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85 pct of grade 3 children in Sri Lanka poor in literacy, numeracy: UNICEF

ECONOMYNEXT – Eighty-five percent of grade 3 children in Sri Lanka are not achieving minimum proficiency in literacy and numeracy, UNICEF said also noting that the country ranks the lowest in South Asia in education spending.

Citing a ministry of education-led national assessment, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement on Wednesday August 16 that proficiency in literacy and numeracy is essential in grade 3 children’s transition to secondary school and beyond, both in life and work.

“Currently, Sri Lanka allocates less than 2% of its GDP on education, which falls well below the international benchmark of 4-6% of GDP and is among the lowest in the South Asia region,” the statement said.

UNICEF together with the ministry of education (MoE) has launched a national initiative to help 1.6 million primary school children impacted by prolonged school closures and sporadic disruptions to their education over the past three years, to catch up on their learning, the organisation said.

Education Minister Susil Premajayanthe was quoted in the statement as calling for increased budget allocation for education, particularly at the primary level.

“There is an urgent need to increase the national budget allocation for education, especially for primary grades, where we need to boost foundational learning for children, while also ensuring the implementation of vital Education Reforms so that we can build the solid human resource skills needed to support the country’s development,” he said.

The learning crisis has affected vulnerable children the most, including younger children in primary grades and those in plantation estates in the country, said UNICEF.

“The basics of literacy, numeracy, and social economic skills are the platform on which children build their own, their families, their communities, and their country’s future,” UNICEF Representative for Sri Lanka Christian Skoog said.

“We commend the MoE for its commitment to undertake urgent efforts to reverse the widening disparities in learning achievement for children who are lagging further behind, including slow learners, and missing out due to the continued hardship the country faces,” he said.

UNICEF and the MoE had held a ‘Learning Recovery’ briefing to leverage the support of development partners, while more technical-level workshops were held across nine provinces, to identify gaps and prioritise actions, the organisation said.

The international organisation also noted that multiple school closures and continuous interruptions to the education system over the last three years have had a profound effect on children’s learning in Sri Lanka, exacerbating learning gaps and pre-existing inequalities among vulnerable children in primary grades, including those living in the estate sector.

As the country moves towards economic recovery, prices remain high on essential items including school books and stationary items, making it difficult for families facing financial hardships to cover education costs and support their children’s continuous learning, it added. (Colombo/Aug17/2023)

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