The experience of public policy in Sri Lanka has had a profound impact on the thinking of the global development community in relation to the role of education in economic development. In particular, the example of Sri Lanka helped to persuade policy makers around the world that government’s can successfully develop a general education system to enable universal enrollment and completion of primary education, and provide widespread access to secondary education. This paper commences by analysing the historical evolution of the Sri Lankan education system. The analysis pays special attention to the political and economic dimensions of public education policy, the sustained long-term commitment of governments to investment in human capital, and the creation of the conditions needed for the successful development of the education system. The paper then discusses the policy framework for general education in Sri Lanka in relation to the CREATE zones of exclusion (see Lewin, 2007). Sri Lanka has a combination of demand-side policies and supply-side polices that serve to attract and retain children in school through most of CREATE’s zones. The most important policies, on both the demand side and the supply side, are identified. The role and importance of other supplementary policies are also discussed, particularly in relation to the education of children from marginalized groups and poor families. The paper next discusses the performance of the Sri Lankan education system in terms of equity of access to general education and the quality of education. The country is shown to have performed well in relation to several dimensions of equity. In particular, the education attainment levels of girls, and of children from poor families, are impressive when compared to other developing and middle-income countries. In addition, the quality of education, measured both in terms of the overall learning environment and the cognitive achievement levels of students, has been rising over time. The paper then proceeds to discuss the main future educational challenges facing the country. These are shown to be mainly in the areas of education management and service delivery. The government’s policy framework, the Education Sector Development Framework and Programme (ESDFP), is outlined next. The ESDFP has four key themes: (a) promoting equitable access to primary and secondary education; (b) improving education quality; (c) enhancing the economic efficiency and equity of resource allocation; and (d) strengthening governance and service delivery. The paper describes the initiatives and strategies under each of these themes to address the challenges faced by the country, and to develop the education system to the next level of performance. The paper concludes by drawing lessons from the Sri Lankan experience for other countries. There are several helpful and useful policy lessons from Sri Lanka for other countries. The CREATE framework provides a powerful conceptual model for the analysis and development of policies to promote equitable access to primary and basic education.
CREATE Research monographs: pathways to access series, PTAs
UK. Dept for International Development
Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (UK)
Asia and the Pacific