Education for adolescents

Fostering a new generation of responsible and productive young people who will lead peaceful lives

UNICEF/SriLanka/S Noorani

The Challenge

As children enter adolescence, real-world concerns like income, independence and influence come to the fore, and education starts to play a tangible role in determining life success. 

Not every students in Sri Lanka has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential. About 95per cent per cent of schools in Sri Lanka are in rural provincial areas and as such are attended mostly  children who live in poverty, but public investment in provincial education is only about 65 per cent of total general education spending. The 35 per cent spent by the central government goes mainly to national schools, which only account for about 5 per cent of all schools and are typically attended by affluent urban children. This means that levels of learning, literacy and achievement can be very low in areas of acute poverty, particularly in the estate sector and the former conflict-affected regions of the North and East. Qualified teachers flock to urban, popular schools which can further undermine the quality of education in rural schools. The shortage of qualified teachers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and English (STEM) contributes to poor test scores in disadvantaged areas.  In areas where children do attend school, dropout rates increase as they pass the age of 14, with many students stating that school learning is not relevant to the needs of the job market. A National Youth Survey found that only 40.2 per cent of adolescents aged 17-18 continue at school. Of the children that do dropout, only one quarter participate in vocational training programs. The vast majority of those that do complete school are unable to enter university due to a lack of available places. 

One of the biggest issues that lead to low participation and high drop-outs is the perception that school learning does not prepare students for the job market. Data from the National Youth Survey found that 23per cent of all school drop-outs did not consider school useful as a means to employment, and more than 70per cent of employers believe the same. Some of the key skills required, as cited in the Sri Lanka Labour Demand Survey 2017 are technical, job specific skills as well as oral and written skills, problem solving skills, team working skills and IT skills, all of which are lacking in graduates.  

Disparities in the competency levels of teachers also contribute to low learning outcomes as a high proportion of teachers have very limited professional training in terms of both subject and pedagogy skills. Outdated teacher training curricula, a lack of quality materials for teacher development, a lack of supplementary classroom materials that promote activity-based deeper learning and low access to ICT facilities and skills on meaningfully integrating ICT into teaching and learning all affect student development. Low salary scales lead to most teachers conducting tuition classes, further decreasing the effort they put into making lessons in school relevant and interesting. A lack of recognition, motivation and rewards are also cited as some of the main reasons for teachers to be disengaged from their students in school.

Adolescence is also a formative period during which children must be encouraged and empowered to become constructive members of a society that promotes peace, reconciliation and resilience. Many schools continue to be segregated along ethnic and religious lines with 94per cent of schools offering instructions only in Sinhala (64per cent) or Tamil (30per cent). A majority of children do not learn the second national language (2NL) or English as a link language. Further, basic education curricula and teacher guides still contain content that undermine the promotion of a common Sri Lankan identity and lack quality content that promote global citizenship and human rights. Active students also lack the opportunity to participate in ongoing processes, at the local or national level, that will have an impact on their lives. In that sense, it is vital that the education system be strengthened so that children are instilled with active citizenship skills including respect for diversity, empathy and participation. They must also be empowered to become active agents of change in their homes and communities. To this end, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has developed a national action plan and tasked the ‘Peace Education and Reconciliation Unit’ (PERU) within the MoE to oversee and coordinate work in this area.  However, the roll out of this national plan has been slow. 

The Solution

UNICEF is working with government partners to ensure that no adolescent is left behind and that each child is instilled with employable skills and attributes that will contribute to a productive, peaceful and cohesive society.

First and foremost, UNICEF is providing inputs to modify national policy with a view to creating a comprehensive framework for mainstreaming skills-based education. This means the development of a Skills Framework to increase the relevance of education to the job market.  Steps are also being taken to enhance teacher quality and teacher allocations so that access to quality education is equitable. 

Steps are also being taken to move from a teacher-centered to a student-centered classroom. To facilitate this transition a fundamental change in the attitudes, knowledge and skills of teachers needs to take place.  In enhancing the quality of teachers, UNICEF is assisting the relevant stakeholders in developing  teacher training curricula which integrate activity and project based-learning, introduce methodologies to integrate slow learners, build teacher communities for sharing knowledge and experience and introduce on-line learning platforms on Continuous Professional Development. Strategies will also be employed to engage Principals in providing instructional leadership and promoting teacher development while also devising support mechanisms from within school community members, In-Service Advisors (ISAs) and Zonal Education Officials. 

UNICEF is working with the Government of Sri Lanka  to review existing curricula and identify needs gaps, embed skills, identify supporting learning material, integrate ICT platforms and tools, prioritize STEM and implement strategies to encourage more girls to learn STEM, revise assessments to include skills, promote activity and project based learning and identify different types of learners.

UNICEF also works to create a positive learning environment in all classrooms. Teachers will be trained in positive classroom management methodologies. This will include sensitization and awareness sessions on the negative impact of corporal punishment and an emphasis on the importance of protecting children from all forms of violence. Teachers will also need to strengthen their skills in providing psycho-social support to their students.

UNICEF is also supporting the government, through evidence-based research, to better understand the magnitude and nature of school drop-outs, and will make recommendations to improve retention and introduce contingencies.

UNICEF also focuses on the upper secondary level with a focus on building skills in personal empowerment, relationship building, self-awareness, stress and emotional management and more, by integrating these concepts into the secondary curricula. Diversity, empathy and active citizenship as well core human rights values in areas such as gender equality and social justice will also be integrated through curricula and project-based learning. These concepts will be built into curricula with the help of the University Grants Commission, so that students have a better understanding of how to counter violence and embrace peace. UNICEF will also work with government partners to increase the focus on co-curricular activities like music, sport and ICT. This will build important skills and also help to bring together children from different backgrounds through joint and project-based learning.

In ensuring that changes in policy and the resulting  new practices introduced to schools are well received by communities , UNICEF will assist in strengthening the capacity of provincial, zonal, school officials and school communities to plan, implement and monitor education activities  that promote skills based education. A common platform for communities to interact and share ideas will be developed so that key themes and messages are consistent at school and at home.


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.