Policy Dialogue #20: Education Post-Pandemic

Posted by Coordinator on March 19, 2022  /  9 Comments

වසංගතයෙන් පසු අධ්‍යාපනය | பிளேக்கிற்குப் பிறகு கல்வி

A policy dialogue on “ Education Post-Pandemic”‘ was held by the Education Forum Sri Lanka (EFSL) on 26th March 2022, via Zoom. 

Watch the Policy Dialogue: Video

Transforming Education for All Post COVID-19Ms. Takaho Fukami, Chief of Education, UNESCO
Survey on the Impact of Covid-19 on Education in Sri Lanka – Ms. Gayani Hurulle, Senior Research Manager, LIRNEasia

With designated responses from:
– Mr. Harshana Perera, Asian International School, Colombo
– Ms. S. H. Hasanthi, Director, Ampara Education Zone
– Reverend Marc Billimoria, Warden, St Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia

Following are our immediate observations. This post will be updated, and more detailed reports shared as we explore each topic more in depth. Please view the video for full details


Ms. Fukuma gave a snapshot of the situation worldwide. Schools were closed across the world during the pandemic. In South Asia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had the most closures. In Sri Lanka, schools were fully closed for 50 weeks and partially closed for 23 weeks.

Reopening schools does not guarantee students will catch up with lost learning unless targeted efforts are made. Past school closures in Pakistan due to earthquakes show that even a couple of months of school closure could set back students significantly. However, with consistent remediation and support, the schools were not only able to catch up but gain a net positive learning outcome. This catch-up learning work needs to be flexible as the best strategies to catch up will depend on local factors.

Focusing on Sri Lanka, if access to distance education is defined as any combination of online and offline modes that work, Sri Lanka had the potential for 100% access for all enrolled school children.

Online Access

According to the LIRNEasia survey of a representative sample of 2000+ households carried out in early 2021, 76% of household with children enrolled in school had an Internet connection and 73% had a smartphone, showing significantly high potential for online access. In contrast, in 2018, in a similar survey by LIRNEasia these percentages were only 36% and 48%, respectively.

THE UNICEF survey of primary school children gives lower percentage for those who had access to Internet. For example, 58% parents of children attending public schools said they had an Internet connection, as opposed to the national average of 76% estimated by LIRNEasia.

The higher national average reported by LIRNEasia could be driven by the higher rate of access sought by households with students in higher grades who would be facing national examinations.

UNICEF also notes a big contrast between public and private schools. Of primary children attending private schools, 99% had an internet connection. UNICEF survey goes further to estimate the reliability of Internet connection. Only 41% of public-school respondents had a reliable Internet connection, as opposed to 87% private school respondents.

Modes of online access include (1) Notes and assignments delivered to smartphones and laptops, (2) Realtime classes online and (3) Use of learning managements systems such as Google classroom.

Offline Access

Modes of Offline access include (1) Info/work delivered to home, (2) Info/work communicated over a mobile phone call or text message, and (3) Printed material delivered to home or picked up from school or another designated place.

Infrastructure for access to offline services wider spread than for online access. Almost 100% of children in primary grades are enrolled in school although the percentage gradually drops to 85% by the time they reach Grade 11. The student to teacher ratio averages at 16.4 in public schools and textbooks for all subjects were in the hands of students from grades 1-11 when schools were closed. Further, Ninety six percent of households have access to a mobile phone.


LIRNEasia estimates that 63% of enrolled students received some online education services; 22% received offline services only; and 15% did not receive any services at all during school closures due to the pandemic. The total who received some education services online or offline is 85%.

We are not able to give parallel data for primary grades from the UNESCO survey, but we can say that students in primary schools received less attention than students as a whole. Of the students attending primary grades in public schools, less than 40% received printed material, 24% received messages on apps like WhatsApp, and only 4% of experienced a virtual online classroom.   LIRNEasia reported national averages of 60% 54%, and 50%, respectively, for receiving printed materials, info/notes on smartphones and online virtual classroom, respectively.

In sum, 85% of children enrolled in school receive some education services and 15% of all children were left out of distance education, but the percent of primary grade children left out could be much higher.


LIRNEAsia survey results show that 58% of household were not satisfied about the education services received. The UNICEF survey of households of primary school children gives more details.

Support form parents and teachers determine quality, according to parents. 70% of Parents reported that receiving regular and effective parental support is important of learning and 60% said receiving regular and effective teacher support is essential for effective learning.

How regular was the contact with teachers?

Only 8% of the families reported that a teacher contacted a child every day of the week while in private schools while teachers contacting student every day of the week in private schools was as high 52%. The percent of households reporting that a teacher contacted a student at least once a week was higher at 34% and 88%, respectively for public and private schools, respectively.

If the quality of the education services is taken into account, and we define quality as a student being contacted by a teacher at least once a week of school in distance mode, access to distance education during the pandemic offline or online would be drastically lower than the 85% reported by LIRNEasia.


What was the effectiveness of the contact? What did children learn or not learn during the pandemic? UNICEF reports that learning poverty– or children not able to read by the age of 10 – in Sri Lanka before the pandemic was 15%. Globally, Learning Poverty has increased to 63%. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has no statistics on learning poverty or learning losses in general due to the pandemic.

(EFSL Comment: In a country which has a curriculum with competencies, competency levels and learning outcomes are identified and published in great detail, how difficult is to identify essential learning outcomes for at least math and language in each grade and assess students?)


How do these survey findings compare with experiences at the ground level tell?  A few of the ideas we gathered from the designated respondents and participants in the open discussion are as follows:

  1. Students have changed but the system is behind times

Ms. Hasanthi, the zonal director from Ampara painted a vivid picture of how students, parents and local education authorities used whatever resources they had towards one objective – getting children ready to pass the three national examinations – Grade five Scholarship examination at Grade 5, GCE O/L at Grade 11 and GCE A/L at Grade 13.  She understands this is not education, but as a zonal authority she had to prioritize what is measured higher-up. [Survey data too shows that national rates of receiving educaiton services are driven by students facing national examinations]

A silver lining in the pandemic experience is the fact that students and parents have been exposed to learning resources outside of school and the benefits of the Internet in general.

There is a big demand for education in the English medium in rural areas but there aren’t enough teachers. Students sitting for their A/Ls learned to access international resources which they did not experience before. They were also able to experience tuition classes   by some of the best tutors online. Earlier the notion was that you need to move to a school in the big cities to access good tutors. Thanks to the pandemic parents have learned that they don’t need to move their children to big cities after their O/L because they can access resources online.

The attitudes of other children and their parents have changed too. They would be much more open to innovation. but authorities continue to send the same old instructions and request the same old reports.

  1. Digital learning should be part of learning for every child, but approaches need to vary.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of digital learning as an integral tool for learning, but do we have the capacity to implement?

Some examples pointed out at the dialogue show that a little bit of technology can go a long way if creatively applied.

Dr. Sujata described an observation before the pandemic at Ranabima Royal College at Gannoruwa where with a few days of access to a smart room, students showed that they can take charge of preparing and presenting a lesson using Internet sources, say on blood circulation, with the teacher acting as the coach.

Ms. Hasanthi said 60 out of the 103 school in her Ampara zone have acquired smart classroom and they are working on equipping others.

Community support too could go a long way in supplementing digital technology mediated learning. Ms. Fukuma described her experience vising a remote school in Eastern Province where she observed how tech tools were supplemented by bi-weekly meetings between parents and teachers and support from volunteers in the community.

EFSL too EFSL has advocated low tech solution such as access to digital TVS at home for children to use supplementary learning materials made available on flash drives. See

  1. Blended Learning must be the norm

Mr. Fukuma emphasized that when schools are reopened we should not separate face-2-face education from self-directed distance learning modes practiced during the pandemic. Schools should continue to seamlessly use both modes and make blended learning the mode of learning for all children.

  1. An adaptable curriculum is a must

Mr. Harshana Perera’s suggested that our curriculum need to be adjusted so that so that it can be more easily switched to online mode in case of emergencies. Mr. Perera also stressed the importance of providing resources and equipping our teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to switch to emergency mode when needed. In fact, as Ms. Fukuma would argue such curricula and blended learning should be the norm in emergencies or otherwise.

EFSL would like to note that with the support of STC we have developed a tool to adapt the existing curriculum with its full complement of about 1000 learning outcomes per subject per grade in Grades 6-9 (See lessonplans.educationforum.lk). Currently there is at least one sample of a blended/hybrid lesson plan on the web site for all subjects except for core subjects like language math and science.

  1. Social emotional learning gaps, device addiction and other problems

The downside of online learning – i.e. social isolation and addition to devices –was noted by most speakers. Mr. Harashan Perera said that they are now focusing extra-curricular activities that students have missed out on such as class trips and a comprehensive guidance for teachers on social emotional learning and device addiction is needed.

Reverend Billimoria seconded Mr. Harshana Perera’s concerns for the lack of community due to school closures but added concerns of device dependency and fatigue. Parents had been approaching the school to express concerns of their children becoming addicted to technology and seeking ways to help. Similar declines in energy were felt from both students and teachers during the second year of lockdowns with significant worries of over fatigue.

  1. Learning can be fun if note taking and examination pressures are reduced

Reverend Billimoria briefly shared their experience with children grades 4-9 when in July 2021 school asked teachers to stop giving notes and testing children but focus on learn through activities, group or individual. EFSL can attest to their efforts because we asked to support the school in their endeavor and schools’ alumni came forward to support the initiative financially. The teachers themselves took the lead, asking children to read the textbook on their own and come to class with questions. Some teachers even provide a quiz show format where enjoyed a light competition where they quizzed each other on content in the textbook. It is noteworthy all these innovations took place within local curriculum and covering the syllabus was made by designing activities first and then linking as many learning outcomes to the activities as possible.

Applying these initiatives across the board takes the time Rev Billimoria cautioned.


We will not be making recommendations at this point.

Suggestions for further research

  1. Parents and teachers rose to the occasion during the pandemic but did our policy makers do enough?
  2. Are we ready for the next emergency – i.e. how do we use existing channels to reach out to ALL children and how do we improve their learning experience?
  3. How do we close the digital learning gap (37% of enrolled children did not have a digital learning experience)?
  4. How do we use the digital momentum gained during the pandemic to face the present economic crisis?


  1. Sorry I was unable to join the discussion. Thankyou for this rich summary report. All four research questions are very important – to which I may add ‘How do we use the digital momentum to improve the quality of the learning process for all students in the post pandemic ‘new normal’. This is a question I am also asking of the primary school of which I am a ‘school governor’ on the Isle of Man. I am urging the teachers not to ‘put away’ the best of the learning resources they prepared for online learning during school closures, but to use them in the face to face classroom too.

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