Open School Programme

Country Profile: Sri Lanka


21.273.000 (2013)

Official languages

Sinhala, Tamil and English

Total expenditure on education as % of GDP

1.7 (2012)

Poverty (population living on less than US $1 per day):


Access to primary education – total net intake rate


Total youth literacy rate (15–24 years):

Female: 98.6% (2013)
Male: 97.7% (2013)
Total: 98.2% (2013)

Adult literacy rate (15 years and over)

Female: 90% (2013)
Male: 92.6% (2013)
Total: 91.2% (2013)

Statistical sources

  • UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)
  • Programme Overview

    Programme TitleOpen School Programme
    Implementing OrganizationNational Institute of Education
    Language of InstructionSinhala and Tamil
    Fundingcumulative funding from the Sri Lankan government, the Korean National Commission for UNESCO and GIZ
    Programme Partnersthe Korean National Commission for UNESCO (from 2014), the German development agency, GIZ (2008–2012), and the Sri Lankan Government
    Annual Programme CostsUS $12,000 – US $16,000. Annual programme cost per learner is US $7.00
    Date of Inception2007

    Country Context

    The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean, located near the south-east coast of India. The country has a population of more than 22 million with the 15–24 age group accounting for 15% of the total population (UNESCO, 2014). The population consists mostly of Sinhalese (about 82%), Tamil, Muslims and Burghers, with some smaller ethnic minorities (UNICEF, 2013).

    Sri Lanka has a problem with increasing numbers of school drop-outs. According to a demographic and health survey conducted between 2006 and 2007, 1.7% of all children aged between five and thirteen years dropped out of school (UNICEF, 2013), while almost every second Sri Lankan (43%) older than twenty-five did not complete secondary school education (UIS, 2013). Early school drop-out happens mainly in poor households in rural and urban areas, where children struggle to combine work and study. In this context, children who are affected by school drop-out are likely to belong to the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups in society. A survey conducted during 2008 and 2009 found that 57,315 school-aged children had to balance school and work at the same time (UNICEF, 2013). The negative attitudes of parents and children towards education is another factor contributing to high drop-out. One other possible explanation is the rigid nature of the present formal school system which has failed to transform this group into creative and productive members of society.

    The National Institute of Education (NIE) believes that the Open School Programme offers an alternative to formal schooling, operating parallel to the formal system, which incorporates primary, secondary and tertiary levels. The NIE established an open educational system which to provide non-formal programmes as well. The Open School Programme is a first step towards expanding educational opportunities to achieve the aim of education for all. The programme provides multiple channels for those who have not attained a recognized basic qualification, which is crucial for furthering their engagement with education. It also helps learners to find jobs, and to enhance their professional knowledge.

    Programme Overview

    When the NIE was founded in 1985, its main purpose was to build the capacity of education managers, teacher trainers and teachers. The NIE was mandated to advise the government on matters related to the development of education in Sri Lanka. The objectives of the institute are to:

    NIE has become a centre of excellence in providing leadership for the development of quality education in a pluralistic and dynamic society. The Open School Programme contributes to this vision by providing wider access to sustainable and learner-centred quality education, up-skilling and training, through open and distance learning.

    Nature of the Programme

    The programme is offered at three levels and is organized in accordance with the formal secondary school programme, including:

    Level 1 (equivalent to grades 6–7 in formal schooling)
    Level 2 (equivalent to grades 8–9 in formal schooling)
    Level 3 (equivalent to grades 10–11 in formal schooling)

    Before starting the modules, students need to sit a test so that they can be assigned to the appropriate level. At the end of each level a certificate is awarded equivalent to a school certificate. The learners who complete the third level will be awarded a certificate which makes them eligible to sit the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level or GCE (O/L) examination. The programme adopts distance and open learning modes of delivery to maximize flexibility:



    The objectives of the Open School Programme are to:

    Programme Implementation

    Open and distance learning (ODL) is a flexible educational system that brings education to the doorstep of the learner.


    The Open School is promoted through provincial awareness-raising programmes. For the most part, participants in the Open School Programme are drawn from marginalized groups, for example women who have difficulties in accessing education, people with special needs, learners who dropped out of formal school and people who need vocational training. The programme identifies the needs of learners by conducting surveys, approved by the NIE Academic Affairs Board, and provides classes based on the outcomes. The programme has no special entry requirements and offers a flexible schedule for learners.

    Facilitators and Tutors

    Open School Programme tutors are teachers involved in non-formal education projects who have experience of open distance learning and adult education. Training courses for tutors are offered twice a year by NIE and cover course-writer and senior-tutor training. The tutors are trained to help learners in the development of practical knowledge and skills in the relevant subjects. Facilitators are teachers who are working as part-time tutors (after school hours), retired teachers or principals from formal schools. Some facilitators are paid; others are part-time volunteers from trustee boards. The paid facilitators receive between US $25 and US $45 per month for five sessions. In each lesson, tutors are expected to teach twenty learners.

    Approaches, Method and Structure

    Learning is organized using printed self-learning material (modules), audio cassettes, face-to-face sessions, personal contact programmes, and radio and television programmes. The self-learning materials, which are divided into three modules, are the main channel supporting the learners in their active learning.

    The programme offers science, maths and Sinhala and Tamil language modules in order to enhance learners’ numeracy and literacy skills. In addition to these modules, face-to-face contact sessions are held in order to support participants in their learning.

    Sessions are divided into:

    Curriculum and Materials

    The Open School Programme curriculum comprises mother tongue education in Sinhala and Tamil, mathematics, science, English, vocational subjects, and home and community education. The content of these subjects is elaborated by NIE’s curriculum developers and academic staff who are also in charge of study material development.

    The printed self-learning material is developed by the academic staff of the Open School unit and is written in both Sinhala and Tamil languages. Learners are provided with self-assessment kits and audio cassettes, compact disks (CDs) and activity books. Audio cassettes are used in language learning to teach correct pronunciation and language function. Each centre is equipped with an audio cassette player to support learners in following their modules. Television and radio programmes are planned.

    Example: Home and community education modules

    Module 1

    The main purpose of the module is to develop the personality of the learner by explaining how to identify capabilities, strengths and weaknesses.

    Module 2

    The main focus of this module is on physical and mental health, with lessons on nutrition, physical exercise and hygiene.

    Module 3

    This module is designed to introduce institutions and organizations that provide services useful in the learner’s daily life and work, and to show how they can make use of them.

    Assessment of learners

    The performance of learners is assessed throughout the programme in order to provide them with continuous feedback. The evaluation of learning progress is conducted mainly through self-assessment and through assignments that must be completed at the end of each module. Each learner has to submit the completed assignment to the relevant study support centre. Facilitators will return the marked assignment to the respective learners. Tutors and facilitators also engage with learners during practical sessions and provide feedback on their performance. The marks obtained by learners in their assignments are recorded for continuous assessment.

    An evaluation of the learner’s progress is conducted at the end of Level 3. The evaluation is carried out through assignments and a unit test, and the marks obtained are considered in further evaluations. For evaluation purposes, each subject is divided into different units and learners can take tests related to those specific units. The result of the unit test is communicated to the learner who can repeat the test in order to reach a higher performance level. Those who successfully complete the three levels will be awarded grade 7, 9 and 11 certificates, similar to formal school-level certificates.

    Monitoring and Evaluation

    The Open School Programme conducts monthly evaluations of each centre through supervision and monitoring programmes. Academic and non-academic members of the National Institute of Education visit and evaluate the progress of each regional centre as well as the progress of the learners and the impact on the community. The evaluation focuses on the following features:

    In addition, programme staff prepare four annual evaluation reports and each learning centre delegates senior tutors to attend progress review meetings to which they are encouraged to submit progress reports on the collaborating learning centre.

    Impact and Challenges

    Impact and Achievements

    The Open School Programme has established twenty-five regional study centres and fifty-seven sub-centres, with more than 8,000 learners enrolled on the programme. In order to carry out the programme, 216 tutors and twenty-five senior tutors have been recruited. There are seventy-three modules, in both languages (Sinhala and Tamil), and two supplementary books in English have been prepared for learners. In addition, 244 learners completed additional language programme courses (Sinhala and Tamil languages), and 400 learners sat the O/L examination. About 160 learners passed the O/L examinations and twenty learners are following A/L (advanced level) classes, which offer an opportunity of two years of study in the field of science, maths, commerce or arts. Following completion of the programme, 200 learners have joined formal schools and 900 learners have been able to find jobs in various fields. The programme’s achievements include:

    Due to the high demand for the courses, the National Institute of Education has taken steps to introduce vocational skills training courses, in subjects such as beauty, ICT and entrepreneurship. Two centres (Matale and Puttalam) are already using ICTs for correspondence and learners’ competence assessment, and an expansion of the course to other facilities is currently planned. Courses that reflect the needs of disadvantaged young people have also been introduced. These courses are in process of expansion as well.

    The courses assist learners in starting their own ventures and support them in income-generating activities. Out-of-school children and disadvantaged young people are encouraged to continue their education and improve their technical skills to secure a prosperous future.

    In the near future, the Open School plans to cooperate with technical institutes in introducing new vocational programmes. The need for technical subjects was identified in a survey. The Open School is now in the process of preparing the curriculum and appropriate books.

    Challenges and Lessons Learned


    Sustainability is assured through the funding and support of several organizations. In the first five years (2008–2013), the German development agency, GIZ, funded the entire programme. Later, it was funded through NIE resources, while, currently, it is funded by UNESCO. In 2013, the Ministry of Education provided US $3,500 for the Northern Province of Sri Lanka under the compulsory education programme. In 2014, the Korean National Commission for UNESCO provided US $20,000 for Open School activities and agreed to fund the programme in future. The National Institute of Education Open School Unit is in contact with delegates of international organizations and local charity organizations to secure their support and to spread awareness of the programme.

    Advertising campaigns have been undertaken to spread awareness in each formal school region, with principals, teachers, students and parents targeted. These activities helped the relevant authorities and organizations to get to know the Open School Programme and to recognise – and support – its contribution.

    Presently, the support of social organizations helps ensure the programme continues without interruption. Every day, new organizations and individuals request the services of the NIE Open School Programme, a reflection of the high demand that now exists.



    Dr. T.A.R.J. Gunasekara (Mrs.)
    Director General
    National Institute of Education
    High Level Road
    Maharagama, Sri Lanka
    Telephone: +94117601620

    Last update: 27 August 2015