International Review of Education

, Volume 60, Issue 6, pp 821–839 | Cite as

Developing government policies for distance education: Lessons learnt from two Sri Lankan case studies

  • Tharindu Rekha LiyanagunawardenaEmail author
  • Andrew A. Adams
  • Naz Rassool
  • Shirley A. Williams


Education, especially higher education, is considered vital for maintaining national and individual competitiveness in the global knowledge economy. Following the introduction of its “Free Education Policy” as early as 1947, Sri Lanka is now the best performer in basic education in the South Asian region, with a remarkable record in terms of high literacy rates and the achievement of universal primary education. However, access to tertiary education is a bottleneck, due to an acute shortage of university places. In an attempt to address this problem, the government of Sri Lanka has invested heavily in information and communications technologies (ICTs) for distance education. Although this has resulted in some improvement, the authors of this article identify several barriers which are still impeding successful participation for the majority of Sri Lankans wanting to study at tertiary level. These impediments include the lack of infrastructure/resources, low English language proficiency, weak digital literacy, poor quality of materials and insufficient provision of student support. In the hope that future implementations of ICT-enabled education programmes can avoid repeating the mistakes identified by their research in this Sri Lankan case, the authors conclude their paper with a list of suggested policy options.


Distance education e-Learning Developing countries Policy perspective Sri Lanka 


Conception de politiques publiques pour la formation à distance : conclusions de deux exemples sri-lankais – L’éducation, en particulier l’enseignement supérieur, est décisive pour maintenir la compétitivité individuelle et nationale dans le contexte de l’économie mondiale du savoir. Grâce à la mise en place dès 1947 de sa « politique d’éducation libre », le Sri Lanka est aujourd’hui le meilleur élève en Asie du Sud pour l’éducation de base, avec des résultats remarquables quant au taux d’alphabétisme et à la réalisation de l’enseignement primaire universel. L’accès à l’enseignement supérieur connaît néanmoins un engorgement dû à un manque aigu de places universitaires. Pour tenter de résoudre ce problème, le Gouvernement du Sri Lanka investit massivement dans les technologies d’information et de communication (TIC) pour l’enseignement à distance. Si cet effort a apporté quelques améliorations, les auteurs de l’article identifient plusieurs obstacles qui entravent encore une participation concluante pour la majorité des Sri-Lankais désireux de suivre des études supérieures. Ces obstacles consistent en déficits dans plusieurs domaines : infrastructures et ressources, maîtrise de l’anglais, culture numérique, matériels et soutien aux étudiants. Les auteurs concluent leur article en proposant une liste d’options stratégiques, avec l’espoir que les applications futures des programmes éducatifs utilisant les TIC éviteront de répéter les erreurs identifiées lors de leur recherche sur ce cas du Sri Lanka.



The first author would like to thank the University of Reading, UK, for the PhD studentship she received.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tharindu Rekha Liyanagunawardena
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrew A. Adams
    • 2
  • Naz Rassool
    • 3
  • Shirley A. Williams
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Systems EngineeringUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  2. 2.Centre for Business Information EthicsMeiji UniversityChiyodaJapan
  3. 3.Institute of EducationUniversity of ReadingReadingUK

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