MOE and UNICEF spearhead national initiative to recover lost learning for 1.6 million primary school children across Sri Lanka

1.6 million primary school children across the country are facing challenges due to covid and the economic crisis, with 85% of children in Grade 3 not achieving the minimum literacy and numeracy levels

16 August 2023
Dr. Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Education, Christian Skoog, UNICEF Representative for Sri Lanka and other officials at the event
UNICEF Sri Lanka/InceptChange
Dr. Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Education, Christian Skoog, UNICEF Representative for Sri Lanka and other officials at the event

Thursday, 16 August 2023, Colombo. The Ministry of Education (MoE) and UNICEF spearhead a national initiative to help 1.6 million primary school children impacted by prolonged school closures and sporadic disruptions to their education over the past three years, to catch up on their learning.

According to an MOE-led national assessment, 85% of Grade 3 children are not achieving minimum proficiency in literacy and numeracy, which is essential in their transition to secondary school and beyond, both in life and work.  

The event was held under the leadership of the Hon. Minister of Education, Dr. Susil Premajayantha, MP along with the UNICEF Representative for Sri Lanka, Christian Skoog, and was attended by government and development partners. 

Currently, Sri Lanka allocates less than 2% of its GDP on education, which falls well below the international benchmark of 4-6% of GDP and is among the lowest in the South Asia region.

“There is an urgent need to increase the national budget allocation for education, especially for primary grades, where we need to boost foundational learning for children, while also ensuring the implementation of vital Education Reforms so that we can build the solid human resource skills needed to support the country's development,” said Dr. Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Education.

The learning crisis has affected vulnerable children the most, including younger children in primary grades and those in plantation estates in the country.

“The basics of literacy, numeracy, and social economic skills are the platform on which children build their own, their families, their communities, and their country’s future,” said Christian Skoog, UNICEF Representative for Sri Lanka. “We commend the MOE for its commitment to undertake urgent efforts to reverse the widening disparities in learning achievement for children who are lagging further behind, including slow learners, and missing out due to the continued hardship the country faces,” he said.

In July, the MOE and UNICEF held a special briefing on ‘Learning Recovery’ to leverage the support of development partners, while more technical-level workshops were held across nine provinces, to identify gaps and prioritize actions.

Notes to Editor

The multiple school closures and continuous interruptions to the education system over the last three years have had a profound effect on children’s learning in Sri Lanka, exacerbating learning gaps and pre-existing inequalities among vulnerable children in primary grades, including those living in the estate sector. As the country moves towards economic recovery, prices remain high on essential items including schoolbooks and stationary items, making it difficult for families facing financial hardships to cover education costs and support their children’s continuous learning.

Media contacts

Suzanne Wooster-Prematilaka
Communication Officer
UNICEF Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 77 316 5378
Kushan Sameera
Ministry of Education
Tel: +94 718317179

About UNICEF Sri Lanka

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF Sri Lanka, visit