Improving technical and vocational education in Sri Lanka

Key Contact
Halil Dundar
Start Date
End Date
Funding Amount
$ 69,270
Knowledge-providing Countries
Knowledge-receiving Countries


The Government of Sri Lanka sought to develop a national skills development strategy and improve technical and vocational education (TVET). The World Bank helped organize an exchange with Malaysia, which had developed successful TVET programs. As part of a broader technical assistance program, the exchange raised the awareness of officials about how to undertake TVET reforms in a middle income country.



The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) sought to develop the skills of its workforce to ensure the country’s competiveness in the global economy. Under this priority, Sri Lanka's Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development (MYASD) was tasked with leading efforts to improve technical and vocational education (TVET) programs. Sri Lankan officials also sought to develop a national skills development strategy to coordinate TVET programs, and develop a governance structure for the skills development sector.

However, the GoSL and MYASD lacked the skills to finalize a skills development strategy, and to design and implement TVET policies and programs. In 2010, the GoSL requested the World Bank’s assistance in reviewing its skills development system and identifying options for TVET programs. Officials also sought assistance from the Bank to learn from Middle-Income Countries (MICs) that had developed skills development strategies and worked to strengthen TVET initiatives.



In response, the World Bank launched a study to assess Sri Lanka's skills sector and TVET, and guide officials in developing a national skills strategy. The Bank also arranged a multi-pronged knowledge exchange funded by the South-South Facility to learn from Malaysia.

Malaysia was chosen at it had made good progress in designing and implementing skills programs while facing similar challenges, for example ethnic tensions and a rapid ascension into middle-income status. In addition, Malaysia had implemented successful TVET policies and programs.

The exchange aimed to build the capacity Sri Lankan officials to develop and execute a skills development strategy, and improve the quality and relevance of education. It had four phases:

  • Preparation: In late 2011, officials from Sri Lanka and Malaysia engaged in email discussions to review the status of skills development in Sri Lanka and develop a learning agenda.
  • Learning Visits to Malaysia: During three weeks in 2012 (January 8-15, March 11-18, and July 23-28), a total of 18 officials from Sri Lanka’s MYASD, the Department of National Planning, and the private sector visited Putrajaya, Penang, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru to learn from government agencies and public and private training institutions. Among other things, the delegates learned about Malaysia’s Skills Development Fund, vocational standards and qualification framework, set-up of community colleges in provinces, and the functions of Malaysia’s Human Development Fund Corporation, which is a reimbursement program supporting worker trainings. They also learned about the role of the private sector in skills development.
  • Expert Visit to Sri Lanka: From June 21-23, 2012, two Malaysian experts, including an official who had helped develop Malaysia's skills development strategy and a Director of a private training institution, visited Colombo to participate in a workshop on designing and implementing a skills strategy and the role of the private sector.



The exchange, which was a part of a broader World Bank technical assistance program, strengthened the capacity of Sri Lankan officials to design and implement TVET initiatives. Learning was also magnified by organizing a workshop in June 2012 to share exchange lessons and recommendations with MYASD staff and other stakeholders. The exchange helped to:

  • Increase the awareness of GoSL and MYASD staff on global good practices in the design and implementation of skills development and TVET programs.
  • Enhance the knowledge and consensus of decision-makers on next steps in skills development and TVET policies and programs. For instance, the exchange helped convince the Minster of MYASD and senior officials to move forward with a skills development program, and work with the Bank to develop a Skills Development Project.
  • Stimulate reforms in skills development. Since the exchange, Sri Lankan officials have taken steps to introduce a vocational training stream in general education, develop provincial-level colleges that offer higher-level vocational training programs, and reinforce industry-based training.


Lessons Learned

  • Selecting knowledge providers that have faced similar challenges in similar contexts helps to ensure the sharing of appropriate know-how.
  • Organizing a knowledge exchange within the framework of a broader technical assistance program can create synergies and magnify longer-term results. Knowledge exchange can also be a valuable tool prior to commencing preparation of a Bank or donor project, as it can improve client relations, and help develop project targets.
  • As coordinating and implementing an exchange can be burdensome and time-consuming, it is wise to hire a local consultant(s) to undertake implementation tasks.


World Bank Group Contribution

World Bank specialists in SASED helped broker connections for this exchange leveraging their contacts and project experience in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Staff in World Bank Headquarters and Country Offices provided valuable support in designing and implementing the exchange. The exchange was funded by the South-South Facility, World Bank Budget, and Canada (though an Externally-financed Output) under the aforementioned broader skills development technical assistance program.



The German-Malaysia Institute, a key vocational training provider in Malaysia, helped to coordinate the exchange and select knowledge providing agencies. Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development also served as a key partner helping to coordinate the exchange. 

The Sri Lankan delegates who visited Malaysia learned from diverse Malaysian institutions, including:

  • The Department of Skills Development, Ministry of Human Resources
  • Human Capital Development Section, Prime Minister Department
  • Ministry of Higher Education
  • Ministry of Education
  • Human Resources Development Limited
  • Skills Development Fund Corporation
  • Malaysian Qualifications Agency
  • Center for Instructor and Advanced Skills Training
  • Penang Skills Development Centre
  • Universiti Malaysia Perlis
  • Politeknik Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin

The Malayian officials who participated in the expert visit to Sri Lanka in June 2012 are noted below:
•     Dr. Mohd. Gazali Abas, Director, Human Capital Development Section, Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister's Department, Malaysia
•     Dato’ Boonlar Somchit, Chief Executive Officer, Penang Skills Development Centre, Malaysia


Moving Forward

In May 2014, the World Bank approved the Sri Lanka Skills Development Project, whose design was informed by the learning from this exchange and the Bank’s broader technical assistance program. The aim of this US$101.5 million project is to expand the supply of skilled and employable workers by increasing access to quality and labor market relevant training programs.



The Sri Lankan participants who visited Malaysia in January, March and July 2012 included the following:

  1. Honorable Dullas Alahapperuma , Minister, MYASD
  2. Honorable Duminda Dissanayake, Deputy Minister, MYASD
  3. Mr. S.S.Hewapathirana, , Secretary, MYASD
  4. Mr. A.R.Desapriya, Additional Secretary, MYASD
  5. Dr. H.C.Ambawatte, Director General, Department of Technical Education
  6. Prof. Kapila Goonasekara, Vice Chancellor, University of Vocational Technology
  7. Dr. T.A.Piyasiri, former Director General, Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission                  (now Senior Lecturer, University of Moratuwa)
  8. Mr. P.P.M.P.Jayathilake, Chairman, Skills Development Fund
  9. Dr. Tissa Jinasena, Chairman, National Apprentices and Industrial Training Authority
  10. Mr. Lalith Piyum Perera, Chairman/Director General, National Youth Services Council
  11. Mr. Dhammika Hewapathirana, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Vocational Training Authority of Sri Lanka
  12. Ms. M. Samanthi Mihindukula, Senior Assistant Secretary, MYASD
  13. Mr.E.A.Rathnaseela, Director, Department of National Planning, Ministry of Finance & Planning (MFP)
  14. Mr. M.Ramamoorthy, Director, Human Resource Development, Department of National Planning, MFP
  15. Ms. W.M.D.T. Wickremasinghe, Director (Vocational Training), MYASD
  16. Mr. Vajira Perera, Director (National Vocational Qualifications), Tertiary & Vocational Education Commission
  17. P. P. Ajith Kusum, Deputy Director (Planning & Research), Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission
  18. S. U. K. Rubasinghe, Acting Director (Standards & Accreditation), Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission

The exchange also included Mr.Chandralal de Alwis, a representative from the private sector, and Ms. Shalika Subasinghe, a Social Protection Specialist from the World Bank.