Enabling all children to learn and reach their full potential

teacher helping a child learn letters
UNICEF/SriLanka/S Noorani

The Challenge

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals call for holistic education in all sectors and for all age groups. No matter what our development goals, education can give vulnerable children the knowledge and the power they need to identify their rights, fight for them effectively and succeed in the real world.

In the early years of life, an environment of nurturing is crucial to the mental stimulation, social interaction and positive life skills young children need to develop and grow. Today, Sri Lanka’s preschool sector is largely unregulated. Many children do not receive the quality preschool education they need to enter primary schools and ultimately succeed in their lives. Curricula needs standardizing and updating, and their implementation needs support. Teachers need training in age-appropriate delivery methods that develop students’ motoric, socio-emotional and cognitive competencies in preparation for school life. The Early Childhood Development Standards (ECDS), which provide a holistic vision of the skills and knowledge that pre-school children require, needs to be implemented universally. 

As children pass through middle childhood and adolescence, it is important for them to continue developing the foundational and transversal competencies they need to succeed in a changing country and an increasingly global, competitive market. In certain pockets of poverty, particularly in the tea-estate areas and in former conflict-affected areas of the North and East, levels of learning remain low. Providing an education that directly prepares students for the job market can prevent school dropouts in lower and upper secondary education.

Across all age groups, the education system needs to promote social cohesion and peace by integrating these concepts more tightly with the curriculum, thereby developing a generation of young adults that understand diversity, empathy, active citizenship and fundamental human rights. Similarly, learning materials, curricula and pedagogy need to be developed and rolled out to meet the needs of children with disabilities.

Education should not be exclusive to our children either; Parents, teachers, caregivers, institutions, policymakers and other stakeholders need to be empowered so that child-sensitive practices can take root, spread and drive sustainable national growth.


The Solution

To address disparities and gaps in the preschool sector, UNICEF is working with government and private partners towards a system that supports and assures quality preschool education for all children in Sri Lanka. This effort is underpinned by the Early Childhood Development Standards (ECDS), which seek to instill key life skills at a young age, and is supported by steps to provide improved learning materials and updated pedagogy in preschools. UNICEF further provides analytical work, technical assistance and coordination support to ensure that policies and plans are based on a solid assessment of the preschool education sector.

With respect to primary and secondary education, UNICEF is working with the Government and other partners to instate policies and plans that focus on equity, inclusiveness and child-centeredness. We are also working to mobilize sufficient human and financial resources to implement, monitor and evaluate those policies and plans effectively. UNICEF works to revise curricula and learning materials so that they include the promotion of foundational as well as broader transversal skills that prepare students for their future lives and work. Efforts are also underway to ensure classroom teaching and learning practices incorporate elements of group and activity-based learning. In-built assessments that feed back into classroom learning processes need to be instituted, and examination systems need shifts the focus away from rote memorization and towards critical thinking and creativity.

UNICEF also looks at the education system as an effective means of strengthening social cohesion. These efforts range from the integration of peace education and reconciliation into curricula, learning materials and teacher development systems, to the roll out of programs that promote regular contact between students from ethnically and religiously segregated schools. UNICEF will also use co-curricular activities like music, sports and ICT as a means of bringing students from different backgrounds together. UNICEF is leveraging local school networks to increase this type of engagement within and across schools and, in so doing, build trust and resilience in local communities.


Everything we do at UNICEF, from planning to execution, is grounded in empirical data, independent evaluation, rigorous research and thoughtful analysis. This information is gathered with the help of our own staff and the help of our network of partners in communities around the country.

UNICEF supports research and uses it to inform every decision we make. We rely on hard evidence to assess any situation on the ground, and we use these findings to drive programs, policies and initiatives.