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Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, education strives for “a big win for everyone”

The Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children aims to reach those children who are left behind, even where school attendance rates are high, as in Sri Lanka.


While Sri Lanka has high rates of school attendance, identifying those who remain excluded and supporting policies to give them educational opportunities is the aim of a collaboration between UNICEF and UNESCO.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 4 November 2014 – For most children, Sri Lanka’s universal primary education policies of the past 70 years have been a success. About 98 per cent of children complete primary school, and the country boasts a 92 per cent literacy rate, according to the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children’s South Asia Regional Study.

But what about the children who are not in school? Many of them come from the poorest of poor families. In some areas, generational cycles of school exclusion have been perpetuated by the Sri Lankan civil war, which ended in 2009.

Achieving the international development goal of ‘education for all’ would benefit children, families, communities and Sri Lanka, UNICEF Education Officer Kalimuthu Kulendra says in a video produced by the Initiative.
“Having all the children in school is a big win for everyone,” he says.

Throughout the world, progress has been made on increasing the number of children attending primary school. But as is the case in Sri Lanka, many of the most marginalized children remain excluded. When it comes to reaching the most vulnerable children, the hardest work remains to be done.

Identifying those children and understanding why they do not attend school is the goal of the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children, a collaboration launched in 2010 by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. It employs statistical methods to determine which children are not in school and why. The data is used to recommend policies that enable all children to attend school and learn.

The reasons children are excluded can be complex. As anywhere else, children in Sri Lanka may be deterred from school by poverty or conflict. Many children also miss out on opportunities because they live in remote regions and have no transportation to the nearest school. Some are impeded by violence or natural disaster. Others are hindered by disability or discrimination because of language, ethnic origin or gender.

No obstacles

Recommendations from the initiative have included second-chance and alternative learning centres, scholarships and mentoring programmes. Work is also underway to improve the quality of learning to make sure that children who do enter school leave with the skills they need to thrive in the world.

Sri Lanka is one of more than 45 countries involved in the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children. Many children are thriving under policies that provide for free public education, textbooks, uniforms and midday meals and that subsidize transportation.

“Because we now have peace, there are no obstacles for my daughter to get educated,” a father says in the video.

But the film also introduces a girl whose educational success is in jeopardy.

It is these children – the children left behind in Sri Lanka and around the world – that the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children aims to reach. It is a goal that benefits each child. But it is also a goal that pays development dividends as educated children grow into adults and contribute to the health and prosperity of their communities and the world.

For more information on Sri Lanka’s out-of-school children, download the report at unesco.org (PDF).



UNICEF Photography: Education

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