Reopening schools in the New Normal: Key focus areas for Sri Lanka
The decision to gradually reopen Sri Lankan schools – which have been shut for close to 20 months since COVID-19 first struck – is a welcome move. As of September 2021, 93% of countries had reopened schools either completely or partially, making Sri Lanka one of the last to do so. Previous IPS blogs have pointed to multiple access and quality issues facing the country’s distance education efforts, calling for the establishment of a comprehensive education recovery strategy for the future. The accompanying decision to devote the next six months from November 2021-April 2022 to recovering learning losses, giving precedence to essential syllabus areas and decision-making flexibility to schools, is encouraging news, in this context. This blog provides some insights into the current education recovery practices being adopted globally and draws attention to some important areas that can be incorporated into the current strategies being devised in Sri Lanka.
Monitoring and Preventing School Dropouts
According to a joint UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank Survey of 143 countries conducted between February – June 2021, only half, and less than a third, of developed and developing countries, respectively, reported that all primary and secondary students returned to schools when reopened. Common methods used to identify and prevent dropouts include school-based tracking mechanisms, financial incentives (cash, food, or transport), waived fees, community engagement programmes, and revised access policies. Brazil’s School Active Search system, for example, brings together local government agencies in education, health, social assistance and planning, to identify, register, and monitor out-of-school children and those at risk of dropping out.
Measuring Learning Losses
Measuring learning loss is an essential first step in mitigating its consequences. According to the joint survey, 58% of countries reported having conducted formative assessments to measure learning loss, while only one-third relied on standardised assessments. Existing research also points to the relative importance of formative assessments to estimate learning losses, as opposed to standardised testing which is more effective in the long-term. Formative assessments are geared towards informing in-process teaching and learning modifications, and include tools such as quizzes, journal entries, essays, and works of art. The focus is largely on remediation interventions and/or re-teaching content from the previous year, foundational skills, and adapting instruction to the level of each student.
Adjusting and Prioritising Curricula
To help students catch up once they return to school, 42% of countries surveyed reported prioritisation of certain areas of the curriculum or certain skills. The most likely areas or skills to be targetted include foundational skills in numeracy, literacy, and socio-emotional resilience. In terms of specific country examples, in Odisha State, India, the Central Board of Secondary Education has reduced the syllabi by 30%, to allow students to focus on a few subjects and learn these well. Bangladesh’s education recovery programme includes a condensed syllabus for the next two years, focussing on important subjects such as mathematics, Bengali, English, and science.
According to the joint survey, countries introduced several changes to exams, such as adjusting content, changing the number of subjects examined or questions asked, and mode of administration. Cancellation of examinations were limited to high- and upper-middle income countries, ranging from a share of 30% in primary grades to 18% in upper secondary education.
Immediate Focus Areas for Sri Lanka
Although somewhat late, it is encouraging to note that some of these worldwide practices are currently being considered in Sri Lanka too. Along with more concrete details and clearer strategies for implementation, Sri Lanka’s education authorities should focus on the following to minimise further learning loss and safeguard student welfare:
Ensure all children return to school
While boasting commendable enrolment rates at the primary and lower secondary levels, student dropouts at higher education levels is a longstanding problem in Sri Lanka. Post-pandemic dropout rates are likely to be considerably higher, particularly in remote and marginalised areas. It is thus essential that immediate data collection and monitoring is undertaken to initiate action and bring back all students to schools. The country’s well-established decentralised education administration system can facilitate coordination among zonal and divisional education authorities and Grama Niladhari divisions to collect data and work closely with parents and communities, in this regard.
Provide general guidance on curricula adjustments and measuring learning losses, while maintaining flexibility
The intention to focus on revised curricula targets over the next few months and to provide principals and teachers with flexibility in deciding how to cover curricula are welcome moves, given the multiple social, economic, and emotional impacts undergone by children during the pandemic, to significantly varying degrees. Such adjustments, however, need to be based on the extent and nature of learning losses experienced by students, for which conducing formative assessments is key. It is thus best that this flexibility is balanced with some general guidance on essential learning competencies for students around which curricula adjustments can be made, and benchmark diagnostic tests and guidance for teachers to assess student learning, especially in switching from formal to formative type of assessments.
The Ministry of Education should conduct careful evaluations on the timing of and the content to be tested at highly competitive national examinations and establish a new examination policy which is clearly communicated to teachers and students, leaving no room for ad-hoc changes. For instance, given the directive to focus on priority areas of the curricula in the next six-month period, the examinations should also be adapted accordingly. Some options include limiting the grade five scholarship examination to an intelligence test, replacing examinations from grades six to nine with diagnostic tests, and limiting the G.C.E. O-Levels to core subjects.
Link to blog: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2021/11/10/reopening-schools-in-the-new-normal-key-focus-areas-for-sri-lanka/
Ashani Abayasekara is a Research Economist at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) with research interests in labour economics, economics of education, development economics, and microeconometrics. She holds a BA in Economics with First Class Honours from the University of Peradeniya and a Masters in International and Development Economics from the Australian National University. (Talk with Ashani – email@example.com).
Usha is a Research Assistant currently working on Health, Labour and Education Policy at IPS. She holds a BA in Economics with First Class Honours from the University of Colombo. (Talk with Usha – firstname.lastname@example.org).
A 12-year journey creating sustainable livelihoods in the Northern Province – ILO Knowledge Forum
International Labour Organization (ILO), successfully conducted a two-day knowledge forum, based on its flagship Local Empowerment through Economic Development and Reconciliation (LEED+) project. Implemented in several districts in the Northern Province, the LEED+ project is nearing its closure after two successful phases, the first of which was initiated in 2011.
This Knowledge Forum is a culmination of the project’s 12-year journey of creating inclusive and sustainable decent work opportunities for rural communities. The project also has a strong focus on vulnerable groups, including women and persons with disabilities.
A part of the ILO’s Global Jobs for Peace and Resilience programme, LEED+ is supported by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and the Government of Norway. The project was implemented in collaboration with national and sub-national government stakeholders, private sector, as well as grassroots entities.
‘The LEED+ program has directly benefitted more than 43,000 families over the past 12 years providing skills and knowledge to foster business growth and generate sustainable income,’ Australian High Commission Sri Lanka, First Secretary, Development Cooperation, Erika Seymour said.
‘Despite the passage of more than a decade since the conclusion of the civil war, the lasting repercussions continue to affect communities in the Northern Province. Thus, it is crucial for collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors to support these communities and promote development in these regions. The LEED+ project has played a significant role in equipping individuals from these communities with valuable skills, empowering them in their pursuits, and facilitating the attraction of private sector investments’. Commented Royal Norwegian Embassy Sri Lanka, First Secretary/Deputy Head of Mission, Hilde Berg Hansen.
As a result of the 30-year civil conflict, the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, which is home to over a million people, has encountered unique obstacles in achieving socio-economic progress and advancement. With unemployment and poverty rates higher than the national average and the highest share of households in poverty, the Northern Province is among Sri Lanka’s poorest regions. Towards addressing this, in its first phase the LEED project utilized a strategy of revitalizing the northern cooperative sector, alongside connecting small-scale farmers and fishers in the region with businesses from across Sri Lanka. Building on the lessons and success from phase one, in its second phase LEED+ placed greater focus on facilitating partnerships in select agriculture and fisheries value chains. Generating economic incentives for both producers and investors on equal terms, the resulting win-win situations have seen companies expanding their footprint, and setting-up of processing centres in the North, thereby creating further employment opportunities.
As the LEED+ project enters its last year of operation, it aims to implement exit strategies that involve institutionalizing successful models to ensure their continued expansion even after the project concludes. By embracing the LEED+ approach and inclusive business models, the project has fostered public-private partnerships to stimulate promising value chains, ultimately contributing to the long-term employment, productivity, and economic growth of rural communities. Through collaborations with the private sector, the project has identified potential value chains relevant to the region, paving the way for increased investments in the Northern Province.
Simrin Singh, Director of ILO Country Office for Sri Lanka and the Maldives stated ‘For over a decade, the LEED and LEED+ project has implemented strategies centered on improving livelihoods and job creation. The project has remained agile, innovative, and grounded on the realities of the region. Its success, in capacitating the Cooperatives, and creating links between producers in the North and the private sector, has delivered short term wins, but also presented long-term solutions. By creating an eco-system of necessary support services, knowledge inputs, and market linkages, decent work opportunities for women and men will continue to be generated. Essentially, the ILO’s role has been to plant the seed, facilitating and building opportunities that connect businesses to communities, so that everyone can share the gains of growth and ultimately no one is left behind.’
Based on the well tested solutions from over a decade of LEED and LEED+ implementation in the Northern Province, the ILO has made a clear human centered, economic and business case for development policies that prioritize addressing regional disparities, and adaptable approaches tailored to the distinct requirements of various sectors and regions.
SL to have positive growth in third and fourth quarters of 2023– CBSL Governor
By Hiran H.Senewiratne
The country will have positive growth in the third and fourth quarters of this year and as a result the projected negative growth this year will be closer to zero, Central Bank Governor Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe said.
‘We have decided to relax monetary policies and reduce policy interest rates, aiming to gradually ease inflationary pressures and aid in the recovery of the economy. We hope to bring inflation down to a single digit by the end of July, Dr Weerasinghe said at the CBSL’s monetary policy review meeting held at the Central Bank auditorium yesterday.
Dr. Weerasinghe added: ‘Faster than expected deceleration of inflation and the resulting benign inflation outlook, are some of the factors which contributed to the relaxing monetary policy stance.
‘Inflation is projected to decelerate notably in the period ahead, reaching single digit levels earlier than expected. Headline inflation is forecast to reach single digit levels in early Q3-2023 and stabilize around mid-single digit levels over the medium term.
‘Accordingly, the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, at its meeting held on May 31, 2023, decided to reduce the Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) of the Central Bank by 250 basis points to 13.00 percent and 14.00 percent, respectively.
‘The commencing of such monetary easing is expected to provide an impetus to the economy to rebound from the historic contraction of activity witnessed in 2022, while easing pressures in the financial markets.
‘The external sector, which underwent an unprecedented setback in 2022, begins to demonstrate an improved performance. The downward adjustment in market interest rates will accelerate in line with the envisaged single digit inflation, thereby supporting credit to the private sector and softening the pressures in the financial sector.
‘Faster deceleration of inflation and lower probability of excessive demand pressures during the economic rebound phase creates space for a gradual policy relaxation in the period ahead.
‘The continuation of the IMF-EFF supported program, further financial assistance from international development partners, such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank, and renewed investor appetite, coupled with the advances in the debt restructuring process, are expected to ease the BOP constraint significantly in the period ahead, supporting the recovery in domestic economic activity.’
Share market edges-up at mid-day in the wake of CBSL policy rate cuts
By Hiran H.Senewiratne
CSE shares edged up in mid- day trade yesterday as the Central Bank’s decision on cutting policy rates by 250 basis points lowered the rate at which liquidity is injected to markets to 14.0 percent from 16.50 percent, market analysts said.
“The overall sentiment is positive, because it was a higher than expected rate cut, which would lower its cost of debt, which would positively impact the profitability of companies, an analyst said.
Sri Lanka’s inflation in the 12-months to May 2023 has eased to 25.2 percent from 35.3 percent a month earlier, according to a revised Colombo Consumer Price Index calculated by the state statistics office. The decline in inflation and improvement in foreign reserves, along with the stabilization of the rupee against the US dollar, created positive sentiment in the CSE, market sources explained.
Amid those developments both indices moved upwards. The All- Share Price Index went up by 136.4 points and S and P SL20 rose by 56 points. Turnover stood at Rs 1.34 billion with a single crossing. The crossing was reported in Melstacorp, which crossed 1.56 million shares to the tune of Rs 83.9 million; its shares traded at Rs 54.
In the retail market top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, JKH Rs 542 million (3.9 million shares traded), Lanka IOC Rs 58.4 million (306,000 shares traded), Expolanka Holdings Rs 47.5 million (345,000 shares traded), Access Engineer Rs 47.1 million (3.2 million shares traded), Hayleys Rs 38.1 million (558,000 shares traded), Browns Investments Rs 35.2 million (7.1 million shares traded) and Capital Alliance Rs 32.1 million (one million shares traded). During the day 46.7 million share volumes changed hands in 13000 transactions.
It is said that high net worth and institutional investor participation was noted in JKH. Mixed interest was observed in Lanka IOC, Melstacorp and Expolanka Holdings, while retail interest was noted in SMB Leasing, voting and non-voting, LOLC Finance and Browns Investments.
The Food, Beverage & Tobacco sector was the top contributor to the market turnover (due to Browns Investments and Melstacorp), while the sector index edged up by 0.06%. The share price of Browns Investments recorded a loss of 10 cents to Rs. 4.80. The share price of Melstacorp closed flat at Rs. 53.
The Capital Goods sector was the second highest contributor to the market turnover (due to JKH), while the sector index increased by 0.24%. The share price of John Keells Holdings increased by 25 cents to Rs. 136.
Lanka IOC and LOLC Finance were also included among the top turnover contributors. The share price of Lanka IOC gained Rs. 3.25 to Rs. 128.75. The share price of LOLC Finance closed flat at Rs. 4.70.Yesterday, the Central Bank’s US dollar buying rate was Rs 283.87 and the selling rate Rs 297.23. The inflation rate had come down to 33.60 percent.
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