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Education equity in Sri Lanka: A pathway out of poverty



By Wimal Nanayakkara

Although Sri Lanka has provided universal free education since 1939, around one-fifth of poor children drop out of school after the age of 14 years and another-two thirds after the age of 16 years. Comparison of estimates based on the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES)-2012/13 and HIES-2016, conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS), show only a marginal improvement.

With the closure of schools following the COVID-19 outbreak and the sudden shift to online learning, poor children with no access to e-learning opportunities risk falling even further behind. In this context, some proposals made in budget 2021 to improve the education system and reduce poverty will benefit poor children who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. This blog highlights some of the education-related difficulties faced by poor children in Sri Lanka based on HIES data and the recent budget proposals which could help them to overcome these difficulties.

Poor children out of school

A large proportion of poor children are dropping out of school after 14 years, and the percentage of poor children (15-16 years) not attending school has declined only by 4.2, between the two survey periods. Among poor children aged between 17-18 years, this figure has remained almost unchanged at nearly 65%. The corresponding percentages for non-poor children are much lower (Table 1).

Out of the poor children (15-16 years) who leave the education system, more than 66% left mainly due to “poor educational progress/not willing to attend” (36.6%), “financial problems” (22.1%), or to “help in housekeeping /other activities of the household” (8.6%). The corresponding percentages of poor children (17-18 years) were 49.5, 15.8 and 20.0 respectively. One of the reasons for poor education progress could be inadequate nutritional intake. The HIES-2016 shows that the per capita energy consumption of poor households with children (5-18 years) is less than 75% [or 1513 kilo calories per capita a day (kcpcad)] of the recommended energy requirement (2030 kcpcad). The corresponding consumption of non-poor households is 2081 kcpcad, above the recommended requirement.

As there is a possibility for some of the near-poor children to slip into poverty, due to the effects of COVID-19, it is important to consider both poor and near-poor. Figure (1) shows the proportions of early school leavers are very high for poor and near-poor children compared to non-poor. There is also a significant gender gap, especially among the poor and near-poor.


For example, 73.6% of poor boys aged 17-18 years are out of school compared to 53.9% of poor girls in this age group. The corresponding percentages for the 15-16 age group are 24.5 and 14.2 respectively. A similar pattern is observed for near-poor children and even non-poor children, although the proportions are significantly low for non-poor.

Inadequacy of facilities for online learning

Inequality in education can be further widened as not all children have the necessary facilities for online learning during prolonged curfews, lockdowns or when schools are kept closed indefinitely. According to the Computer Literacy Survey –2019 (DCS), only 22.2% of the households in Sri Lanka own a desktop/laptop computer (Urban: 38.3%; Rural: 19.9% and Estate: 3.8%). According to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) of Sri Lanka, there were a total of 1.53 million fixed internet subscribers and 5.73 million mobile subscribers in 2018. However, the use of smartphones would be limited, especially in remote rural areas, where broadband internet facilities are weak and there is no information on the extent of smartphone users among the poor.

‘E-Thaksalawa’ the national e-learning portal of the Ministry of Education (MoE), is facilitating e-learning for students (Grade 1 to Advanced Level). But some children, cannot access them at present due to the lack of facilities or means. Broadband internet facilities, a computer/laptop or a smartphone and sufficient data are essential to download available study material.

As highlighted in a previous IPS blog, the best option therefore would be to use television (TV) as 86% (HIES-2016) of households in the country own TVs (Urban: 88.9%; Rural: 86.1% and Estate: 81.2%). The ‘Guru Gedara’ distance learning programme of the MoE broadcast by Channel Eye/Nethra TV, ART TV and Ada Derana, for students from Grade 3 to GCE (A/L) are both in Sinhala and Tamil. The SLBC is also broadcasting these lessons for the benefit of children who do not have access even to a TV.

This is an excellent and innovative way for poor children to continue their studies in a stream of their choice, who may be leaving education prematurely due to lack of facilities, especially teachers, to teach science/ technology subjects, mathematics, languages, etc., in rural/estate schools and non-national schools.

Budget proposals

Budget 2021 has some proposals which, if implemented, could solve most of the issues highlighted above. They will benefit the poor and vulnerable children, who are facing difficulties in continuing their education, explained above. The proposals are also aimed at developing the entire education system with special emphasis on skills development, to meet the ever-increasing demand for high skills and also to provide necessary facilities.

A summary of some of the most important proposals are:

• ‘Gamata Sannivedanaya’ to provide 4G/Fiber broadband facilities to cover all Grama Niladhari divisions; internet facilities to all schools.

• ‘E-Thaksalawa’ learning portal to be strengthened further to minimise the difficulties faced by students in rural / estate and non-national schools.

• ‘Guru Gedara’ programme to be made available to all students, by providing TV sets to schools in difficult areas.

• Improving and expanding the opportunities for vocational/technical education, which will be extremely useful in developing the necessary skills in a rapidly changing environment.

The early implementation of these proposals could pave the way to breaking the vicious poverty trap through equitable education and ensuring that no child is left behind.

Link to original ‘Talking Economics’ blog:

Wimal Nanayakkara is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) with research interests in poverty, and is a specialist in sampling. He was previously engaged at the Department of Census and Statistics, where he functioned as the Director General for 12 years. He received his BSc in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Peradeniya and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Statistics from the University of Reading, UK. (Talk to Wimal –

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CBSL foresees brighter growth prospects in 2021



By Hiran H.Senewiratne 

Sri Lanka’s 2021 GDP growth prospects  seem positive despite the economy contracting by 1.7 per cent and 16.3 per cent in the first and second quarters of 2020. However, the economy rebounded in the third quarter of 2020 and registered a growth of 1.5 per cent, Central Bank Governor Prof. W. D.Lakshman said.

“However, the second wave of COVID-19 is expected to have dampened the momentum in the fourth quarter of 2020. Accordingly, the economy is expected to have contracted by around 3.9 per cent in 2020, Central Bank Governor said while releasing the CBSL monetary policy review yesterday.

“Nevertheless, the economy is well poised to rebound in 2021, supported by the unprecedented policy stimulus measures introduced by the government and the Central Bank, improved domestic economic sentiments, alongside the improving prospects of the global economy, Lakshman told the media online.

He said the Monetary Board has decided to continue with its accommodative monetary policy stance.

Headline inflation is projected to remain subdued in the near term and improvements in domestic supply conditions are expected to ease price pressures on a sustained basis.

The Central Bank Governor also said the CBSL will continue to monitor domestic and global macroeconomic and financial market developments and take further measures appropriately to ensure that the economy promptly reverts to its true potential of a high growth trajectory, while maintaining inflation in the targeted 4-6 per cent range under its flexible inflation targeting framework.

Accordingly, the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, at its meeting held on January 18, decided to maintain the Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) of the Central Bank at their current levels of 4.50 percent and 5.50 percent, respectively.

The Board arrived at this decision after carefully considering the macroeconomic conditions and expected developments on the domestic and global fronts, Governor Lakshman said.

“The Board, having noted the reduction in overall market lending rates during 2020, stressed the need for a continued downward adjustment in lending rates to boost economic growth in the absence of demand driven inflationary pressures, particularly considering the significant levels of excess liquidity prevailing in the domestic money market, Lakshman explained.

As announced in November 2020, the Board decided to introduce priority sector lending targets for the micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSME) sector to support a broad-based economic revival, in consultation with the banking community.

‘Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product is projected to grow 6.0 percent in 2021, recovering from a 3.9 percent slump in 2020, Central Bank’s Director of Economic Research Chandranath Amarasekara said.

‘We now expect the economy to record a growth of 6 percent, Amarasekara told the media.  

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COVID-19 – elderly in isolation; how to manage their care?



The COVID-19 pandemic which appeared in 2020, has resulted in a drastic change to our lifestyles. From lockdowns and quarantines, the practice of social distancing and stringent travel restrictions instigate feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially among the elderly who sometimes live alone, with loved ones living far away.

The current pandemic elevates the need for proper and appropriate care for the elderly. Those aged 60 and above, with underlying medical conditions, are at higher risk for severe illness if contracted with COVID-19. Living alone during this time can be difficult for elders, as there are many variables that need to be looked after from; medication and physiotherapy to name a few. Additionally, the need for minimal interaction as a safety measure can result your elderly in feeling frustrated or depressed. This is a time when your elderly loved one requires someone to care for them and ensure their physical and mental well-being.

Founder and Managing Director of expert Home Nursing Service, English Nursing Sri Lanka, Richard Gould said, “Creating a reliable, high quality professional service, which takes care of your elderly loved one responsibly, with compassion and utmost dignity is vital. As our healthcare professionals are at the front line of battling the virus, we as a reliable home nursing care take it as our responsibility to step up and deliver for those unable to take care of their elders due to this global pandemic.”

How to manage their care?

English Nursing Sri Lanka; a home nursing and elderly care solutions provider, offers services to give your elderly parents or loved ones care and compassion in the comfort of their own home. Their services include; high quality Generic Home Nursing Services, Managed Maid Services and a Care Companion Service.

The Generic home nursing is the more popular option, where a well-trained, certified nurse conducts a thorough study on the house environment to understand all resources required for the best care routine. Encompassing these details, a unique customized plan is curated and executed, making the most of your investment towards caring for your senior loved ones.

Recently, English Nursing also introduced its ‘Managed Maid Service’, the first of its kind in the country which allows people to up-skill their existing housemaids to provide proper eldercare, alongside certified tried and true techniques when it comes to looking after ailing seniors at home. The service is much more affordable for customers in the long run and is a great option if you trust your existing help and would prefer him/her to continue helping around at home.

For people looking for more affordable short-term care or for a simpler more companion based service for their parents or other senior citizens, English Nursing Sri Lanka offers its ‘Care Companion’ service. It opens the doors for people to access various eldercare services on demand for relatively healthier seniors that don’t require full-time care and attention.

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Rising startups keen to tap stock market for external funding



Board members of The Startup Council-Standing (L to R)  Chandula Abeywickrama(Founder & Chairman – Lanka Impact-Investment Network). Achala Samaradivakara (Co-Founder & Managing Director – Good Market) Imal Kulathotage (CEO – nCinga) ,Yasura Samarakoon (Manager – Business and Trade Promotion, The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce).Seated (L – R) Prajeeth Balasubramaniam (Managing Partner -BoV Capital- chairman- Startup Council). Shalin Balasuriya, (Co-founder -Spa Ceylon), Brindha Selvadurai-Gnanam (Co Founder –Hatch),Mangala Karunaratne -(Founder & CEO – Calcey Technologies)

by Sanath Nanayakkare

Rising startups in Sri Lanka are keen to tap the stock market for external funding for product development, product launches and scale up and expand their their businesses in new markets, The Island Financial Review learned at a forum held by the Council For Startups, established by the The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

The Council provides entrepreneurs with exclusive opportunities and access to international markets

Prajeeth Balasubramaniam Founder, Lankan Angel Network/Managing Partner, BoV Capital who is also the chairman of the Council speaking to The Island Financial Review said,” Today people who have money pour that into the stock market because interest rates have come down. People who used to make higher interest rates are not making that and they are putting that into the stock market because they feel they can get better returns. Similarly if they can channel some of that money through the banking sector or other sources into startups it would be good. The CSE is regulated and the private sector is not going to put money into startups. If the government regulates startup projects and their funding structures then banks and private investors will feel that the risks are minimized and then they will join in to reap the rewards by investing in them”.

“Spring Singapore is a government startups initiative. Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings has put a lot of money into that. If we can create a similar situation people will be convinced that they won’t end up in trouble by investing in startups,” he said.

Imal Kalutotage, CEO of nCinga said,”nCinga was highly fortunate to expand regionally with the support the Ceylon Chamber and its global partners. Via the Chamber, its global partners and members, we were able to attract customers for accelerated growth and investors who also helped us with exit in December 2019. We now have a national body to help provide invaluable market access for startups and am happy to be a part of this to help other entrepreneurs grow”.

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce recently established the Council for for Startups to address the key needs and challenges of SMEs and startups through allocation of a range of easily accessible opportunities, including access to local and international markets for various partnerships.

Inaugurated in September 2020, the Council for Startups primarily aims to foster a thriving ecosystem of entrepreneurship, which facilitates economic growth and empowerment of startups and SMEs in Sri Lanka.

Offering a highly influential and knowledgeable advantage, the CCC provides the cumulative support of 600 members to promote business opportunities for startups. These alliances (20 Global Chambers, 38Trade/Product and Service Associations and 21 Bilateral Business Councils) position the Chamber in an ideal position to promote business opportunities.

The Council recognizes the benefits of sustaining ripe economic conditions and marketing opportunities for startups and further aims to use its resources and partnerships with high commissions, foreign Chambers of Commerce for startups, and consulting firms in order to create a secure infrastructure that drives optimal business performance.



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