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Education: Is it a Public Good? A Challenge to Orthodoxy

Sri Lanka has been well known for its impressive record in social development for several decades. The introduction of free education from independence has been a major part of this narrative. This has enabled Sri Lanka to attain very high enrollment rates in primary and secondary education. Female participation rates in formal education have been particularly impressive. However, the quality of learning outcomes has been a serious problem which has preoccupied successive governments since the 1971 insurrection. Despite this, the record of remedial action has been very mixed at best. Improving the quality of education has hitherto been an intractable challenge. Sri Lanka’s performance, when benchmarked against the successful countries of East and South East Asia, is disappointing. The present government is attaching the highest priority to reforming the education system to strengthen the employability of students in a modernizing economy. Efforts are being made to improve Maths, Science and English education; as well as training and skills development. The tertiary sector is being opened up to private universities, including foreign universities. Particular emphasis is being placed on Engineering and IT. It is timely, therefore, to examine some of the fundamental premises determining educational outcomes in order to ensure that the current initiatives achieve their objectives.


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