Sri Lanka sets goals for education excellence
A new World Bank-backed education initiative in Sri Lanka calls for developing excellent education institutions enabling the country to achieve high levels of human development and national income, and distribute the benefits of economic progress more equitably to rural, estate and poor urban areas.
The $60 million Education Sector Development Grant is the largest grant ever given by the World Bank to Sri Lanka, and will help the government to implement a five year Education Sector Development Program, from 2006-2010, to improve all schools in the country, the bank said last week in a statement.

Sri Lanka has attained the first generation education objective of providing widespread access to primary education (grades 1-5), with net primary school completion of over 95 percent among both boys and girls. The government is seeking to meet the second and third generation challenges of extending the compulsory education period to basic education (grades 1-9), and developing high quality schools in all areas of the country. To achieve this aim, the government has prepared a comprehensive Education Sector Development Framework and Program for the period 2006-2010, covering both basic education (grades 1-9) and secondary education (grades 10-13).

One major challenge that the country has to overcome is the moderate level of learning achievement. Only 37 percent of primary school students achieve mastery of their mother tongue, Sinhalese or Tamil. This is a serious constraint to further learning, as all subsequent study will draw on the child’s mother tongue capability. Mathematical knowledge is also moderate, with only 38% of students achieving the prescribed level of mastery. English language skills, which are critically important for the country’s future economic prospects, are low, with just 10 percent of students achieving mastery, the bank said.

There are also high regional disparities in learning outcomes between urban and rural areas. In the first language, 51 percent of urban children achieve mastery in contrast to just 34 percent in rural areas. Similarly, in mathematics, 52 percent of urban students attain mastery, while in rural areas only 35 percent of students achieve mastery.

The contrast between urban and rural areas is especially sharp in English language skills, where 23 percent urban students achieve mastery, but a mere 7 percent of rural children achieve mastery. The World Bank Education Sector Development Grant will support the entire programme of the government. An innovative funding mechanism will be used for World Bank assistance.

There will be no project implementation unit. Instead, funds will be provided directly through the budgets of the national and provincial Ministries of Education. The volume of funds flowing to the country and to individual provinces will be linked to performance, with greater funds allocated to better performers, the statement said.

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