Sri Lanka's population is highly educated with a literacy rate of 96%, higher than that expected for a third world country. Sri Lanka has one of the highest literacy rates of South Asia.This can mainly be attributed to the free education system in Sri Lanka.

In 1938 the education system in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) was made free under the Universal Franchise granted in 1931. The late Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara took the initiative in establishing free education when he was the Minister of Education. Under this initiative the government established Madhya Maha Vidyalayas(MMV -- Central Colleges) that were scattered around the island to provide education to all. The medium provided was either in Sinhala or Tamil.

In 1942 a special committee was appointed to observe the education system and among the suggestions that followed, the following still play an important role:
Make available to all children a good education free of charge, so that education ceases to be a commodity purchasable only by the urban affluent.

  • Make national languages the media of instruction in place of English so that opportunities for higher education, lucrative employment open only to small number of the urban affluent, would become available to others as well.
  • Rationalize the school system so that educational provision is adequate, efficient and economical.
  • Ensure that every child is provided with instructijon in the religion of his/her parents.
  • Protect teachers from exploitation by managers of schools.
  • Make adequate provision for adult education.

After independence, the number of schools and the literacy rate of the people substantially increased.According to the Ministry of Statistics, today there are approximately 9,830 public schools serving close to 4,030,000 students, all around the island.

During the colonial times, late Buddhist heroes like Anagjarika Dharmapala together with foreigners like Henry Steel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky of the Buddhist Theosophical Society installed Buddhist schools to hfoster Sinhala students with an education rich in Buddhist values and also in order to bring Buddhism to life, at a time, it was slowly fading away from the people. Most of these schools were established in the capitals of the major provinces of Sri Lanka. Some of the most prominent ones among them are Ananda College, Colombo; Nalanda College, Colombo; Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo; Kingswood College, Kandy; Dharmaraja College, Kandy; Maliyadeva College, Kurunegala; Mahamaya Vidyalaya, Kandy; Mahinda College, Galle. Many students from these schools have gone on to become notable personalities, professors, cricketers, Ministers and even Prime Ministers and Presidents of the country.

Sri Lanka's education structure is divided into five parts: primary, junior secondary,senior secondary,collegiate and tertiary. Primary education lasts six years (grades 1-5) and at the end of this period, the students write an exam called the Scholarship exam. This exam allows students with exceptional skills to move on to better schools. After primary education, the junior secondary education lasts for 4 years (grades 6-9). According to the law of Sri Lanka, it is compulsory that all children go to school till grade 9, at which point they can choose to continue further or opt out and engage in a job or farming. However, the Ministry of Education strongly advises all students to continue with their studies at least till the G.C.E. Ordinary Level in order to obtain a suitable job, later on. After this period, the students go through senior secondary education for 2 years ( grades 10-11) to sit for the G.C.E Ordinary Level examination. The students must pass this examination to go on with Collegiate education. Collegiate education lasts for 2 years (grades 12-13) At the end of this, there is another examination called the G.C.E Advanced Level.On successful completion of this exam, students can go on to, pursuing tertiary education(University and beyond).

Due to the variety of ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, there are many schools teaching only, either Sinhala or Tamil, leaving aside the global language, English.The famous colleges in major cities such as Colombo and Kandy, have schools which have both languages as mediums of instruction.

University System
University education is also free.This is noteworthy to mention, especially due to the fact that, Sri Lanka is named a third world country. The university system is highly competitive, so, only the top students from each district are guaranteed the chances of having tertiary education. As a result, most students who are not granted admission offers, go abroad to pursue their studies in a foreign university or enroll themselves in one of the Degree awarding, state-funded or private, institutes in Sri Lanka. Students who fail to qualify for university entrance can also engage in higher education as external students of traditional universities or at the Open university of Sri Lanka.This is why, many intellectuals often express the need of Private Universities, where students could study in their home country at a lower cost. There are also vocational technical colleges which specialize in mechanical and electronic subjects. There are currently 15 major state funded universities in Sri Lanka. The most prominent ones are University of Colombo, University of Kelaniya, University of Sri Jayawardhenapura University of Moratuwa, University of Peradeniya, University of Jaffna, University of Ruhuna, and Eastern University of Sri Lanka.

Apart from these, the Ministry of Education, of Sri Lanka has launched a non-formal education program which allows school left-outs and adults who did not complete their school education, to earn a living, through self-hemployment. Most of these courses are held at community centres and they cover a wide range of fields such as dress-making, beauty culture, hair-dressing, stitching, carpentry, plumbing, painting and so on.

Private Schools
There has been a considerable increase in the number of private schools in Sri Lanka, due to the emergence of the upper-middle class crowd. Many of the private schools have access to newer facilities than state run schools. Currently there are 33 non-fee-levying Assisted Private Schools and 33 fee levying autonomous Private Schools, in addition to the Government Schools. Out of them, most famous ones are Musaeus College,Colombo,Holy Family Convent,Colombo (Semi-government school) Bishop's College Colombo and Ladies College, Colombo,St Bridget's Convent,Colombo.

International Schools
International schools in Sri Lanka are not restricted to the expatriate community, anyone with the ability and willingness to pay can join these schools. There is also no regulation or control by the Ministry of Education, due to this the standard of education varies greatly beween schools. The schools for mainly expatriate children charge huge fees and can therefore provide good facilities and high standards.

The Overseas School in Colombo is the leading international school for expatriates, the curriculum followed leads to an IB Diploma . The majority of other Ingternational schools prepafres students for the Edexcel General Certificate of Educdation (GCE) Ordinary , Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced (A2) Level examinations, which is by far the most poppular qualification. Preparation for Cambridge Examinations is also offered by a few schools but is not very poppular.