- Early childhood care and education (Entry/Establishment ○ Financial operation ○ Quality of teaching and learning ○ Equitable access ○ Quality assurance, monitoring and accountability)
- Primary and secondary education (Entry/Establishment ○ Financial operation ○ Quality of teaching and learning ○ Equitable access ○ Quality assurance, monitoring and accountability)
- Tertiary education (Entry/Establishment ○ Financial operation ○ Quality of teaching and learning ○ Equitable access ○ Quality assurance, monitoring and accountability)
The Education Ordinance of 1939 (as amended in 1973) which governs primary and secondary education in Sri Lanka, only refers to “unaided schools” as schools which are “not a government or an assisted school”, without identifying the actors that may be involved. The Proposal for a New Education Act in 2009 (which calls for the development of a new Education Act to replace the “outdated” Education Ordinance) refers to different non-state actors operating in the education system as “private”, “non-governmental”, and “religious” organizations, while the National Education Commission Policy Proposals in 2003 distinguishes between “private” and “international” schools in the “non-state sector”. The National Policy for Preschool Education 2019 similarly refers to “private organizations or individuals”, “religious organizations” and “non-governmental organizations” as non-state actors managing preschools, while the Proposals for a National Policy on General Education in Sri Lanka 2016 refers to “non-state preschools”. Finally, the National Policy on Higher Education 2019 refers to “non-state” or “private” higher education institutions.
In Sri Lanka, most education (92% of schools, 95% of enrolments) is provided by the state through provincial and national schools. As the country’s state education system is highly decentralised, the vast majority (97%) of state schools are provincial and governed by local education authorities (in contrast to national schools directly managed by the MoE). The state is obliged to provide free education from primary level (5 years, starting at age 6) to the first degree of university (3 years, starting at age 19), while compulsory education is provided to all children from primary to senior secondary level (ages 6 – 15).
The state is also responsible (through funding and management) for so-called assisted schools. Assisted schools are denominational schools (mainly run by the Catholic Church or the Buddhist Theosophical Society) which were taken over in ownership and management by the state in 1961 in order to establish a national education system in Sri Lanka post-independence. Based on the Assisted Schools and Training Colleges Act 1960, these schools follow similar standards to regular state schools and are required to remain tuition-free, but may choose to become independent (or “unaided” schools) through a certain closely regulated school poll. The language of instruction in all state schools in Sri Lanka is the mother tongue (Sinhala/Tamil) at primary level, while bilingual or English medium may be an option for secondary level.
Non-state managed, state schools
No information was found.
Non-state funded, state schools
According to the Proposal for a New Education Act in 2009, various local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in providing financial assistance and technical support to state education in Sri Lanka.
Independent, non-state schools
Private schools are for-profit independent schools (in terms of financing, ownership, and management) established by private organizations which participate in providing education from primary (grade 1 – 5) to collegiate (grade 12 – 13) level in Sri Lanka. While their regulation and establishment remains contested in different Acts and policy documents, most of these schools appear to be operating at advanced education levels, where there is increased demand for “quality” science classes. Private schools in Sri Lanka may follow international curricula, the national curriculum, or a mix of local and international curricula. The language of instruction in these schools varies, with students enrolled in Sinhala medium (64%), Tamil medium (12%), and English medium (25%) schools.
International schools are a distinct category of private schools in Sri Lanka that teach their classes in English medium and similarly operate (albeit not exclusively) at primary to collegiate (grade 12-13) levels. While these schools were originally established to prepare Sri Lankan students for foreign examinations, international schools have grown in popularity and many now provide courses based on local curricula. In the current Sri Lankan context, there are 3 categories of international schools, (1) those offering exclusively international curriculum (such as International Baccalaureate or Cambridge), (2) those offering a mix of both international and local curricula, and (3) those which only offer the local curriculum in English medium (catering to the demand for English-medium education in the country). While some international schools cater to children of the expatriate community, over 95% of students are Sri Lankan citizens, which according to the Proposal for a New Education Act in 2009 “emphasizes that this sector makes a significant contribution to the education of Sri Lankan children”. Enrolment in international schools increased by 73% between 2017 and 2019, fueled by the increasing popularity of English instruction and foreign curricula. According to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, there were 389 international schools operating in Sri Lanka in 2019 (in comparison to only 90 government-approved private schools). The number of these schools increased by 59% in 2017-19. International schools are not registered under the Ministry of Education (MoE) but run as business organizations under the Registrar of Companies.
State-funded (government-aided), non-state schools
Pirivenas are temple schools run by religious organizations that cater to Bhikkus (monks in Buddhism) and male lay pupils over 14 years-old who may wish to receive their education in a Buddhist environment. These schools (often viewed as the traditional educational institutions for Buddhists) mainly offer Buddhist studies based on the Tripitaka (three main sectors) and the propagation of the Dhamma on Buddhist philosophy and culture, in addition to subjects such as Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit, and History. According to the Pirivena Education Act No.64, 1969, whereas religious organizations are responsible for the general management of pirivenas, the state provides funding and annual grants to these schools (mainly to cover staff salaries and facility maintenance), while the Director General from the Department of Education remains the chief executive authority of the Pirivena Education Board. In 2020, pirivenas accounted for 87% of all non-state schools registered under the MoE (and 7% of all schools in Sri Lanka).
Sri Lanka also has Islamic religious schools like madrasas and Ahadiya schools which are independent non-state schools established and managed by Islamic foundations or organizations under the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs. Madrasas primarily teach Islamic studies based on the Syllabus for Quran Madrasa and Junior Ahadiyyah (Dhaham Schools) in the Tamil language (with some using Arabic as their medium of instruction), while some schools have adopted an integrated education system that combines both general and religious instruction. The Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs provides funding for the development of registered madrasas and Ahadiya schools in the form of book allowances, uniforms, and training programs and categorizes them into senior and junior schools (depending on their size, function, and level of education), with course duration ranging from 4 – 8 years. According to the Department’s Annual Performance Report, in 2018 there were over 1,680 Quran Madrasas in Sri Lanka registered under the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs. The madrasa tradition has been widely recognized by Muslims in Sri Lanka for its historical contribution to their education, while Ahadiya schools have been functioning in Sri Lanka for over 50 years. Most of these institutions operate on a full-time basis, although most ladies’ madrasas operate on a part-time basis.
Besides pirivenas, madrasas, and Ahadiya schools, Sri Lanka also has a few other non-state schools which are run by religious or voluntary organizations (registering under the MoE) that receive funding from the state to cover costs in facility maintenance and staff.
Special schools are schools that are owned and run by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that cater to children who are severely affected by disabilities such as visual and/or hearing impairments, or physical and/or mental disorders. These schools are financially assisted by the state, although it is not specified exactly how.
Under the Assisted Schools and Training Colleges Act 1960 (Section 5) in which the state took over the ownership and control of non-state denominational schools, a certain number of grade 1 (primary) schools (although unspecified amount) chose to remain “unaided” and independent of the state (unaided schools). These schools remain fully independent in terms of ownership, management, and funding, and are allowed (in contrast to assisted schools) to levy fees. Based on an amendment of the Act in 1981, the state was given the freedom to provide certain grants to unaided schools, which were subject to regulation by the MoE.
Contracted, non-state schools
No information was found.
The conflict-related displacements that occurred in North and East Sri Lanka led to the development of a homeschooling system by the MoE to cater to children who were unable to regularly attend school due to security concerns. This program mainly consists of curriculum-based modules. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the MoE issued a circular on Distance Education and Guide to School Education in Sri Lanka.
Market contracted (Voucher schools)
No information was found.
In Sri Lanka, international schools are not recognized by the MoE but are registered and regulated as private institutions (or companies) under the Board of Investment or Registrar of Companies. Even though the supervision of international schools was one of the main objectives of the MoE, a significant number of these schools remain unregistered. This also includes many private schools which have similarly not been approved by the government, with government sources distinguishing between “government-approved” and “unregistered” private schools.
There are also several Islamic religious schools which operate unregistered from the government. In March 2021, the government announced the closure of over 1,000 madrasas, stating they were not registered with authorities and do not follow the national education policy.
While the central authority for the supervision and regulation of unaided schools is the Ministry of Education (MoE), the governance of private schools (including international schools) in the provision of general education services from primary to senior secondary level in Sri Lanka is under the Board of Investment/Registrar of Companies (with no supervision by the MoE). At the early childhood education level, responsibilities are shared among the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and the MoE. Since 2019, the MoE has planned to bring both state and non-state early childhood care and education exclusively under its responsibility, with the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs operating under the purview of the MoE. The authorities responsible for the regulation and monitoring of non-state tertiary institutions are the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), through the Non-State Higher Education Division and the University Grants Commission (UGC).
In terms of religious education, Pirivenas are governed and administered by the Pirivena Education Board (established by the the Pirivena Education Act No.64 1969 as a branch of the MoE), while madrasas and Ahadiya schools are registered with the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs (operating under the Ministry of Pastoral Services and Muslim Religious Affairs). Until 2019, madrasas in Sri Lanka have functioned with limited governmental supervision, with actions being gradually taken by both the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs and the MoE towards their regulation. In November 2020, the Minister of Education stated that responsibility for the supervision of madrasas lies with the MoE in regard to courses being taught, admissions, and teachers (with plans to introduce regulations for these schools).
The education system in Sri Lanka is highly decentralized, as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution 1987 devolved the education administration to provincial authorities, which consist of Provincial Ministries of Education, Zonal Education Offices, and Divisional Education Offices (each responsible for the direct supervision and administration of state and registered non-state educational institutions within their jurisdiction).
Vision: The governance of private schools remains a highly contested subject. The state holds a strong stance on being the sole provider of education, and any marketization of education within these “basic” levels is viewed as a direct violation of education as a public good. Besides unaided schools, which were allowed by the state to remain independent under the Assisted Schools and Training Colleges Act 1960, the establishment of any new schools for children between the ages of five and fourteen that are run by any other person besides the Director of Education (with the exception of religious organizations) was prohibited. Any private or international schools therefore established within these education levels are considered unregistered and “illegal” in the view of the state, and they are not subject to supervision by the MoE. These schools register as business organizations under the supervision of the Registrar of Companies or Board of Investment.
As non-state provision in all education levels has been expanding in Sri Lanka, there has been a growing demand to amend Section 25 of the Assisted Schools and Training Colleges Act No.8 1961, and to allow the registration of private and international schools under the MoE and Provincial Authorities, where they can be closely regulated and monitored by the state, with dilemmas over mixed messages in legislation and policy. The National Education Commission Policy Proposals in 2003 initially suggested that “private sector investment in education should be facilitated and promoted with a monitoring mechanism to maintain standards” and that private and international schools should be registered under the MoE. The Proposal for a New Education Act 2009 similarly stated that “steps should be taken to legalize them” as the “private sector can be a supportive partner in education” (with the state retaining the overarching responsibility of education). The Proposals for a National Policy on General Education in Sri Lanka 2016 declared the general education system to be including both state and private institutions, encouraging the establishment of a government authority within the MoE to register and regulate these schools. In fact, one of the aims in Reimagining Education in Sri Lanka 2020 is the “regularization of private and international schools” (by introducing a regulatory and registration framework under the MoE), as well as the expansion of the non-state higher education sector. The Sri Lanka General Education Sector Development Plan 2020-25 also aims to “implement public‐ private partnership (PPP) programs and linked‐school system for schools with less number of students” as well as “increase the participation of private actors and third sectors in education.” In March 2021, the Minister of Education stated that it is “important for the state and the private sector to work together in order to achieve the objectives of the county”, illustrating once again the state’s changing perception of the sector.
Early childhood care and education (ECCE) provision in Sri Lanka, which broadly caters to children aged 0 – 5, is highly dominated by the non-state sector, with the state providing only 20% of the overall services. The main actors involved in ECCE provision are private, for-profit organizations/groups/individuals (71%), religious organizations (7%), and NGOs (3%). ECCE services are mainly categorized into childcare centers (catering to children under the age of 3) and preschools (ages 3 – 5), with over 95% of services in the preschool category.
According to the National Policy for Preschool Education 2019, the state’s historical lack of investment in ECCE has led to limited general oversight and regulation of these centers. The policy therefore plans to facilitate the development of a “Preschool Education Act” to act as a regulatory, legal framework for Provincial Authorities to effectively monitor and supervise these centers.
Registration and approval: Based on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Provincial Authorities are primarily responsible for registering both state and non-state preschools. The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) (which has been established under the Parliament) has published a set of National Guidelines for Child Day Care Centers in Sri Lanka to guide applicants and provinces in this registration process, as no official legal act is in place. According to these guidelines, any registration of an early childhood care and development (ECCD) center must be made with the Department of Probation and Child Care Services (DPCCS) within the relevant province, with applicants being individuals or organizations. The application must be accompanied by the relevant forms and documents (including a police report, medical report, and character certificate), as well as additional information regarding the applicant’s ability to sustain an ECCD center. To obtain registration from the Head-in-charged of the DPCCS, all minimum requirements set out in the guidelines must be complied with at a satisfactory level, which include standards in facilities, infrastructure, space, environment, toilets separated by children and staff, and child-caregiver ratio (based on age).
License: If the standards are found to be satisfactory by the DPCCS, the Registrant is granted a certificate of registration and signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the Head-in-charged of the DPCCS. The license obtained remains valid for 2 years, after which needs to be renewed.
Profit-making: ECCD centers are allowed to operate as commercial, for-profit businesses, or not-for-profit organizations. The majority of these centers (71%) are run as for-profit businesses.
Taxes and subsidies: Very few ECCD centers in Sri Lanka are operated with government support, with suggestions for the state to provide one-year of free quality preschool education under similar conditions to primary education (Proposals for a National Policy on General Education in Sri Lanka 2016).
Curriculum and education standards: ECCD centers do not have a common curriculum or set of learning standards in place (with different curricula in place such as Montessori or Preschool), but the National Policy on ECE plans to develop and implement a national curriculum framework which all ECCD centers (whether state or non-state) will be required to follow (which is under development as of mid-2020). Guidelines in place require all centers to adopt age-appropriate learning material that promotes the holistic development of children, while the medium of instruction should be the mother-tongue.
Teaching profession: All preschool educators are required to have a minimum of one-year professional training and have passed the Ordinary Level Examination. Moreover, according to the National Guidelines for Child Day Care Centers in Sri Lanka, all staff members and volunteers in ECCD centers must be properly screened, supervised and trained (based on the age they are responsible for) to ensure the safety, well-being, and development of children, with at least 50% having training in infant care. Finally, all ECCD staff members are required to be registered with the Head-in-charged of Probation and Child Care Services.
Fee-setting: Over 80% of ECCD centers charge tuition fees with no particular regulation or fee cap found within the operational guidelines (National Policy on ECE). There is a plan to introduce a grading system for ECCD centers based on the quality of care provided and a maximum fee that could be charged.
Admission selection and processes: Whereas issues in inequitable access are highlighted in policies and reports, the guidelines do not mention any specific admission processes that may assist access to families with disadvantaged backgrounds or from specific populations. There is only a statement to “promote equal opportunities for admission”, but with no explanation as to how this could be achieved.
Policies for vulnerable groups: Recognizing these issues in access, the National Policy plans to facilitate the introduction of per-child subsidies for not-for-profit ECCD centers to enroll children who are deemed eligible to receive support based on social protection schemes. The policy additionally plans to develop resources for inclusive practices in preschool settings. The guidelines for ECCD centers mention that centers should have facilities in place for children with special needs, and that all staff must be adequately trained to cater to these needs.
Reporting requirements: All ECCD centers (irrespective of ownership) are required to submit annual reports to the Head-in-charged of Probation and Child Care Services at the relevant province, in addition to developing basic operational plans that must be made available to parents upon request.
Inspection: The Child Care Development Officer within the DPCSS is responsible for ensuring minimum standards are maintained in all ECCD centers (state and non-state) through monthly inspections (with or without notice) and a developed grading system to improve the quality of services provided. After each inspection, recommendations are made for the improvement of the service.
Child assessment: In 2018, the Children’s Secretariat (under the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs) developed a comprehensive system for assessing the developmental and learning standards of individual children at preschool level. Teachers are guided to identify developmental milestones and adapting their teaching methods to meet the developmental needs of each child.
Sanctions: The DPCCS has the authority to revoke a registration license or close a center if any standard is found to be at an unsatisfactory level. Specifically, if the provider has made false statements, is deemed to not be suitable, or the continued operation of the center presents a risk to the health, safety, or well-being of the children (depending on the severity of the situation) sanctions are imposed. Providers are also free to choose to close the ECCD center voluntarily by providing the parents/guardians and provincial department at least 2-months' notice.
Registration and approval: To establish a new private or international school for ages 5 – 14 (primary – junior secondary level) in Sri Lanka, an application needs to be made under the Companies Act 2007 to the Registrar of Companies, in order to register the school as a business organization and be legal in the view of the state. All application must be accompanied with articles of association, a declaration, registration fee, and received consent from the director and secretary in charge of business registrations. There are no minimum education standards for these schools, as they are not supervised or recognized by the MoE. Private schools which are run by voluntary or religious organizations must register with the Provincial Ministries of Education (under the MoE), with no specific information found on the registration requirements. Madrasas on the other hand are registered under the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs.
To be established as an unaided school and therefore registered lawfully under the MoE as an independent, non-state private school, assisted schools must follow the provisions set out in the Assisted School and Training Colleges Act No.5 1960. Based on Section 7, any assisted school at primary level can at any time make a written request to the Director of Education to be allowed to take an in-school poll and elect whether or not to become independent of the state and be registered as an unaided school. Upon receival of the request, the Director of Education may enable the election, with any teacher or parent of a pupil attending the assisted school entitled to vote. The Government Agent is then required to count the votes (under certain provisions in Section 7) and issue a certificate of the results to the Proprietor of the school and Minister of Education. If at least 75% of voters have elected to register the school as an unaided school, an Order will be cast by the MoE which will specify a date in which the school is to be registered as an independent, unaided school subject to the provisions set out in the Act.
License: Private or international schools registered under the Companies Act 2007 are assigned a company number and certificate of incorporation through the Registrar of Companies if the application is found to be satisfactory and disclosing of all the necessary information. The private or international school is then required to give public notice of its official incorporation within 30 days of receiving its license. Private schools run by religious or voluntary organizations receive their registration license by the relevant provincial office, while madrassas are licensed by the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs. Finally, newly established unaided schools receive their license by the MoE once the Order of registration has been cast.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH): The Proposal for a New Education Act 2009 and Proposals for a National Policy on General Education in Sri Lanka 2016 both state that an adequate provision of clean drinkable water and separate toilets (by sex) should be the minimum standards for the establishment of a school, however no specific requirement for this was found.
Profit-making: Private and international schools are registered as profit-making business organizations, whereas any profits collected by unaided schools are required to be ploughed back to the school for facilities and services. According to the Proposal for a New Education Act 2009, all private and international schools should be established as non-profit organizations, as their profit-making objectives “cannot be expected to fulfil the common objectives proposed by the National Education Commission”.
Taxes and subsidies: As independent non-state schools are not considered “legal” under the MoE (with the exception of unaided schools), no incentives or subsidies are provided to establish such schools. Pirivenas on the other hand receive annual grants from the state to cover staff salaries and facility maintenance, while madrasas and Ahadiya schools are provided with uniforms, book allowances, and teacher training programs by the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs. Finally, non-state schools registered legally under the MoE by non-profit religious or voluntary organizations receive grants from the state to cover costs in staff and facility maintenance.
Curriculum and education standards: Private and international schools either exclusively follow an international curriculum (such as International Baccalaureate or Cambridge), follow a mix of international and local curricula, or choose to exclusively follow the local curriculum (usually in the English language). However, the national development strategy Reimagining Education in Sri Lanka (2020) claims that it should be made mandatory for these schools to incorporate Sinhala/Tamil and national history into their teaching, as they are not regulated by the MoE. Due to these schools not being regulated by the MoE, some education officials have claimed they are teaching the local syllabus illegally, as they have not been formally granted permission or government approval to teach this curriculum. Unaided schools on the other hand, being regulated by the MoE, are required to follow the national curriculum. All schools following the national curriculum (including non-state schools founded by religious organizations under the MoE) are required use the MoE syllabus on religious, which covers the four main religions and is compulsory for the General Certificate Education Ordinary Level exams. Madrasas and Ahadiya schools follow the Syllabus for Quran Madrasa and Junior Ahadiyyah (Dhaham Schools) developed by the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs (with detailed courses for each education level). There have been actions taken for the MoE to be responsible for the courses being taught in Islamic religious schools, with plans to introduce regulations.
Textbooks and learning materials: Whereas textbooks are distributed free-of-charge to all state schools from primary to senior secondary level, no information was found regarding textbook or learning material to unaided schools. Private/international schools registered as companies are not subject to education standards or MoE supervision and are not required to follow any particular textbooks. Pirivenas receive textbooks from the Educational Publications Department (MoE), while madrasas and Ahadiya schools are supplied with book allowances from the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs. Textbooks are also published and supplied for many of these schools (with some translated into English), such as the Al-Akhlaq Wassulooq (Islamic Ethics and Social Tradition) Text Book for Islamic Deeniyyath (Dharmacharya) Certificate Examination.
Teaching profession: According to Sri Lanka’s Training and Development Plan, the MoE trains teaching staff from recognized private educational institutions to ensure quality of education within these institutions. It is not specified however, whether these “recognized” schools are unaided schools, or they are referring to private and international schools which are recognized under the Companies Act and not the MoE. While the Proposal for a New Education Act 2009 states that all teachers should have a bachelor's degree in Education or a Teaching Diploma, it is not specified to which schools this applies. The service conditions for state school teachers are defined within the Service Minute of Sri Lanka Teachers’ Service 2008, which includes provisions on salary scale, recruitment, qualifications, and responsibilities. These provisions do not apply to the non-state sector. State school teachers are considered public servants and covered under the public servant regulations defined by the Public Service Commission. The 2009 Proposal proposes the establishment of a Teacher Education Board by the MoE and the development of a national code of ethics for teachers (without specifying whether this body or code would cover all teachers or just teachers in the public service). Teachers in madrasas and Ahadiya schools are offered teacher training programs and supplied with teacher guide books from the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs, with no further information found on their required qualifications or conditions of service (with plans to be included under MoE teacher regulations). These schools often employ foreign clerics which are granted resident visas by the Department, without independent regulation or supervision.
Corporal punishment: According to the Children and Young Persons Ordinance 1939, corporal punishment is legal in non-state primary and secondary school settings in Sri Lanka, which the country has expressed commitment to prohibit (but yet to enforce in written law). The Circular No.12/2016 reportedly only prohibits corporal punishment in state schools (with no provision for non-state education). In February 2021, the Supreme Court condemned the use of corporal punishment in schools, with a case brought before the Court of a 15-year-old student being slapped across the face by one of the teachers. The Court found that the use of corporal punishment violated the Constitution, stating that “while corporal punishment does not amount to torture in itself in the instant case, the practice of infliction of physical or mental punishment which disregards the inherent dignity of a child amounts to inhuman or degrading punishment.” The practice has not been outlawed in all schools however, with the government committed to reforming its laws to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings.
Fee-setting: As private and international schools are registered as business organizations, they have no limit in fee-setting or levying fees. Unaided schools on the other hand, are not authorized to levy any fees other than those collected for facilities and services provided. There was no information found on fee-setting in Islamic religious schools or pirivenas.
Admission selection and processes: All non-state schools receiving government funding are required to accept students of all faiths in their admission process (including religiously affiliated schools).
Policies for vulnerable groups: No information was found.
School board: While Sri Lanka has been trying to implement the concept of school-based management through the establishment of school boards by provincial authorities in state schools, no information was found on school boards in non-state schools.
Reporting requirements: All schools registered under the MoE are required to submit reports to the Zonal Office every 6 months addressing their strengths, weaknesses and applied solutions to each.
School inspection: It is commonly proposed, by the Proposal for a New Education Act 2009, Proposal for a National Policy on General Education in Sri Lanka 2016, and Transformation in Sri Lankan Education 2010 that an authority should be established within the MoE that will be responsible for the regulation and monitoring of private and international schools, but such an authority is yet to be introduced. Unaided schools on the other hand operate under the regulation of the MoE, which has the authority to enter and inspect any school under its supervision at any time through Provincial Quality Assurance Units. Provincial authorities must conduct a complete external evaluation of all schools within their jurisdiction at least once every 3 years. There was no information found on the inspection of madrasas.
Student assessment: While the MoE administers examinations for unaided schools and pirivenas (through the Department of Examinations), there are no regulations for the examination system of private or international schools that are unregistered and unrecognized by the MoE. In the case of madrasas, and Ahadiya schools, the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs is responsible for student assessment and certificates, such as the National Exam for Quran Madrasa or Final Certificate Examination of Islamic Studies and the Islamic Deeniyyath (Dharmacharya) through the Department of Examinations.
Diplomas and degrees: There is no regulation on the issuance of diplomas and degrees in private and international schools. The MoE issues diplomas or certificates to students in state and government-funded schools, while the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs is responsible for issuing the certificates of Islamic studies to students in madrasas.
Sanctions: If during school inspections any standards (set out Section 51 of the Education Ordinance) are found to be unsatisfactory, the Director-General of Education requires the school to undertake certain measures within a 6-month period. If these measures are not taken in the set timeframe, the Director-General has the authority to discontinue the school. The MoE has no such authority over international schools.
Whereas non-state provision in primary and secondary education in Sri Lanka remains contested and partially prohibited, the state has opened up its doors to non-state actor involvement in higher education (HE), as it struggles to cope with the increased demand. However, the state remains the primary provider of higher education in the country, accounting for 88% of total enrolments. There are 24 institutions registered under the MHE/UGC as degree, awarding non-state tertiary institutions.
Based on the National Policy on Higher Education 2019, the actors involved in non-state HE provision are for-profit “non-state” or “private” organizations. There are two types of non-state HE institutions operating in Sri Lanka: degree-awarding institutions established under the UGC, or private higher education institutions established under the Companies Act 2007 as business organizations.
Registration and approval: According to the Universities Act No.16 1978 (Section 25A), the Minister in charge of HE is authorized to register non-state HE institutions as “degree awarding institutes” under the UGC. To register, the applicant is required to submit a report to the Specified Authority (appointed by the UGC) and comply with minimum standards and the Specified Authority (Powers relating to Recognition of Institutes as Degree Awarding Institutes) Rules No. 1 of 2013. If found to be satisfactory, the Specified Authority may issue the institution with specific directions and duties that need to be complied with to be considered a registered institution under the UGC and MoHE. Private HE institutions on the other hand, which are not registered under the MoHE, apply for registration to the Registrar of Companies under the Companies Act 2007, similar to private and international schools.
License: The Non-State Higher Education Division (under the MoHE) is responsible for the accreditation of the degree awarding institute, while the Registrar of Companies provides private HE institutions with their official license.
Profit-making: Both degree-awarding and private HE institutions are regarded as profit-oriented businesses, and therefore no prohibition or profit-making limit was found.
Taxes and subsidies: Non-state HE institutions are not provided any incentives for market-entry as they are viewed as profit-making businesses by the state. The Reimagining Education 2020 development strategy however, proposes that the state remove existing legislative barriers to facilitate increased non-state sector involvement in HE.
Curriculum and education standards: Degree-awarding institutions determine their courses of study in consultation with the Specified Authority (under the UGC). However, the academic programs offered must meet national needs and be in conformity with the Vision and Mission of the Institute, qualification descriptors, and intended learning outcomes of courses. Private HE institutions have the autonomy to set their own courses (as they are not registered under the MoHE).
Teaching profession: Most lecturers in private HE institutions come from state universities (and therefore are monitored by the UGC). As for degree-awarding institutes, the Specified Authority is responsible for determining the qualifications of the teaching staff under the Universities Act No.16 (1978). The institutions must have a minimum number of academic staff on a permanent basis or on long-term contracts, while academic staff must have basic and post-graduate qualifications from recognized universities, as well as sufficient teaching experience.
Fee-setting: Degree-awarding institutions and private HE institutions have the autonomy to set their course fees and offer degree programs on a fee-levying basis (without any specific fee-setting limit found). However, degree-awarding institutions are required to compensate students or employees if the institution is faced with suspension of its operation and activities.
Admission selection and processes: According to the National Policy on Higher Education 2019, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are at a disadvantage in gaining admission to HE institutions due to the widespread and costly private tuition industry in the country. To combat such equity concerns, the state has introduced the “Interest Free Student Loan Scheme” and the “My Future Loan Scheme” for students unable to gain admittance to state universities (and therefore enrolling in non-state HE institutions). These scholarships are aimed at students who have passed the national entry examinations. According to the Universities Act No.16 1978, the MoHE may additionally determine the requirements for admission into any degree-awarding institute, in addition to the number of students to be admitted to each program. Each institution is required to submit details of their admissions process, evaluation criteria and selection procedure, which must conform with the minimum entry qualifications adopted by the UGC. Moreover, the selection process must be based on the principles of objective assessment and transparency. Finally, all universities must be “open to all persons of either sex and whatever race, creed or class, who are citizens of Sri Lanka, and other persons who are lawfully in Sri Lanka”.
Board: Degree-awarding institutions have the autonomy to appoint a Vice-Chancellor and Executive Head as part of the University Council which internally governs each institution. Each institution must have a governance structure with clearly defined hierarchy such as a Board of Management or Board of Governors, an Academic Syndicate, Faculty Boards,, Academic Departments, and Centres/Units (with clearly defined compositions and functions).
Reporting requirements: Internally, each institution is required to have a Quality Assurance Unit which assesses the quality of teaching, services, and research. The key areas which must be considered are curriculum, teaching, assessment, and research and innovation. However, while there are strict accountability requirements for state universities which receive full government funding, there was no specific reporting requirement found for private HEI institutions. According to the National Policy on Higher Education 2019 “autonomy cannot be divorced from responsibility and accountability”, which needs to be addressed in regard to private HE institutions.
Inspection: Quality assurance of degree-awarding institutions is implemented both through external and internal processes. Externally, the UGC monitors the quality of each institution through the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council based on a recommended framework published by the MoHE. The UGC may additionally investigate or cause to investigate any matter concerning the institution’s financial, academic, or general administration, with no specific provision found regarding institutional inspections.
Assessment: According to the Universities Act No.16 1978, each HE institution is responsible for holding examinations and student assessments based on the courses and programs provided. Assessment methods must include continuous assessments and end of course assessments.
Diplomas and degrees: Non-state institutions are required to gain official approval and power to grant degrees in accordance with the Universities Act No.16 1978 and the Specified Authority (Powers relating to Recognition of Institutes as Degree Awarding Institutes) Rules No. 1 of 2013. The qualifications offered by different institutions are recognized and accredited based on the Sri Lanka Qualifications Framework, aimed at improving the quality of higher education and training. Both state and non-state institutions offering degree awarding programs are required to implement the framework within their qualifications. The MoHE collects information annually on the degrees being offered in degree-awarding institutions and is in charge of offering diplomas. Degrees in private HE institutions on the other hand are monitored and delivered by affiliated bodies within the Board of Investment (with no influence from the MoHE or UGC).
Sanctions: According to the Universities Act No.16 1978, the UGC will “take remedial measures” if any institution is found to not be operating in accordance with the minimum financial, academic, or administrative standards, with no specific sanctions mentioned.
Due to the highly competitive examination system, the private tuition industry, which is often perceived as a “second education system” in Sri Lanka, has witnessed massive growth within the country, often referred to as an “essential service” in students’ academic lives. According to data from a household income and expenditure survey, the percentage of households in Sri Lanka that reported expenditures on private tutoring grew from 13.9% in 1990/91, to 54.2% in 2012/13, with a significant rise in both rural and urban areas. Based on academic research conducted of the industry, there are three types of private tuition classes taking place in Sri Lanka: one-on-one instruction (usually the most expensive option), small group tuition classes (catering to 2-50 students), and hall tuition classes (the cheapest option of the three, catering to 50 – 1,000 students). One-on-one classes are usually provided by either qualified or unqualified teachers, small group tuition classes are commonly provided by public school teachers, and hall tuition classes (which are held in large halls) are provided by school teachers or university lecturers. Sri Lanka-based tutors (sometimes as young as 17 and earning as little as £1.57 an hour) have also been used to deliver one-to-one and small group tuition in maths to disadvantaged primary school students in England, as part of England’s National Tutoring Program (NTP). In March 2021, the English government announced the immediate suspension of the use of under-18s as tutors for the NTP.
The private tutoring industry operates entirely unregulated and unregistered from the MoE, which the National Education Commission Policy Proposals in 2003, Proposal for a New Education Act 2009, and Proposal for a National Policy on General Education 2016 have all been determined to address, calling for the regulation and registration of private tuition centres under the MoE.
Private tutoring centres in Sri Lanka register as businesses under the Companies Act (similar to private and international schools), with no national educational requirements from the MoE. The Proposals for a National Policy on General Education in Sri Lanka 2016 states that the MoE should “provide for the regulation, registration and inspection of any premises and facilities used for giving private tuition to groups of 20 or more Sri Lankan children”.
In 2010, some provincial authorities in Sri Lanka (including the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council) prohibited private tutoring for children aged 5 – 16 between the hours of 8:00 am and 2:00 pm on Sundays and during the monthly Buddhist days of religious observance (Poya days), with offenders liable to a fine of 5,000 rupees (45 USD) and 6 months imprisonment. There have also been additional policy proposals to ban private tuition classes from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm on weekdays.
While no regulation was found regarding teachers providing private tuition classes, the Proposal for a New Education Act 2009 states that “punitive measures should be taken against...teachers conducting private tuition classes during school hours”. The Proposals for a National Policy on General Education in Sri Lanka 2016 additionally suggests that any person providing private tutoring should be licensed and qualified under the MoE.