.

  1. University of Colombo
  2. Eastern University
  3. University of Jaffna
  4. Rajarata University of Sri Lanka
  5. University of Moratuwa
  6. Open University of Sri Lanka
  7. University of Peradeniya
  8. Sabaragamuwa University
  9. University of Ruhuna
  10. University of Kelaniya
  11. South Eastern University
  12. University of Sri Jayawardenepura
  13. Uva Wellassa University
  14. University of the Visual and Performing Arts
  15. Wayamba University
  16. Gampaha Wickramarachchi University

In addition to these state universities, there are another few higher education centres that the government fund. They are as follows.

  1. Buddhist and Pali University
  2. Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education
  3. General Sir John Kotelawala Defense University
  4. University of Vocational Technology
  5. Ocean University

Since all these universities are not enough to allocate all the tertiary education needed students, some private higher education centres are established in Sri Lanka. Those degree-awarding bodies demand a fee for the tuition and examinations. But apart from that degree is totally recognized and accepted by the University Grants Commission with the same value as a government university degree.

Issues that Demand Solutions for a Better Future of the Education System

When considering the future of the education system in Sri Lanka, it is important to know the issues of the present education structure. And yes, it has several issues to discuss in terms of development. Some of them are as follows.

  • Lack of technology usage and giving high priority to traditional teaching and learning methods.
  • The gap between the education and required skills by the industrial labour force.
  • The lack of job opportunities in some fields of education.
  • The high interest of Sri Lankans to fly abroad and join the foreign workforce declining the Sri Lankan economy.  
  • The gap between the world education methodologies and Sri Lankan education methodologies.
  • Out-of- date teaching methods, and teacher training being far from the dynamic changes of world education.
  • Low expenditure on education by the government, which consequently, reduces the number of students who get university admission.
  • Poor administrations of some schools, which ultimately causes the schools to shut down.
  • Provisions provided to the schools are not completely utilized to give proper education facilities to students, leading those students to leave those schools permanently.

However, with the current Covid-19 situation, a major concern has put on the remote learning and teaching methods to meet the syllabus deadlines. A huge transition from traditional methods to smart education has come forward to stop students from falling behind in studies. As a result of the Sri Lankan education system has stepped on into the digital era and students are more biased towards utilizing digital devices for educational purposes.

Future Education System in Sri Lanka

Future education of Sri Lanka will contain a set of new developments than the current status. Besides, the relevant authorities have placed the main concern on separating 6% of GDP from the Sri Lankan education system to give quality and equal education to everyone.

Predictions on the Future Education System of Sri Lanka

When considering the present status of the Sir Lankan education system, and the way it traverses, we can make certain predictions. They are as follows.

Outbound Student Mobility

This concept is already available in Sri Lanka. Many students after finishing their first degree at any Sri Lankan University try to apply for further studies in foreign universities. With the robust economic growth in future, there is a prediction that the outbound student mobility will increase too. In future, this will help to navigate down the crisis of capacity constraints in terms of education because current universities in Sri Lanka have very limited access. Under the outbound student mobility, students migrate to foreign countries to enhance their employment aspect too. Ministry of Higher education promotes this concept by offering scholarships to students with good educational backgrounds.

Inbound Student Mobility

Inbound student mobility is a concept that achieved huge attention from the government. With this concept, foreign students get the chance to migrate to Sri Lanka for their educational purposes. Currently, a very small number of foreign students continue their studies in Sri Lankan universities. The University of Colombo is the current pioneer centre of this inbound student mobility concept within Asia. The aim of the Sri Lankan government is to make Sri Lanka the hub of most quality education and cost-effective education at least in the region of Asia.

Also, they try to grab the attention of foreign investors to invest in establishing foreign universities in Sri Lanka which will ultimately contribute to the growth of Sri Lanka’s economy. As a result of developing this inbound student mobility concept in Sri Lanka, it will reduce outbound student mobility in the future. So many educated students will stay in Sri Lanka to grow its economy.

Less Competition for Prestigious School Admissions

In Sri Lanka, there are various types of schools. The developed schools have all the facilities, while some have only the basic facilities and resources. And yes, that is the reason why the students engage in a very competitive educational run from their primary education itself, in order to get access to those prestigious schools with more facilities. Parents state that the current education structure is very vast, competitive and rigid for students. Hence, there is an expectation that this competitive nature would decrease if every school gets equal resources. Thus, all the schools need to develop, in order to provide quality education to all students.

More University Access to Students

Currently, only 10-15% of students who face the Advanced Level Examination get the chance to enter a state university of Sri Lanka. By that, many students out of that limit lose the chance to get higher education in a state university. As a solution, the government has put their attention to widen the number of students getting access to those universities by developing state universities further with good facilities. Also, establishing new faculties and divisions, building new state universities are few more concepts that have the attention of the Sri Lankan administrative body.

Replacing Traditional Methods with Technology

A textbook is still a textbook whether it is in the form of a book or ebook. Many students fear using digital devices and they lack the new technological awareness happening outside of Sri Lanka. Schools are a good hub to provide technological literacy to many students. Therefore, it is essential to generalize the usage of the digital device among students. If so, in future of the education system in Sri Lanka will adopt and get exposure to new technological discoveries around them.

A Syllabus Compatible with the Current Labor Trends

Knowledge and skills that students acquire through the education systems, sometimes does not tally with the skills required by the workforce of the country. So, students do not know how to use their knowledge on their work inside the industry. On another hand, no job opportunities are available in the country to utilize the knowledge of those students. This gap needs to demolish in the future. If so, we might be able to obtain a better development of the future education system of Sri Lanka as well as the economical growth of the country.

The Bottom Line

Being a country with a high literacy rate it is certain that Sri Lanka offers good quality education. Of course, it is true that there are some aspects that demand development. Still, domestic and foreign students can trust the educational body in Sri Lanka and continue their studies here. Moreover, Sri Lanka is wide open for foreign investors to build foreign universities on the island, which will contribute equally to both Sri Lanka and the investing country. Thus, it is no secret that the future hub of quality education awaits the presence of students and lecturers from all over the world to be a part of the future education system of Sri Lanka.

So, planning on continuing your studies in Sri Lanka? If not, planning to serve the education system in Sri Lanka? Take it easy! Since the future of education in Sri Lanka will simply offer you more opportunities.  It is up to you to benefit from them!