The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean 19.3 miles off the southeastern tip of India. The population is 21,128,772 and the literacy rate is 90.7%, making Sri Lanka one of the most literate of the developing nations. Sinhala is the official language and is spoken by 74% of the population with Tamil as a national language spoken by 18%. English is the language of business and government.
The first Sinhalese, probably from northern India, arrived on the island in the 6th century B.C. Sri Lanka was an important trading port visited by merchants from over South Asia and the Middle East. In the 14th century, a Tamil kingdom was established on the northern part of the island by an Indian dynasty. In 1505, the first European settlement was established by the Portuguese who then controlled the coastal areas throughout the 16th century. For most of the 17th and 18th centuries, the coastal areas were controlled by the Dutch, and, in 1796, the British East India Company gained control of the entire island. In 1802, the island, by then known as Ceylon, became a British Crown Colony. During its colonial period, many plantations, including tea and lumber, were established on the island.
On February 4, 1948, Ceylon gained independence from the United Kingdom. In 1972, the official name of the country was changed to Sri Lanka. Since 1983, the government has been fighting with Tamil separatists who wish to establish an independent Tamil nation on the island.
Free education was first established in 1945. Currently, Sri Lanka's education system is overseen by both their Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education. Education is free and compulsory from ages 5 to 14. There are 5 types of elementary and secondary schools in Sri Lanka:
- Type 1A, 1B: Schools with GCE Advanced Level (A-Level) classes
- Type 1C: Schools with GCE Advanced Level (A-Level) art and commerce classes
- Type 2: Schools with classes up to year 11 (GCE O-Level)
- Type 3(i): Elementary schools with classes up to year 8
- Type 3(ii): Primary schools with classes up to year 5
Primary school (Grades 1 - 5) is 5 years beginning at age 5. More than 99% of children enter Grade 1. Please note that Grade 1 in Sri Lanka is comparable to kindergarten in the United States. At the end of Grade 5, students sit for a scholarship examination. Students who receive sufficient grades on this examination are admitted to the best secondary schools and receive a monthly stipend until they graduate from university.
Junior secondary (Grades 6 - 9) is 4 years. There are nine subjects taught during these grades: first language, English, mathematics, science and technology, social studies, life skills, religion, aesthetics, health and physical education. A second language (Tamil for Sinhala students and Sinhala for Tamil students) is also offered if there are qualified teachers available.
Senior secondary school (Grades 10 - 11) is 2 years. Students study eight core subjects (religion, first language, English, mathematics, science and technology, social science and history, aesthetic studies, and technical subjects. Students also choose three optional subjects from the following: Sinhala/Tamil as a second language, history, geography, health and physical education, literature (Sinhala/Tamil/English), and modern or classical languages. Upon completion, students sit for the Sri Lankan General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE O-Level) examination.
“Collegiate level” (Grades 12 and 13) in Sri Lanka are secondary level in U.S. terms. Since the Sri Lankan system of education is based on the British system, where pre-university study takes place at “colleges,” the use of the term “college” in Sri Lanka is consistent with usage of that term in the United Kingdom. Upon completion of these 2 years of study (Grades 12 and 13), students sit for the Sri Lankan General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A-Level) examination(s). There are 4 streams available on the GCE A-Levels: arts, commerce, biological science, and physical science.
Post-secondary education is offered at universities, technical colleges, and other specialized institutes. The University Grants Commission (UGC), which was established in 1978, provides the majority of funding that universities receive. 16 universities currently receive funding from the UGC.
Admission to universities is extremely competitive; approximately 13% of the students who have sufficient scores on the Sri Lankan GCE A-Level examination are awarded a place in a university program.
First Cycle, Academic
Universities offer one-year certificate and two-year diploma programs. Bachelors (General) programs are 3 years and Bachelors (Special) programs are 4 years.
First Cycle, Vocational/Technical
Technical colleges and specialized institutes offer 1-year certificate, 2-year diploma, and 4-year Higher National Diploma programs. Admission to these programs requires the Sri Lankan General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level.
Second and Third Cycles
Graduate programs include 1- to 2-year Postgraduate Diplomas and 1 to 3-year masters programs which all require a bachelor's degree for admission. Doctoral programs require 2 - 3 years of study and defense of a dissertation. A masters degree is required for admission.
Primary and secondary school teachers are trained in 2-year programs at teacher training colleges. Following the program, students must complete one year of student teaching, and are then awarded a Trained Teacher's Certificate Primary or Trained Teachers Certificate Secondary. Admission to either program requires three subject passes on the Sri Lankan General Certificate of Education Advanced Level.