ADB Loan to Help Sri Lanka Upgrade Secondary Schools to Meet Labor Needs

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved $200 million in loans to help the Government of Sri Lanka revamp its secondary school system to cut youth unemployment and meet  the country’s urgent need for a skilled workforce.

“The current system needs a major overhaul so that young people have the skills to enter the labor market once they move on from secondary schools,” said Rita O’ Sullivan, Country Director of ADB’s office in Sri Lanka. “This is now essential in a digital age where technological skills and knowledge are at the heart of successful and sustainable economies.”

The loan marks the first results-based lending program approved by ADB.  Payments will be linked to the achievement of results such as the rollout of a full curriculum in schools, implementation of a technology stream, or training principal teachers.  The program supports the Government of Sri Lanka’s Education Sector Development Framework and Program for 2013-2017.

Sri Lanka has achieved universal primary enrollment in elementary schooling and high literacy rates.  It has also invested heavily in modernizing secondary school infrastructure, but at the senior secondary level, completion and pass rates are less impressive. Just 6% of students entering grade 1 each year make it to university, and about a third of all school graduates enter the labor market without proper academic qualifications or skills training, resulting in a jobless rate of 18% among 15 to 24 year olds.

Currently, many schools, particularly in rural areas do not offer the key subjects of science, mathematics, and English, which makes it difficult for graduates to move into post secondary education. Many schools also lack the facilities such as fully equipped classrooms or science laboratories to provide modern and relevant schooling.

Under the Education Sector Development Program, ADB’s loans will finance the development of a national student assessment framework, which integrates school assessments with external exams to improve pass rates, and it will introduce a technology stream to allow secondary school graduates to move more easily into vocational courses.

School facilities will be upgraded and training and placement of teachers carried out to raise the number of students studying science and commerce. School principals and education agency staff will get training to improve school leadership, management, and planning, and a financing facility will be developed to ensure that upgraded equipment and facilities are maintained properly.

ADB’s loans comprise $100 million from ordinary capital resources and $100 million from its concessional Asian Development Fund. The Government of Sri Lanka’s overall program is set to cost $4.9 billion.