For primary and secondary education in Sri Lanka, you have a choice of following the Sri Lankan national syllabus or a foreign syllabus.

National syllabus education

All national, semi-government and most private schools follow the national syllabus. School begins at the age of 5 years from Grade 1 (equivalent to kindergarten) to Grade 13. At the end of the 11th year of schooling, students sit for the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level exam. About two and half years later, they sit for the GCE Advanced Level exam.

The results of these exams are what determines your admission to public universities in particular.


It is important to note that if you wish to seek admission to the free, public universities of Sri Lanka you MUST follow the Sri Lankan national syllabus. While there are a few slots reserved in those universities for those entering with foreign qualifications, those are few and far between.

What kind of education will they receive?

The education program through the Ordinary Level exam is one designed to give a broad based education. However, in the Advanced Level years, following the British-style system, the student is required to choose a few subjects based on what may end up being their future profession. This is sometimes a challenge for students but on the flip side, the students pick up a good amount of depth in a few subjects in their Advanced Level years. That of course positions them well for university study.

Does the rest of the world recognize the Sri Lankan Advanced Level exam?

Most emphatically, YES! The students who come out at the top of the charts in the Advanced Level exam results often get instant admission to the best universities in the world, often with full scholarships. Even those who do only moderately well typically find that they can get admission anywhere in the world, often with advanced placement credit for their Advanced Level subject matter.

What’s the difference between public and private schools?

Public schools are funded by the Government of Sri Lanka. As a result they offer essentially free education – barring a few fees for facilities etc., the family does not have to pay for the education. All public schools follow the national syllabus. Many public schools offer education in one medium of instruction – Sinhala or Tamil, depending on the predominant language of the area. However, there is now a concerted effort to re-introduce English medium instruction but it will take some more years to build up teaching capacity and really put that into motion. Many Colombo area public schools now offer at least partial English medium education in addition to Sinhala and Tamil mediums.

Private schools are schools that are privately owned (often by a trust or a religious group), but still adhere to the national syllabus. Most private schools tend to offer English medium education as well (for the national syllabus). An increasing number of prviate schools now even allow students to sit for international exams instead of following the national syllabus.

International education

Sri Lanka has long allowed children to be educated according to various international education systems. These are, for the most part, unregulated – so buyer be aware is very important! To make matters worse, many international schools are purely profit making ventures, so it is critical that parents evaluate what’s on offer before accepting it. That is not to suggest that all international schools are risky places- quite to the contrary there are several fantastic international schools as well!

International schools are schools that do not offer the national syllabus but rather offer a foreign syllabus such as Cambridge, Edexcel or the International Baccalaureate (IB). Keep in mind that one caveat of following an international syllabus is that the student is no longer able to attend the free, public universities in Sri Lanka. However, even if you can’t afford to send your child to a foreign country for university education, that is far less of a concern these days as there are many excellent private universities in Sri Lanka now.