Is education a key to economic recovery in Sri Lanka?


A virtual panel discussion was conducted courtesy of the British Council on post-pandemic education, supported by the TRANSFORM report, “Current Challenges, Future Directions”.

The webinar took place on 28 July and featured a keynote address by National Education Commission Chairman Prof. H. Abeygunawardena, followed by a panel discussion with key policy and decision-makers from both the education and private sectors to consider what actions can and need to be taken to support economic recovery. The webinar also reflected on the findings of the TRANSFORM report, addressing professionalisation, quality assurance, and transition to employment.

We spoke to  British Council Director of Education and English Louise Cowcher on the British Council’s involvement, via their TRANSFORM programme, in the systemic reform of the Lankan education system as they work closely with government bodies, engaging with relevant ministries and departments across secondary, vocational, and higher educational systems.

British Council Director of Education and English Louise Cowcher

Cowcher shared that the aim of TRANSFORM is for all young people to have access to and benefit from learning opportunities provided by a fit-for-purpose and relevant education system, enabling them to contribute to Sri Lanka’s economic and social development and growth.

The British Council is committed to collaborative work; the TRANSFORM programme is currently working closely with the Government of Sri Lanka, which is a critical step for its engagement in education reform.  Cowcher added that the British Council works with multiple government ministries and departments, including the Ministry of Education, University Grants Commission (UGC), National Education Commission, Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission, and the Ministry of Labour Department. 

She said that, as indicated in the report, there is a recognised link between education and employment, and therefore TRANSFORM also engages with employers, both as individual companies and through their representational and industry bodies.

The webinar’s panel discussion also brought into focus topics such as improving teacher education, English language teacher language proficiency, the importance of student-centred learning, and improving research quality in higher education. Given the importance of English in the workplace, the current debate on the teaching and testing of the English language focuses on communications skills.    Of similar importance is, as the panel discussed, linking the curriculum at all levels to the world of work.

These issues were discussed with reference to the current effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and how we are currently facing an unprecedented time of uncertainty as the pandemic continues its progression across the globe.

Cowcher shared that considering the pandemic, communities are affected not only in terms of their health and wellbeing, but also in terms of their livelihoods as the economy of Sri Lanka has been badly affected and our collective attention turns to economic recovery. The British Council’s TRANSFORM research report indicates evidence for aspects of education reform, which is key to economic recovery through developing the knowledge, skills, and behaviours that will allow young people to build their own and the country’s future as well as access opportunities in a global market.

On a closing note, Cowcher shared that the response to the research results has been uniformly positive, with the different ministries committed to utilising the findings and recommendations of the individual research reports in addressing the key challenges to develop a strong internationally benchmarked education system. However, she also stressed, as did the panel members, the importance of acting on these recommendations in a timely way in the post-pandemic context.

Photo Pradeep Dambarage