Harnessing Edtech to Bridge Educational Gaps in Sri Lanka

Edtech, short for educational technology, leverages technology to enhance teaching and learning experiences. Photo credit: ADB.

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Targeted, strategic, and innovative measures are needed to ensure edtech effectively promotes inclusiveness for marginalized and vulnerable children.


The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and ongoing economic crisis have caused over two years of learning loss in Sri Lanka, especially affecting vulnerable children due to gaps in inclusiveness in education.

Access to inclusive and equitable quality education is a fundamental human right and is crucial for achieving developmental goals like ending poverty and promoting social mobility.

This year, the United Nations marks International Day of Education with the theme “learning for lasting peace,” highlighting the vital role of inclusive and equitable education in sustaining peace and development.

However, achieving equitable access to quality education by 2030 is challenging, with only 1 in 6 countries projected to meet this goal. This underscores the need to reconsider current education systems, especially in the developing world. In Sri Lanka, despite near-universal participation in primary and secondary education, equitable education for vulnerable groups—such as children with disabilities, children from rural areas, out-of-school children, school dropouts, migrant workers’ children, and children from minority communities—remains a challenge.

A recent regional study by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) highlights examples from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Asia on how technology can bridge these gaps. However, compared to several other lower middle-income countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and MENA, Sri Lanka is not fully meeting the diverse educational needs of vulnerable children through technology. This article explores how the country could use technology to improve inclusiveness in education. 


What is edtech?

Edtech, short for educational technology, leverages technology to enhance teaching and learning experiences. It includes hardware, software, infrastructure, and digital content for educational purposes. Examples of edtech are e-learning platforms, learning management systems (LMS), virtual classrooms, educational apps, educational games, educational television channels, and education management information systems (EMIS).

The uptake of edtech has grown, especially during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting its role in strengthening the resilience of education systems during crises. With technology becoming more accessible, new edtech initiatives have been developed, expanding the coverage of existing ones.

Edtech to Fill Education Gaps for Vulnerable Groups: Country Examples

Several edtech initiatives in the MENA region aim to improve access to education for underrepresented and vulnerable groups. For instance, the UNRWA Digital Learning Platform provides remote learning resources for Palestinian refugee students, ensuring continuity of learning during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Tunisia, Sghartoon is a digital teletherapy platform that helps children with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, through educational games. It enables therapists to manage children's therapeutic paths with digital game libraries, patient management, and calendar tools.

Asia boasts initiatives like Cambodia's Basic Education Equivalency Program (BEEP), an online program that helps young Cambodians who dropped out of lower secondary school to complete their basic education online without disrupting their work.

In Pakistan, the WonderTree program offers therapeutic exercises for children with special needs through augmented reality (AR) games. It caters to children with various motor and cognitive difficulties, including Autism, Down Syndrome, and Global Development Delay, enhancing their psychological well-being and learning beyond conventional classroom settings.

In India, the OLabs initiative targets children from underprivileged schools, making lab resources available remotely to students without access to physical labs due to scarcity or cost. This initiative demonstrates how technology can improve access to education infrastructure in rural schools.

Some countries have developed offline tech to reduce the digital divide in education. For example, the Class Saathi initiative in South Korea and India uses Bluetooth clickers to provide students and teachers from underprivileged areas access to online content without needing internet or electricity. 

Such initiatives are innovative solutions to enhance accessibility to edtech.


While Sri Lanka has much to achieve in terms of inclusive and equitable education, these regional examples demonstrate how edtech can support vulnerable children, including those with learning disabilities, those from rural areas, out-of-school children, dropouts, migrant workers' children, and children from minority communities. The focus should be on developing targeted edtech initiatives designed to address the needs of specific groups to ensure inclusive quality education. Some progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go.

One significant example in Sri Lanka is the Nenasa program, which provides educational content to rural students through TV program to reduce the urban-rural gap in access to educational materials. Implementing such targeted initiatives is vital for advancing the country’s education system.

Given the mixed evidence on technology's role in reducing educational disparities, especially due to the digital divide, promoting offline tech is also a possibility for Sri Lanka, as shown by the Class Saathi initiative.

Despite the government's recent efforts to improve access to technology for edtech, this alone is insufficient for enhancing inclusiveness in education. Instead, targeted, strategic, and innovative measures are needed to ensure that edtech effectively promotes inclusiveness for marginalized and vulnerable children. 

Additionally, introducing such targeted initiatives should be accompanied by adequate teacher pre-service and in-service training to ensure the effective incorporation of technology in education.

Himani Vithanage
Research Assistant, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka

Himani Vithanage is a research assistant at IPS, focusing on health, education, and labor policy. She holds a BA in Economics from the University of Colombo. She also holds a BSc in Economics and Finance from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka

The Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka is an autonomous economic research organization, established by an Act of Parliament, in Colombo. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent, policy-relevant research to provide robust evidence for policymaking and improve the lives of all Sri Lankans.

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