While Sri Lanka’s key indicators in areas such as life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, school enrolment and literacy appear to be acceptable, national figures do disguise disparities between regions. Most significantly, national figures do not include conflict-affected districts in the north east, which represent 13 percent of the population and include some of the most deprived regions in the country. Deprived districts in the southern central part of the country also receive little attention despite some of the lowest human development indicator values.
With the country’s Gross National Income (GNI) exceeding the threshold of USD 2290 per capita, Sri Lanka is considered a lower middle-income country. However, these figures obscure significant disparities between geographical regions. A total of 8.9 per cent of the population is considered to be living below the official poverty line.
And together with poverty, malnutrition is of key concern in Sri Lanka, both issues being interlinked. On average, an estimated 21 per cent of children are reported to be underweight, however, in selected deprived districts average estimates are 29 per cent. In other nutrition indicators, 19 per cent of children of under five years are stunted, varying from 8 per cent in Colombo to 41 per cent in the Nuwara Eliya plantation areas.
The national average survival rate to Grade 5 is currently 97 per cent, and shows no significant gender related differences. However, almost 13 per cent of children are currently dropping out of school before completing the compulsory nine year cycle. Because of the policy of automatic promotions, school completion rates cannot be taken as an indication that students are performing at the relevant competency level.
A recent UNICEF supported assessment of learning competencies of 120,000 students from Northern and Eastern provinces (grades 3-9) in the subjects of Tamil and mathematics found that a displaced student in a regular school is roughly 1.5 grades behind a typical learner. Moreover, a child who is still displaced, or in a newly restarted school, is almost three grades behind. This puts large numbers of children in resettled areas at increased risk of school dropout.