Sri Lanka is a Lower Middle Income Country (LMIC) with an approximate per capita income of 3900 USD. But on the other hand, Sri Lanka demonstrates characteristics similar to Upper- Income Countries (UIC) as well. Low birth rate (1.6 %) and low annual population growth (0.92 %) recorded are close to what’s observed in UIC’s such as Turkey and Brazil. The literacy rate is 93%. Life expectancy rate is 78% years for women and 72% years for men respectively. This is on par with Upper-Middle-Income Countries (UMIC). Maternal and infant mortality rates are very low at 30 per 100,000 live births and 8 per 1,000 live births. The government can only transform Sri Lanka into an Upper Middle Income Country by promoting human development and equitable growth in various fields of the country. Education is one of these fields.
Sri Lankan education system now faces a major set of challenges as the country seeks to reach UMIC status. First, despite the high overall secondary education enrollment rates, there are discrepancies in terms of the curriculum options available for A/Ls. This is especially the case in less developed provinces. Senior secondary education needs a greater diversity of curriculum options, especially to benefit students in these less advanced regions. And also to produce a workforce suitable for high-level industrial and service sector activities of a UMIC. Hence, with 26 additional subjects to the A/L curriculum, the government effectively conquered 1/10th of the challenges.
The General Education Modernization
World Bank has proposed, an additional operation as part of the Transforming School Education Project (TSEP) currently engaged, to broaden and deepen the World Bank’s involvement in uplifting the General Education Sector of Sri Lanka. The proposed operation, namely, General Education Modernization (GEM) Operation, ensures that all children have the opportunity to gain the foundational skills needed to take part in Sri Lanka’s economic growth. Their principal aim is to raise the education system in equivalence with the international developments in middle-income and high-income education systems. For this attentive task, World Bank approved a $100 million credit in total on the 26th of April, 2018.
Followed by the Announcement, Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives stated, “Sri Lanka has made impressive progress in expanding access to education. However, to reach the status of an Upper Middle-Income Country, it needs to further improve the overall learning outcomes. Sri Lanka’s education policymakers recognize that a high-quality general education system will enable students to meet the demands of 21 st century jobs. We are happy to partner with the government to make sure that all children have the opportunity to gain foundational skills, especially in Mathematics and English, needed to take part in Sri Lanka’s economic growth”.
The GEM will progress under two different themes,
Theme one: Developing systems for enhancing the quality of general education (US$ 65 million)
- Use of ICT as an educational tool to support classroom activities.
- Effecting master of English Language from grade one regardless of the Geographical discrepancies of the provinces.
- Enabling students to select from a varied list of subjects to pursue senior secondary studies.
- Optional Curriculum for vocational studies for students undertaking secondary education in the country.
- Inclusive education program prioritizing children with special learning needs.
- To provide schools with enhanced Human Resource Mechanisms to support the education of Children.
- Developing the teacher education processes. This is viewed as a strategic part of the operation GEM.
Theme two: Strengthening the stewardship of general education (USD 35 million)
- Ministry of education in association with the GEM Operation will establish a School Inspectorate to provide for independent external evaluations of various dimensions of the school structure. This is to differentiate between the low performing countries and the high performing countries. The Low performing countries will greatly benefit from these evaluations.
- GEM confidences to promote a consistent educational planning system under individual Provincial Councils level.
- The Ministry of education will introduce an Enhanced Program for School Improvement.
Harsha Aturupane, Lead Economist and World Bank’s Task Team Leader for the project added: “Successful implementation of the overall general education reform program and the key priorities supported by GEM should lead to improved learning outcomes and higher socio-emotional skills among students”.
Expectations for the future
By January 10, 2019, it is expected that the GEM operation will function all over the country. Experts criticise the Sri Lankan education for its inability in producing outputs significant to match the market needs. However, There are many vacancies that go unfilled as employers cannot find suitable employees with the relevant skills and capacities. Accordingly, collaborations as such with the government of Sri Lanka acts as incentives to every citizen in the country.
Perhaps new government policies can be implemented to ensure the fast promotion of these operations, as well as the motivation of the teachers and students. Moreover, these efforts should effectively range far and wide over the country, even to the underprivileged areas. The challenges can be met only if the authorities initiate from the grassroots level. Ignorance of the education culture in the rural areas would ill benefit in the long run. Particularly if Sri Lanka intends to reach the mark of becoming a UMIC. At that point, inevitably just like how the country attained high rates of literacy, it would be successful in providing students and teachers with high educational services.