COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, 25 June 2013 – Sri Lanka has made tremendous progress in getting children into school. Due to a policy to universalize primary education over seventy years ago, 98 per cent of children enrolled in grade one now reach grade five, the final grade of primary school.
This data is provided by the Out-of-School Children Study in Sri Lanka: Country study, launched last week in Colombo in a workshop dedicated to finding solutions for school drop-outs. The study is part of the global Out-of-School Children Initiative, an equity focused effort developed by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics aiming to reduce the number of out-of-school children, address disparities in access and attendance and achieve universal primary education by 2015.
“Sri Lanka has an excellent record of bringing children aged 5-14 years into school, but out-of-school children often face deep-rooted inequalities and disparities. By focused targeting of excluded children combined with social protection measures, Sri Lanka is on track to meet the goals of all children completing primary school by 2015,” explained Antonia De Meo, UNICEF Deputy Representative to Sri Lanka.
Challenges still remain, however. Bandula Gunawardane, Minister of Education, highlighted some of the barriers that are keeping children out of school, “The study has identified poverty, illiteracy of parents, distance to school and various disabilities as the main reasons for some children avoiding school. The best approach to provide education to these children is formal school.”
According to this study, children in poor communities such as girls living in estate areas, primary-school-age children in urban areas, lower secondary boys engaged in child labour and children facing disabilities are more likely to be out of school or at risk of dropping.
Conflict is another reason for exclusion. The study shows that enrolment in conflict-affected districts is lower than in the rest of the country, particularly for girls. “As a result of the conflict, my family had to leave home and was pushed into poverty. The continuous displacement and being separated from my family, relatives and friends affected my mental ability and totally destroyed my eagerness for studies. Schools were also closed and their activities ceased”, said Sameera, a girl form Kilinochchi featured in the report.
The study recommends provincial and community action to identify and support such children to get back in school, develop measures to end child labour as well as create provisions to increase access for children with disabilities, amongst other recommendations.
“This study is a good step to understand exactly who is out-of-school or at-risk of dropping out by analyzing the profile of out-of-school children,” said Shailendra Sigdel, UIS Statistical Advisor for South Asia. He emphasised the importance of improving the statistical data and making them available to researchers, planners and the public in order to efficiently monitor education initiatives and make Education for All a reality.