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Let’s be more considerate, empathetic and humane to our people

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By paying attention to the findings of Child Activity Survey 2016 - Sri Lanka, the country’s authorities can ensure holistic education for Sri Lanka’s children 



I recently came across a report entitled ‘Child Activity Survey 2016 - Sri Lanka’ issued this year, complied by the Department of Census and Statistics that comes under the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, together with the ILO. (http://www.statistics.gov.lk/samplesurvey/Child%20Activity%20%20Survey%202016.pdf).

Coincidentally, on the same night, I saw a picture and a brief write-up posted by National Policies and Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Harsha De Silva on his Facebook page. It said that he had been working with UNICEF on that day to solicit a grant of $ 50 million for a four-year period from 2018 and expected approval in September. The money is meant to be used to deal with children’s education and help tackle several development-related issues.Untitled-1

The said survey was carried out between January and May 2016, encompassing 25,000 housing units covering the entire island. This is the most comprehensive and inclusive survey of its kind that has been undertaken; the two previous surveys conducted in 1999 and 2008/2009 excluded the Northern and Eastern provinces or parts of them. So we must congratulate the department on the job.    

As the previous surveys did not cover the country in its entirety, a comparison would not produce much meaningful information unless a more detailed district-wide analysis is carried out. However, my intention here is to only look at some critical indicators. 

The target group for this survey is children between the ages of five and 17. Older teens are excluded.  

This puzzles me somewhat. The focus of the report appears to be the connection between young people and their education, wellbeing included, as it starts with five-year-olds. But the young adults, who are 18 and 19, GCE A/L students included, have been excluded because they are no more children technically. Is there any other report that covers this segment? Perhaps in the future we will see this section as an extension of this report itself as the Government is now planning to ensure compulsory education up to the Advanced Level for all.    

However, the report provides important insights. The following are some highlights, but are not listed in any particular order. 

  • Composition of child population: Rural Sector - 3,553,550 (77.7 %), Urban Sector - 777,283 (17%) and Estate Sector - 240,608 (5.3 %). Are we allocating resources according to this distribution? We must ensure equality for better overall results. 
  • Of the 4,571,442 children (estimated), 51,249 have never attended school in theory. The 5-11-year-old population of this segment has been 44,619 (87.1%). The chief reason for them not attending school was missing the last school intake. This was because they have been too young at the date of the cut-off. The authorities should consider the ways and means of reducing the waiting time for schooling, e.g. extending the cut-off date to 31 March or from 31 January, but this will demand more resources. 
  • In the 12-14 age group, the main reasons for not attending school (14,072 children) was ‘Disability’ (30.9%) and ‘Not interested in education/education not considered valuable’ (30%). For the age group of 15-17 (377,744 children) the main reason was ‘awaiting G.C.E. (O/L) results’ (62.2%). Young people are unproductive owing to the weaknesses of the system. How can we rectify this situation?


‘Disability’ has been a real hurdle across the board to the provision of education, according to the survey. It is the responsibility of the State to pay attention and invest in these differently abled children.  

  • Work that can be categorised as ‘child labour’ is taken up only by 1% of the total population (4.57 million), according to this survey. Although arrangements should be made for the elimination of this, Sri Lanka is doing well as a developing country in my opinion.  
  • Of the 4.57 million children, 90.1% have attended school. However, the school attendance of working children has been as low as 38.9%. This is a great concern thinking of their future and wellbeing.  
  • It appears that a considerable number of children between 12 and 17 drop out of school due to various reasons. Primarily there should be a plan in place to bring them back to education where possible. Perhaps this could be an impractical task with some older children. They might prefer some opportunity for vocational training instead. The bottom line should be making them productive and content
  • The survey revealed that 78% of the children lived with both their parents. This sounds reasonable. Of the working children, about 40% of parents allowed their children to help them in household enterprises 
  • Children living on the streets, institutions, workplaces or those who have no identified shelter (no homes) have not been covered in the survey. They sound like they have been completely taken out from the equation!  We will need some scheme to minimise this segment and bring those less fortunate children into society. 

The Deputy Minister in charge further said in his Facebook post: “The UNICEF funds are expected to focus on 6 million children (up to 18) on a number of areas. They include; early childhood programs to get kids into preschool programs, middle childhood issues with respect to quality and relevance of education, adolescent issues on ensuring access to achieve full potential and to deal with violence against kids. You would be surprised at the incidence of both physical and sexual violations - too high at around 15%.” 

The remit of the survey sounds quite ambitious and we see the need for a lot of resources to pay attention to the issues it presents us. Although the report highlighted that many five-year olds were waiting to go to school, it did not say what they had been doing, but I presume they were preschool kids at the time of the survey.  Also, many youngsters start preschool at the age of three or so (about half a million children 3-5 years of age). Hence, this is a vital sector we must adequately invest in.


Delayed development

Our children commence regular schooling at the age of 5 in Grade 1. If we made a comparison with England, those kids come to Grade 1 at 5+, having spent a year in the ‘reception’ class in regular school. But unfortunately by the time Sri Lankans sit for their A/L, they are 19 (in England they are 18). This is due to the unproductive time (for most) spent after the O/L, awaiting results and the commencement of A/L studies at school. 

Our university entrants spend a year or more after A/L. Just to make a comparison, in England, children complete the A/L examinations by June, get results in August for university entrance in September/October of the same year (summer is usually the holiday period for schools and universities there). By the time our children commence their university educations (at government universities) at 21 or so, people of the same age have passed out as university graduates in the UK!

However, compared with the situation which existed a couple of decades ago we have made a noteworthy improvement but we still have a long way to go. We must minimise the potential unproductive time window in children’s lives for their benefit and for that of the State.  

Strong State patronage for children to realise their full potential is commendable. This would be a multifaceted area which would make our people’s lives more content. In turn, hopefully, those people will make all of us proud on a global front in science, sports, music and other streams. 

On a general note, stress is part and parcel of life for many families who have got kids who have grown old enough for Grade 1 admission in the future. I know someone who decided the area of residence immediately after marriage on the basis of good schools. The Government should revisit the current system that mounts a lot of undue anxiety, pressure and frenzied situations on parents and guardians. However, all these solutions will invariably dictate proper funding for seamless implementation and intended results.        

I hope our authorities will pay due attention to the findings of this survey and do their utmost to change the lives of our young people for the better. That being taken care of, our future generations will be more humane in dealing with their future responsibilities with vigour, courage, empathy and honesty. Not only that, holistic education should make them well-rounded individuals in order for them to be responsible citizens of tomorrow. This is the contribution we all can rightfully demand from the State, more than anything else in my view.   

(The writer is the founder of the Skill Conference (www.skillconference.com). He is a borderless thinker and futurist. You can email him at ravindra@skillconference.com). 

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