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Promoting ‘Learning to Live Together’ in Sri Lanka

With 30 years of civil war coming to an end in 2009, Sri Lanka has since moved on to achieve unprecedented levels of economic growth, and also the status of Middle Income Country in late 2010.

An ethnically and linguistically diverse country comprising a multitude of faiths, the last two decades saw a number of policy reforms to promote the concept of ‘Learning to Live Together’ through education. More recently, a framework established in 2008 was targeted to build peace and social cohesion among students. Reflecting on the education reforms initiated by the National Education Council in 1997, key competencies can be found in working towards achieving this goal.

As part of these earlier reforms, nine national education goals were established with many of them reflecting the concept of ‘Learning to Live Together’, including ‘the achievement of National Cohesion, National Integrity and National Unity’, ‘the establishment of Social Justice’ and nation building activities to ensure ‘the nurturing of a continuous sense of Deep and Abiding Concern for One Another. These goals also point towards the need for students to develop the relevant competencies in order to ‘secure a place in the international community’.

Looking more specifically at the five basic competencies introduced by these reforms, these encompass a clear reflection of the competencies related to “Learning to Live Together” through education: competencies in Communication, competencies relating to the Environment, competencies relating to Ethics and Religion, competencies in Play and Leisure, and competencies relating to Learn to Learn.

According to Sunethra Karunaratne, a retired professor from the University of Peradeniya who is leading the country research on Learning to Live Together in Sri Lanka, these reforms have brought about transformative changes in teaching and learning processes in the country.

“Throughout my experience as an educator, I have seen a shift in worried faces to smiley faces among students as we move towards student-centered learning”, she said. Given Sri Lanka’s growing prosperity and efforts to move forward, there is a clear need, more than ever before, for an education system that can promote these competencies in order to encourage students to better ‘learning to live together’.

Professor Karunaratne sees this important shift as crucial to the future of the country:

 “An empathetic learner is one who will see the happiness and grievances of others. Then, the future manpower of the country will be a generation that is more understanding, gradually leading us to becoming a peaceful land”.

UNESCO Bangkok is currently leading a study on how the concept of “Learning to Live Together” is operationalized through education in different countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka. This work, which is being conducted under the UNESCO Inter-sectoral Platform on a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence, uses the vision of a report by the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century (1996), also known as the Delors Report, in regard to the four pillars of learning and the pillar of “Learning to Live Together”.

It will examine the extent to which education systems promote the learning processes of discovery of others and experiences of shared purposes via the teaching of illustrative competencies and skills such as communication, teamwork, political participation, community involvement, media and information literacy, concern for the environment, cultural sensitivity and understanding of discrimination. 

The synthesis and summary of the exercise will be available in early 2014. The exercise is accompanied by a youth contest and exhibition for the region as a whole for youth to share their perspectives on “learning to live together” via photos, drawings and other images. The e-exhibition vividly conveys the desire among young people for cultural understanding and the barriers keeping these dreams from becoming a reality. 

For more information, please contact Ramya Vivekanandan [r.vivekanandan(at)]  at the Education Policy and Reform Unit

Written by Aliénor Salmon [a.salmon(at)]

Related links:

Sri Lanka's National Policy on Social Cohesion and Peace Education

UNESCO Education System Profile Sri Lanka

"Learning to Live Together" Youth Image Competion - Results of Announcement