Early education not traditionally provided by State – WB
One of the challenges in establishing a strong implementation structure for preschool education in Sri Lanka is that there is currently no clear precedent for State engagement in the provision of early childhood care and education (ECCE) because, unlike health and social services, ECCE, particularly early education, is not traditionally provided by the State, the World Bank (WB), in a report released recently said.
However, where ECCE is free, it may be overused, but without public funding, early childhood education (ECE) is often unsustainable and highly inequitable.
Sri Lanka’s level of public investment in ECCE is relatively low. Public expenditure on ECCE was 0.0001 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011/12, compared with an average public expenditure (among middle-income countries) of 0.03 per cent, that is, 2,900 per cent more in State investments in ECCE in GDP percentage terms compared to that of Sri Lanka.
The vast majority of ECCE services in Sri Lanka are privately financed, and it is estimated that 85 per cent of centres (including childcare centres) levy fees.
Consequently, the overall national enrolment rate for preschool-age children is 56 per cent, compared to primary school enrolment at the national level at 81 per cent for children aged five years and at the preschool level, 64 per cent for children aged four years, 23 per cent for children aged three years, and only 3 per cent for children aged two years.
In 2019, Sri Lanka had a total number of children between the ages zero-four years numbering 1,871,000. Of this number, the total number of children attending preschools (two-five years) was 578,160, overall enrolment of preschool-age children (three-five years) was 56 per cent, the percentage of children enrolled who were above five years of age at preschools is 47.6 per cent, the percentage of children enrolled who are above four years of age 37.3 per cent, the percentage of children enrolled who are over three years of age 13.3 per cent, and the percentage of children enrolled who are over two years of age was 1.8 per cent.