Mohideen, A.

The challenges faced by the education sector of Sri Lanka during the COVID-19 pandemic  

CITATION: Mohideen, A. (2023), ‘The challenges faced by the education sector of Sri Lanka during the COVID-19 pandemic’, Journal of Social Science Student Research, Volume 1, Issue 2, DOI:10.20933/30000104

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic was a global disaster that devastated all aspects of life forcing students to transition from a physical classroom to online learning. This new way of learning posed a significant challenge for pupils in state schools in Sri Lanka. This article focuses on the challenges the Sri Lankan education sector faced during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 

Keywords: education in Sri Lanka, pandemic, online learning

In 2020, the world faced a global pandemic due to a coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan, China. Due to unrestricted travel, the virus soon spread to other regions. The spread of the virus needed to be controlled, so certain regions of the world went into lockdown for days or even weeks. On 20th of March, 2020, Sri Lanka implemented a total lockdown, closing schools and other higher education institutions across the country (USDA, 2020). This decision resulted in Sri Lankan schools transitioning into online learning. 

Up until the pandemic, Sri Lankan schools employed traditional teaching techniques, possibly influenced by the perception that transmission of information, by digital means, does not equate to education (Gamage and Zaber, 2021). Furthermore, prior to the pandemic, it was a financial and economic challenge for the Sri Lankan government to provide enough educational resources such as adequate seating and desks for students, digital tools like Smart classroom boards to an education system with over 3.8 million students, and employing 219,000 teachers within 9,714 public schools (CBSL, 2008; Chandrakumara, 2015) for in-class teaching. Despite this backdrop, during the pandemic, Sri Lankan teachers had no option but to switch from traditional teaching methods to technology-based education using the Microsoft Teams and Zoom platforms, which was challenging for instructors and students due to the limited experience they had using digital education prior to the pandemic.   

The transition into a digitalized learning platform was also impacted by a lack of learner access to resources such as computers and lab equipment (Fyfa, 2021), smartphones, and, most critically, unstable internet connectivity. Due to the lack of connectivity, pupils had to depend on multimedia learning acquired from government-provided television channels called e-Thaksalawa (Kalani, 2021) which, substituted for those children who lacked internet and digital resources. If Sri Lankan state schools had integrated ICT-based teaching arrangements prior to 2020, it could have possibly reduced the stress on both instructors and pupils during the pandemic. 

In addition, the Department of Examinations in Sri Lanka maintained the written physical GCE A-level test in 2020, whereas in contrast, other nations such as the UK Department for Education (2021) announced teacher-assessed grades for their public examinations. The emphasis on a written physical examination added pressure to students and teachers as there was a mismatch with the preparation of students for the exams using a digital platform, which they were unfamiliar with (Riyath, Rijah and Rameez, 2022). One of the reasons for conducting a physical A-Level examination may have been to standardize the exam and prevent any bias, and it should be noted the public examinations were conducted under the COVID-19 protocol during that year (Xinhua, 2020). Examinations were piloted with the considerable care, practising social distancing and wearing facemasks to curb the spread of infection (Khachfe et al., 2020) and this is something that the education authorities should be commended for.  

One explanation for the challenges faced by the Sri Lankan education sector during the pandemic in 2020 was the result of inadequately trained teachers, especially in the island’s Eastern, Northern, and North Central (Chandrakumara, 2015). As already explored additonal factors included: a lack of online readiness of students, students’ and teachers’ lack of access to digital devices, technical failings, connectivity issues, the high cost of broadband, and the psychological impact on students experienced as a result of the pandemic. Therefore, it should be concluded that although some decisions, such as maintaining in-person exams may now be questioned, those making the decions were in a difficult position, especially due to the unique circumstance of the Pandemic and associated national lockdowns. 

Sri Lanka’s pandemic era has shed light on the massive digital divide the country is facing. The Sri Lankan government could now consider encouraging UN institutions such as, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), to help promote IT education and online learning. The Sri Lankan government could also focus on STEM-based education and have provision for IT equipment (such as PCs, laptops, smart boards, and digital panels) and allow internet connectivity in a significant number of schools around the island through fibre optic fixed line connections, satellites, multi-service towers, or inexpensive data packages.  

Finally, the lessons learnt from the Pandemic should encourage the Sri Lankan Department of Education, to develop initiatives that improve teacher training and CPD, including greater critical understanding modalities of teaching and education, and put emphasis on technology-based teaching and learning and teacher empowerment, supplementing more traditional face-to-face teaching. The academic and professional development of teachers has to be significantly prioritized and adequately sponsored and if so the education system of Sri Lanka may emege stronger than it was pre-Pandemic. 


Chandrakumara, D.P.S. (2015) ‘Regional Imbalances in the Distribution of Educational Resources in Sri Lanka’, 1, pp. 13–21. 

Department for Education (2021) Teacher assessed grades for students, GOV.UK. Available at: (Accessed: 2 March 2023). 

Fyfa (2021) ‘Information Technology and Rural Education’, FYFA – From Youth For All, 24 January. Available at: (Accessed: 2 March 2023). 

Gamage, S. and Zaber, M. (2021) Teaching and Learning in Distance Mode during COVID-19 in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh

Kalani, K. (2021) Sri Lanka: The great distance learning divide – Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières. Available at: (Accessed: 2 March 2023). 

Macwan, G. (2020) CBSE Board Exam 2020 Cancelled Highlights: 10th Class Exams Cancelled, Class 12 Made Optional, Board Informs SC, Available at: (Accessed: 2 March 2023). 

Riyath, M.I., Rijah, U.L. and Rameez, A. (2022) ‘Students’ attitudes on the use of Zoom in higher educational institutes of Sri Lanka’, Asian Association of Open Universities Journal, 17(1), pp. 37–52. Available at: 

USDA (2020) Sri Lanka: COVID-19 and Food and Agriculture in Sri Lanka – Update on Impact of Lock down March 20, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Available at: (Accessed: 2 March 2023).