Expanding Access to Education in Sri Lanka

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Posted on 7/12/2013

Education is one of the most important factors in helping people emerge from generational poverty. Without it, children in poverty face an uncertain future. Although Sri Lanka has experienced serious difficulties with its education system in the past, substantial gains in education reform been made in recent years. With a literacy rate of 92.3 percent and increased primary school enrollment, Sri Lanka seems to be set to accomplish its goal of ensuring that all children have the opportunity to attend school by 2015.

However, despite the progress that has been made, many children still lack the educational opportunities they need. To understand the complex factors behind this issue, UNICEF published a report in February 2013 outlining the greatest challenges facing the Sri Lankan education system, and recommendations on what can be done to improve educational opportunities.

Developing Inclusive Policies

Sri Lanka, which emerged from three decades of civil war in 2009, has made significant progress in enrolling children between the ages of 5 and 14 in primary school. According to UNICEF's report, 98 percent are enrolled. However, there are many children who remain out of school, or are at higher risk of dropping out. In particular, girls living in rural communities, children with learning disabilities and youths who have no choice but to work and support their families remain at risk.

Addressing these children through education reform and expanding access to primary education is a high priority for the Sri Lankan government, as well as child development organizations like UNICEF and ChildFund. To meet national goals of enrolling every child in school, including the most vulnerable, action must be taken.

"Sri Lanka has an excellent record of bringing children aged 5 to 14 years into school, but out-of-school children often face deep-rooted inequalities and disparities," says Antonia De Meo, UNICEF's deputy representative to Sri Lanka. "By focused targeting of excluded children combined with social protection measures, Sri Lanka is on track to meet the goals of all children completing primary school by 2015."

Common Goals

The report identifies regional conflict as a major factor in the number of out-of-school children in Sri Lanka, particularly girls. Children living in areas affected by conflict are significantly less likely to attend or remain in school, and these disparities must be tackled to ensure more children can receive educational opportunities and break the cycle of generational poverty. However, even children growing up in more politically stable areas face challenges, such as the necessity of traveling long distances to reach the nearest school, inadequate infrastructure and learning materials, problems with teacher training and a lack of facilities for children with learning difficulties.

One of the key recommendations of the report is that greater community involvement and action at the provincial level be taken into account in education reform to address the situation. A number of initiatives are already in place, such as providing children with free school uniforms, subsidized transportation to and from school, and free academic materials like textbooks. However, these programs must be maintained and expanded if children at risk of remaining out of school or dropping out are to successfully complete their education.

Stepping In

ChildFund has worked in Sri Lanka since 1985, and ensuring that all children have access to school is one of our primary objectives.

We have helped improve school infrastructure to accommodate more students and have organized supplementary classes to bridge gaps in children's education. In addition, we have supported the training of teachers to deliver a higher quality of instruction, and raised awareness among parents of the value of education. However, to continue this critical education reform in Sri Lanka, we need your help.

Please consider making a donation to our Children's Greatest Needs fund. Your support will allow us to provide Sri Lankan children with the opportunities they need to learn and live happier lives free from poverty.