ADB Extends $80M Assistance for Sri Lanka's Education Sector

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is providing $80 million to improve secondary and tertiary education in Sri Lanka to equip the nation’s young work force with the skills necessary to meet expanding and evolving labor market needs.

The assistance will be provided in the form of a $65 million loan and a $15 million grant to support the Education for Knowledge Society Project. The government is contributing $25.3 million to the project.

The project will help the country improve the quality, relevance, effectiveness and accessibility of secondary and tertiary education. The grant will fund a scholarship program, an initiative for innovative teaching programs for information and communication technology and an HIV/AIDS health education program.

While Sri Lanka has low prevalence of HIV infection, lack of awareness of the risks attached to the disease heightens the country’s vulnerability. Successful prevention and control hinges on the knowledge, attitudes and practices of adolescents and youth. Schools are well placed to address this need.

Globalization and the impact of economic and technological change in Asia are opening opportunities and creating challenges for the future labor force of Sri Lanka.

“The education system needs to adjust to the changing needs of the modern economy. The school system is currently oriented toward conventional university education and does not teach skills and attitudes relevant to labor market needs,” said Ayako Inagaki, senior education specialist of ADB’s South Asia Department.

The project will upgrade one public secondary school in each of the 150 poorest administrative divisions in the country identified by the government. The upgraded schools will offer advanced level science and teaching in key subjects such as information and communication technology, English and technical subjects to enhance skills in areas of high demand, including manufacturing and services.

The project will also support curriculum and assessment reform in secondary education, English language education, and expand the use of information and communication technology for learning. It will upgrade tertiary education institutions into more market responsive education providers. The project will also strengthen career guidance and social marketing programs to orient students toward wider tertiary education options, including technical education and vocational training, to help broaden learning options and career paths for the educated youth.

Due to the lack of job opportunities and a mismatch between the available labor supply and the demands of the labor market, many educated youth are unemployed.

Sri Lanka needs to increase the efficiency of its education system if the sector is to play a key role in national economic growth. However, limited availability of public funds has constrained the expansion and modernization of tertiary education. The country’s expenditure on education accounts for just 3% of its gross domestic product and about 9% of total government spending in 2007. Education is free up to the first degree level in university, which makes it heavily dependent on public resources.

“As the economy becomes more dynamic, education must become more practical and relevant to labor market needs. The school system needs to prepare and orient students to wider learning options and career paths, including technical education and vocational training programs,” said Ms. Inagaki.