In depth

Our education system needs an upgrade

Education system in Sri Lanka needs and upgrade

The two books namely ‘Defining a 21st-century education’ (Craig d. Jerald, 2009) and ‘Curriculum 21’ (Heidi Hayes Jacobs, 2010) bring out the international developments with regards to education and curriculums. Authors of the books state that “it is necessary to prepare the students for a changing world in the next few years by upgrading the school curriculum”. It identifies five global trends that a 21st-century student should be knowledgeable in namely, economics, science and technology, demography, security and citizenship, and education.

However, it’s questionable whether the Sri Lankan curriculum focus on covering the five global trends to best support its education system. Local Curriculums must highlight these global trends. Not only to signify the importance but to shift its status from an unattractive curriculum to an attractive curriculum.

Moreover, the primary school curriculum needs to be well planned and structured as it is the fundamental block of education in child’s life. It should include many features which are on par with world accepted primary school curricula. It is essential to update the school curriculum from grade 1 itself to prepare students for the changing world. As a step to initiating it, the introduction of more basic features such as health education, nutritional considerations, hygiene aspects and prevention of child abuse must be incorporated into the curriculum from grade 1-5.

English plays a vital role

English is the international language and is considered to be the most important skill requirement. Yet it’s also one of the country’s biggest shortfalls. The current grade 1 activity based oral English syllabus is inadequate. Similarly, there is a strong and rapidly growing demand for English language learning in Sri Lanka. Most children who are admitted to year 1 have already followed some formal English in their preschools. All international schools and some government schools already promote teaching formal English from grade 1. For starters, kids can be introduced to the alphabet and small vocabulary related to day to day activities using a simplified storybook. This would encourage reading habits and communication skills and this needs to be indorsed evenly across the country.

English plays an important role in education system

A busy English teacher at Loyola Campus in Vavuniya

A similar fact regarding English education at university level needs to be discussed. The students are exposed to basic English skills Programme within the first few months of their university life. But sadly majority fail to add things to refine their life. Instead, English should be further integrated into the curriculum. Many more opportunities in the domestic and global community are available for potential workers with good English speaking skills. If properly executed at School level rather than achieving English writing skills at university, students can be taught to develop a proper CV, to develop formal letter writing and emails, how to face an interview in English, etc.

Science also needs an upgrade

At present, the subject environmental activities contain more social aspects and the actual science content is diluted. In the UK and Australian National Curriculum teaching of Science and Technology starts from Grade 1. The teaching of science can take different forms. Allowing students to follow simple scientific inquiries related to life processes and living things, materials and properties and physical processes. For example, the Kids Ignite Program introduced to Sri Lanka by Hasith Yaggahavita, is one of the best and the most practical option to foster interest in scientific innovations. Straightaway, he found a shortage in good technical education and developed this program to give the opportunity to kids around the country to get enrolled.

The Advanced Level conundrum

However, a major setback in our A/L system is the inability to finish the proposed curriculum during the calendar year. Well, most of the teachers manage to finish it on time. Conversely, it’s very uncertain whether the theory was actually absorbed by the students properly. Subject contents of some subjects are overloaded. Therefore student and teacher friendly textbooks ought to be produced by combining relevant material of teacher instructional manuals with carefully designed chapters each subject must be properly planned by a subject expert taking into consideration the balance and relevance of content for each individual subject.

kidsignite | education system needs a change

Initiatives like KidsIgnite set a perfect example of how we can foster interest in scientific innovations (Image Credits: kids ignite)

To begin with, the Ministry of education recently announced on the inclusion of 26 additional subjects to the G.C.E A/L curriculum. In a background where the curriculum is put to heavy criticism by both the teachers and the students across the nation, this is gold. In some way, the success of this stage solely depends on whether the subject criteria’s are able to suit the different learning styles of the students. Thereupon as pointed out in the previous article the curriculum has to give priority to all types of learners and different learning styles. A curriculum must recognize and support the individual likes and dislikes of all the students and not only a few out there.

26 new subjects

Presently only five subject streams are available at present for the A/L students to choose from. Those are biosciences, maths, and applied science, commerce and arts streams respectively. The newly introduced stream to the A/L curriculum is known as the career based stream. Education minister Akhila Viraj Kariyawasam has introduced 26 new subjects under this stream to be followed at GCE advanced level examination.


Akila Viraj Kariyawasam | Education Minister

At the present time, in the modernizing world, subjects that are more focused on the job market which induces theory and practicality which supports employment are thus essential. Likewise, within the first 6 months of grade 12, the student must follow 9 compulsory subjects. Subjects under the compulsory curriculum include,

  1. Mother tongue (Sinhala/Tamil)
  2. Applied English and communication skills development
  3. Arts and language appreciation
  4. Information and technology
  5. Citizenship education
  6. Health and lifestyle
  7. Physical health
  8. Entrepreneurship
  9. Career guidance

Hence, by completing the common curriculum, the student can advance into the applied curriculum where the student is allowed to continue studies choosing a subject from the proposed list of 26, for the next 18 months.

  1. Child psychology and care
  2. Health and social care
  3. Physical education and sports
  4. Performing arts
  5. Event management
  6. Arts and craft
  7. Interior designing
  8. Fashion designing
  9. Graphic designing
  10. Arts and designing
  11. Landscaping
  12. Applied horticultural studies
  13. Livestock product studies
  14. Food processing studies
  15. Aquatic resource studies
  16. Plantation product studies
  17. Construction studies
  18. Automobile studies
  19. Electrical and electronic studies
  20. Textile and apparel studies
  21. Aluminum fabrication studies
  22. Metal fabrication studies
  23. Software development
  24. Web development
  25. Tourism and hospitality
  26. Environmental studies

Challenges set in the future 

Above all, Ministry believes that these subjects can develop the personality and other basic skills necessary for the practical application of the theory at the university level and the job market. On the other hand, this not only can introduce better job opportunities locally but internationally as well. Along with the series of changes, the minister proposed that “the curriculum must indeed be fit to accommodate and ensure 13 years of mandatory education package for each and every student across the country.”

Consequently, the reformations in the future curriculums in general education should include plans for the development of new skills among students to face the impact of challenges of the 21st century. So, the major challenges of the 21st century are automation, globalization, workplace changes and increasing personal responsibility. Integration of science and technology and computer technology into the curriculum in addition to general competencies is a must in the modern environment. Altogether, the government has taken one step towards fulfilling the major challenges and there is a lot more to offer the system in the future.


Gimhani Hirunika



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