Govt. Committed to Improve Early Childhood Care – WB
By Paneetha Ameresekere
Though Sri Lanka has high school enrolment rates in primary and secondary education of 99 per cent and 84 per cent respectively, entry level at the preschool level, ie for children between the ages of three to five were a low of 56.6 per cent in 2016, the World Bank (WB) said on Thursday (19 November).
This may be a reason why Sri Lanka has a low female labour participation rate (LFPR) of 34.5 per cent last year (2019), it added.
A 2018 study by the WB’s adjunct to aid the private sector, International Finance Corporation (IFC) found that having a child under five years of age reduced a Sri Lankan woman’s participation in the labour force by 7.4 per cent as compared with a woman who did not have young children, the WB further said.
What’s more, as Sri Lanka’s population ages—it has the most rapidly aging population in South Asia—family structures and gender roles change. ‘Reduced support from the extended family is likely to leave families less able to care for young children at home, increasing their demand for childcare,’ it said.
The good news is that employer support for childcare is growing. However, it does not reach parents who work in the informal sector, which in 2019 accounted for 57.4 per cent of all workers, the WB said.
In January 2020, Cabinet approved a national Policy on Preschool Education tabled by the Ministry of Education (MoE). Following the parliamentary elections in August 2020 and the reorganisation of ministerial mandates,Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) was brought under the purview of the MoE, and the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and Social Services (MWCASS) was named as the State Ministry of Women and Child Development, Preschool and Primary Education, School Infrastructure and Education Services (SMWCDPPESIES). Discussions surrounding the details of this reorganisation are currently underway.
The WB-funded Early Childhood Development (ECD) project, being implemented island-wide by the SMWCDPPESIES, aims to enhance equitable access to and improve the quality of ECCE services. It seeks to do this by facilitating teacher training, improving facilities, devising assessments for child development, creating a common registration framework for ECD centres and introducing a management information system for ECCE services, among other activities.
The administrative reorganisation will provide Sri Lanka an ideal opportunity to assess the pros and cons of full or partial integration, and consider if and how aspects of integration can potentially help increase access to and quality of early years services in the country. This is decisive period for Sri Lanka’s ECCE sector. With a committed Government, and development support in place, the time is ripe for progress, the WB further said.