The Colonial and Neoliberal Roots of the Public-Private Education Debate in Sri Lanka

Golding, David (2018) The Colonial and Neoliberal Roots of the Public-Private Education Debate in Sri Lanka. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 16 (1). pp. 145-174. ISSN 2051-0969

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The controversy surrounding Sri Lanka’s privatising education system is one of the most pressing social and political issues facing the country today. This paper explores the history of this debate by drawing connections to broader processes of colonialism and neoliberalism. Particularly, this paper traces the shifting sociocultural functions of education in Sri Lanka. Colonial-era education in Sri Lanka provoked debates about access, cultural identity, and employment that somewhat resemble contemporary discourses on the role of international education in Sri Lankan society. As the world system shifted from colonialism to neoliberalism in the 20th century, Sri Lankan education began to deemphasize government employment for its graduates. Instead, the education system became oriented towards the needs of the economy, especially in terms of private sector employment. While Sri Lankan education finds new purpose in preparing students for employment in the globalizing economy, it also risks reproducing colonial educational modalities by marginalizing local knowledge. By focusing on economic concerns and technical skills, neoliberal education threatens the strong emphasis on spiritual development and social welfare that has long informed Sri Lankan educational culture. If the Sri Lankan education system is to remain empowering and locally-relevant, it will likely need to reconcile the economic demands of neoliberalism with the country’s cultural autonomy and values.

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Journal Article
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Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies
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17 Apr 2018 12:52
Last Modified:
22 Sep 2023 00:34