Education in Sri Lanka
||This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (November 2012)|
|Ministry of Education
Ministry of Higher Education
|National education budget (2007)|
|Budget||Rs. (5.4% of GDP)|
|Primary languages||Sinhala, Tamil and English|
|Post secondary||14,000 (10-12%)|
Education in Sri Lanka has a long history which dates back two millennia and the Constitution of Sri Lanka provide for education as a fundamental right. The Sri Lanka's population has a literacy rate of 92%, higher than that expected for a third world country; it has the highest literacy rate in South Asia and overall, one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. Education plays a major part in the life and culture of the country and dates back to 543 BC. Modern education system was brought about with the integration of Sri Lanka into the British Empire in the 19th century and it falls under the control of both the Central Government and the Provincial Councils, with some responsibilities lying with the Central Government and the Provincial Council having autonomy for others.
Primary school to higher education are primarily funded and overseen by three governmental ministries.
- Ministry of Education: for schools, pirivenas (schools for Buddhist priests), teachers training colleges and colleges of education
- Department of Examinations: National examination service
- Ministry of Higher Education: for universities
- Ministry of Education Services: for supplying the physical facilities required for general education
- Ministry of Vocational & Technical Training: for vocational education and technical colleges
Exceptions to this system exist — mostly when it comes to tertiary with several public universities and institutes coming under the purview of different ministries. These divisions have led to a high degree of mismanagement and inefficiency over the years.
Education in Sri Lanka has a history of over 2300 years, it is believed that the Sanskrit language was brought to the island from North India as a result of the establishment of the Buddhism in the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa from the Buddhist monks sent by Emperor Asoka of India. Since then the an education system evolved based around the Buddhist temples and Pirivenas (monastic colleges), the later primarily intended for the education of clergy (even to this day) and higher education. Evidence of this system is found on the Mahawamsa and Dipavamsa, the Chronicle of Lanka that deals with the history of the island from the arrival of Prince Vijaya and his followers in the 6th century BC.
With the out set of the colonial expansion in the island, first in the coastal provinces and then interior, Christian missionary societies become active in the field of education. The Church's monopoly of education in the island ended following the Colebrooke Commission set up by the British administration.
A standard system of schools were begun by the British based on the recommendations of the Colebrooke Commission in 1836, this is regarded as the beginning of the modern schooling system in the island. It started with the establishment of the Royal College in Colombo (formally the Colombo Academy) and lead to the formation of several single sex schools constructed during the colonial period, by the British. Some of these schools were affiliated to the Anglican Church, these included S. Thomas' College in Mount Lavinia, Trinity College in Kandy.
In 1938 the education system in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) was made free following the granting of universal franchise in 1931. The late Hon. Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara took the initiative in establishing free education when he was the Minister of Education. Under this initiative the government established Madhya Maha Vidyalayas (MMV - Central Colleges) that were scattered around the island to provide education to all. The medium provided was either in Sinhala or Tamil.
In 1942 a special committee was appointed to observe the education system and among the suggestions that followed, the following still play an important role:
- i. Make available to all children a good education free of charge, so that education ceases to be a commodity purchasable only by the urban affluent.
- ii. Make national languages the media of instruction in place of English so that opportunities for higher education, lucrative employment open only to small number of the urban affluent, would become available to others as well.
- iii. Rationalize the school system so that educational provision is adequate, efficient and economical.
- iv. Ensure that every child is provided with instruction in the religion of his/her parents.
- v. Protect teachers from exploitation by managers of schools.
- vi. Make adequate provision for adult education.
After independence, the number of schools and the literacy rate of the people substantially increased. According to the Ministry of Statistics, today there are approximately 9,830 public schools serving close to 4,030,000 students, all around the island.
During the colonial times, late national heroes like Anagarika Dharmapala together with foreigners like Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky of the Buddhist Theosophical Society installed Buddhist schools to foster Sinhala students with an English education rich in Buddhist values and also in order to bring Buddhism to life, at a time, it was slowly fading away from the people. Most of these schools were established in the capitals of the major provinces of Sri Lanka. The first of these were Ananda College (formerly English Buddhist School), Colombo; Bandaranayake College (Known Bandaranayake College Gampaha), Gampaha; Dharmaraja College (formerly Kandy Buddhist High School), Maliyadeva College (formerly Kurunegala Buddhist Institution), Kurunegala; Mahinda College, Galle, Musaeus College, Colombo; which were followed decades later by Visakha Balika Maha Vidyalaya (formerly Buddhist Girls College), Colombo; Nalanda Maha Vidyalaya, Colombo; Mahamaya Vidyalaya, Kandy. Sri Lanka also has many catholic schools such as St. Joseph's College, St Bridget's Convent, St Peter's College and St Anthony's College in Kandy.
Many schools were built in the post colonial era. However, the established schools who had their origins in the colonial era dominate social life in Sri Lanka mainly due the network of old boys and old girls.
Several superficial changers to the school system took place in the post independence era by successive governments, these include the change of the primary medium of education to the national languages, nationalization of private schools and the introduction of national/provisional school system.
Higher education in Sri Lanka has been based on the several prominent Pirivenas during the local Kingdoms. The origins of the modern university system in Sri Lanka dates back to 1921 when a University College, the Ceylon University College was established at the former premises of Royal College Colombo affiliated to the University of London. However, the begin of modern higher education in Ceylon was in 1870 when the Ceylon Medical School was established followed by Colombo Law College (1875), School of Agriculture (1884) and the Government Technical College (1893).
The University of Ceylon was established on 1 July 1942 by the Ceylon University Ordinance No.20 of 1942 which was to be unitary, residential and autonomous. The University was located in Colombo and several years later a second campus was built in Peradeniya. University of Ceylon became the University of Sri Lanka follow in the University of Ceylon Act No. 1 of 1972 resulting in a more centralized administration and more direct government control, this gave way for creation of septate universities after the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978. Even though new universities of independent identities were created government maintained its direct control and centralized administration though the University Grants Commission. Late Hon. Lalith Athulathmudali as Minister of Education developed an initiative to develop the higher education of the country in the 1980s, the Mahapola Fund established by him provided scholarship and much needed founding to higher education institution to this day. Until amendments to the University Act were made in 1999 only state universities were allowed to grant undergraduate degrees, however this has since changed.
Primary and secondary education 
Sri Lanka's education structure is divided into five parts: primary, junior secondary, senior secondary, collegiate and tertiary. Primary education lasts five to six years (Grades 1-5) and at the end of this period, the students may elect to write a national exam called the Scholarship exam. This exam allows students with exceptional skills to move on to better schools. After primary education, the junior secondary level (referred to as middle school in some schools) lasts for 4 years (Grades 6-9) followed by 2 years (Grades 10-11) of the senior secondary level which is the preparation for the General Certificate of Education (G.C.E) Ordinary Level (O/Ls). According to the Sri Lankan law, it is compulsory that all children go to school till grade 9 (age 14) at which point they can choose to continue their education or drop out and engage in apprenticeship for a job or farming. However, the Ministry of Education strongly advises all students to continue with their studies at least till the G.C.E Ordinary Level. Students who are pursuing tertiary education must pass the G.C.E O/Ls in order to enter the collegiate level to study for another 2 years (grades 12-13) to sit for the G.C.E Advanced Level. On successful completion of this exam, students can move on to tertiary education, there for the GCE A/Ls is the university entrance exam in Sri Lanka.
Due to the variety of ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, many schools teach only in either Sinhala medium or in Tamil medium and not the English medium. The elite colleges in major cities such as Colombo and Kandy, teach in all three medium.
Normal Ages 
- Kindergarten: 4-5 year olds
- Grade 1: 5-6 year olds
- Grade 2: 6-7 year olds
- Grade 3: 7-8 year olds
- Grade 4: 8-9 year olds
- Grade 5: 9-10 year olds - Scholarship Examination
- Junior secondary
- Grade 6: 10-11 year olds
- Grade 7: 11-12 year olds
- Grade 8: 12-13 year olds
- Grade 9: 13-14 year olds
- Senior secondary
- Grade 10: 14-15 year olds
- Grade 11: 15-16 year olds - G.C.E Ordinary Level Examination
- Grade 12: 16-18 year olds
- Grade 13: 17-19 year olds - G.C.E Advance Level Examination
NB: In some cases students may be slightly younger.
Government Schools 
Most of the schools in Sri Lanka are maintained by the government as a part of the free education. Currently there are 9,829 government schools with a student population of 3.8 million and 212,441 teachers, 561 Pirivenas. With the establishment if the provincial council system in the 1980s the central government handed control of most schools to local governments. However the old schools which had been around since the colonial times were retained by the central government, thus creating three types of government schools;
- National Schools
- Provincial Schools
- Pirivenas (Schools for Buddhist priests)
National Schools 
National Schools come under the direct control of the Ministry of Education therefore have direct funding from the ministry. Most of these schools were established during the colonial period and therefore are established institutions. These few are referred to as famous schools or elite schools since they have a rich history and better maintained facilities than the average public school. This is mainly due the support of their alumni. In recent years newer schools and several central colleges have been upgraded to national schools from time to time, thereby making the total number of national schools 323.
Provincial Schools 
Provincial Schools consists of the vast majority of schools in Sri Lanka. Funded and controlled by the local governments many suffer from poor facilities and a shortage of teachers.
Piriven are monastic college (similar to a seminary) for the education of Buddhist priests. These have been the centers of secondary and higher education in ancient times for lay people as well. Today 561 Piriven are funded and maintained by the Ministry of Education. Young priests undergo training at these pirivenas prior to being their Ordination and study for GCE O/L and A/L examinations. They may gain entrance to State Universities for higher religious studies.
Non-Government Schools 
Private schools 
There has been a considerable increase in the number of private schools in Sri Lanka, due to the emergence of the upper-middle class during the colonial era. These private schools follow the local curriculum set up by the Ministry of Education in the local language mediums of Sinhala, Tamil or English. Many of the private schools have access to newer facilities than state run schools. Currently there are 66 Private schools (registered before 1960 and not since then) of these, 33 non-fee-levying Assisted Private Schools (also known as semi-government schools) and 33 fee levying autonomous Private Schools, in addition to the Government Schools.
International schools 
International schools in Sri Lanka are not restricted to the expatriate community, anyone with the ability and willingness to pay can join these schools. Starting in the late 1980s these schools have no regulation or control by the Ministry of Education as it comes under the Board of Investment (BOI), due to this the standard of education varies greatly between schools and with lesser levels of student discipline compared with other types of schools. The schools are mainly for the children of the expatriate community, charge high tuition fees and can therefore provide good facilities and high standards.
The majority of International schools prepares students for the Edexcel General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary, Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced (A2) Level examinations, which is the most popular qualification. Preparation for Cambridge International Examinations is also offered by a few schools but is less popular.
The Overseas School of Colombo is the leading international schools for expatriates, the curriculum followed leads to an IB Diploma. This, together with The British School in Colombo are the sole IB World Schools in the country.
Due to the high competitive nature of exams such as year 5, GCE O/L and GCE A/L as well as London O/Ls and A/Ls; parents seek additional help at home and at group/mass classes to improve their children's grades and performance. In recent years this has become a lucrative enterprise, which has resulted in successive governments attempting to regulate it.
Tertiary Education 
Undergraduate education in State Universities is also free but extremely limited. However fewer than 16% (less than 16,000 students) of those who qualify get admission to State Universities and of that only half graduate. Admission to the university system is based on the highly competitive GCE Advanced Level examination. So, only the top students from urban district get the chances of having tertiary education. Children from remote districts can get in with lower marks. As a result, many students who are not granted admission are forced to find other means of higher education. Around 8% those qualified for higher education go abroad to pursue their studies in foreign universities, others enroll themselves at the Open University of Sri Lanka or at the few state-owned autonomous degree awarding institutes (such as the SLIIT, ITS) or study as external students of traditional universities or at private institutes (such as the IIT) that conduct classes and exams on behalf of foreign universities (such as the ULEP). Some study for entrance/membership for professional bodies both foreign (such as CIMA, BCS, ACCA, etc.) and local (such as ICASL, SLIM) or do vocational studies at vocational technical colleges which specialize in mechanical and electronic subjects. But the majority give up any hope for higher education due the inability to fund their studies since no financial support is given by the government other than to those qualified to get admission to the State Universities.
There is significant number of unemployed graduates in Sri Lanka at present, except in the fields of medicine, information technology, commerce, law and a few engineering disciplines; many state university graduates are unemployed as there is no demand both within and out side the country for the degrees they have done. Due to these reasons, many intellectuals often express the need for Private Universities in the country, where students could study in their home country at a lower cost. The North Colombo Medical College (NCMC) was one such institute, prior to its nationalization, it produced some of the best doctors in Sri Lanka. But efforts to establish private universities have been blocked due to protests from state universities' undergraduate students and leftist political parties. In recent years this has become a reason for students to prefer going abroad or study at other institutes and professional bodies, instead of entering state universities even though they are accepted by them.
There are currently only 15 state universities in Sri Lanka. The prominent ones are University of Colombo, University of Peradeniya, University of Ruhuna, University of Kelaniya, University of Sri Jayawardhenapura and University of Moratuwa. In recent years with changes to the University Act a few institutes have been given permission to grant their own degrees, the most prominent is the government owned Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology.
For a complete list, see : Sri Lankan universities
- Classification of tertiary qualifications
- Certificate - 1 year or less than 1 year of study.
- Diploma - 1–2 years of study.
- Bachelors degree
- Masters degree - which are undertaken after the completion of one or more Bachelors degrees. Masters degrees deal with a subject at a more advanced level than Bachelors degrees, and can consist either of research, coursework, or a mixture of the two.
- Doctorate - most famously Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), which are undertaken after an Honours Bachelors or Masters degree, by an original research project resulting in a thesis or dissertation.
Vocational education and training 
Vocational education and training in Sri Lanka is managed by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission of the Ministry of Vocational & Technical Training. Training includes course based curriculum at vocational technical training centres and apprenticeship at private or public organisations. Higher education in vocational fields could be archived though several universities. The National Vocational Qualifications Systems in Sri Lanka (NVQSL) provides a structured seven levels of qualifications from Level 1 to Level 7. Vocational education and training is carried out for degree level at the Open University, Sri Lanka and the University of Vocational Technology, as well as at diploma level at 37 technical colleges, Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technical Education and the Sri Lanka School of Agriculture.
Apart from these, the Ministry of Education has launched a non-formal vocational education program which allows school drop-outs and adults who did not complete their school education, to earn a living, through self-employment. Most of these courses are held at community centres and they cover a wide range of fields such as dressmaking, beauty culture, hairdressing, stitching, carpentry, plumbing, painting and so on.
Critics of the education system, including academics and parents, state that the education system is too competitive, too general, rigid, and elitist. Often, these criticisms state that there is little emphasis on creative thinking, unlike education systems in other societies, such as those in the United States. Those defending the current education system claim that Sri Lankan students have regularly ranked high when competing in international science and mathematics competitions and assessments, without any data or proven statistics to support these claims. Therefore critics argue that these claims are based on a few individual examples and not the case in general. They also claim that this is more an indication of students' skills in using rote to prepare for a certain style of competition or examination than of their ability to think critically.
The higher education field has been constantly criticized due to the falling standards at state universities which has led to high unemployed graduates. Efforts to establish private universities have been blocked, resulting in a very limited government sanctioned independent degree awarding institutions of international standard that have been claimed by proponents of private universities as a role model for the future, and claimed by opponents of private universities as privatization of education. However the demand for higher education has created several private institutions that conduct courses for degrees in foreign universities, these are not regulated or evaluated for proper standards by the government or independent organizations.
Compulsory leadership training for undergraduates 
In 2011, the government made it mandatory for all students selected for undergraduate courses in state universities to undergo Compulsory leadership training for undergraduates at military and police bases. The government sited the need for residential three week training to increase employability thus reducing the high graduate unemployment in state universities. This move has drawn criticisms from the opposition, student groups and human rights groups as the nature of compulsory military type training seen in conscription.
See also 
- Sri Lankan universities
- List of schools in Sri Lanka
- School uniforms in Sri Lanka
- eduLanka Online education portal
- Historical Overview of Education in Sri Lanka, Ministry of Education
- Historical Overview of Education in Sri Lanka - Ancient Period (543 BC - 1500 AD), Ministry of Education
- Historical Overview of Education in Sri Lanka - The British Period: (1796 - 1948 ), Ministry of Education
- Present Education System and Management Structure,Ministry of Education
- Jagdish Hathiramani. "8% of Sri Lankan students study abroad – University don".
- Undergraduate statistics 2000-2007
- Lakshmi de Silva. "Over 7,000 go overseas annually for studies, Island".
- Leadership training for university undergrads at 28 centres
- Consider postponement of leadership training - SC
- University students get marching orders for leadership programme
- Official Website of the Ministry of Education, Sri Lanka
- Official Website of the Ministry of Higher Education, Sri Lanka
- Department of Examinations, Sri Lanka
- eduLanka Online education portal, Sri Lanka