8 August, 2022


Rising Demand For Private Tutoring Despite Sri Lanka’s Free Education

By Asankha Pallegedara

Dr. Asankha Pallegedara

Dr. Asankha Pallegedara

Why demand for private tutoring has risen under free education policy in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka elected new executive president with the hope of change in political, administrative and judiciary systems. New cabinet including education minister have already been appointed to fulfill the promises mentioned in the election manifesto ‘Maithree Palanaya’. General public are eagerly waiting to see how the new regime handle the education policy of Sri Lanka as education is one of the most important factors for sustainable economic development of any country.

Sri Lanka is one of the few countries that offer free education starting from primary school level to university level. Sri Lankans have been benefiting this free education policy started in 1940s. Although per capita GDP is low, Sri Lanka has achieved higher school enrollment rates, literacy rates and school completion rates comparable with developed countries with the help of free education policy. However, Sri Lankan education has become highly competitive due to the reasons such as extremely competitive national qualifying examinations like grade five scholarship examination, O/L and A/L examinations, limited higher education opportunities and social competition to enroll in popular schools. Consequently, this high competition has created the phenomenon of private tutoring or more commonly referred to as ‘private tuition classes’ in Sri Lanka. Private tutoring is a widespread phenomenon not only in developing countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Vietnam but also in developed countries such as Japan, South Korea and the USA. There is a growing education literature related to this ‘Shadow education system’ but educational policy makers and planners have to investigate the implications and impacts of private tutoring more rigorously. It is one of the major education issues under the free education policy in Sri Lanka because it can widen the gaps of educational equity and equality.

This article sheds some light on demand for private tutoring under free education policy in Sri Lanka and discusses the reasons pertinent to the increased demand for private tutoring over time. This article is based on the author’s internationally published research using data from Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) of Sri Lanka conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS).

Has demand for private tutoring risen over time?

Table 1 shows the proportion of Sri Lankan households that have school aged students with zero and positive private tutoring expenditure last two decades. It can be clearly seen that there is a considerable increase of the proportion of households that spend money on private tutoring over time since only 23% of households have used money on children’s private tutoring in 1995-1996 and it has increased to 64% in 2006-2007.


However, there is a clear difference in private tutoring expenditure by household total expenditure levels as shown Table 2. For instance, proportion of households with positive private tutoring expenditure increases highly from bottom to top total household expenditure quartile in 1995-1996 survey. However, the tendency disappears in the 2006-2007 survey. There is not much difference in the proportion of households with positive private tutoring expenditure by household total expenditure quartiles. Thus, if we consider total expenditure as a proxy for household income, only the richer households are more likely to spend money on private tutoring in 1995-1996 but not only richer households but also poor households tend to spend money on children’s private tutoring recently.

T2In addition, it can be clearly seen that education level of parents has positive relationship on household private tutoring expenditure. The percentage of households with positive private tutoring expenditure has increased with the level of household heads’ education as shown in Table 3. About 55.29 per cent of households that have positive private tutoring expenditure are headed by above university level educated person in 1995-1996. However, this percentage is only 9.53 per cent for households that are headed by a person with no schooling. This trend is similar in 2006-2007; however, the percentages have increased significantly in 2006-2007.

T3Reasons pertinent to increased demand for private tutoring in Sri Lanka

Increased demand for private tutoring can be attributed to several reasons.

1. Decline of public education expenditure

Although Sri Lankan per capita GDP has increased significantly over the last two decades, government expenditure on public education has not increased at the same pace. For instance, according to statistics of university grant commission of Sri Lanka, education expenditure as a percentage of government expenditure was 10.42 per cent in 1995 and declined to 9.06 per cent in 2012. Accordingly, people might try to substitute lower public education investment by increasing higher private education investments.

Tuition2. Limited higher education opportunities

The supply of higher education facilities have not increased with growing population. Sri Lanka has only 15 public universities. Although government has started several new public universities recently, supply of public higher education facilities especially university education is still extremely limited. Sri Lanka university grant commission statistics indicate that students’ admission to Sri Lankan universities as a percentage of eligible candidates has not increased over time. For example, university admission as a percentage of eligible candidates was 15.59 per cent in 1995 and remained constant 15.45 per cent in 2011. Thus, there is a fierce competition to enroll in public universities because over 80 per cent of eligible candidates are willing to enroll in universities but no chance of enrolling due to lack of facilities. Therefore, lack of higher education opportunities seems to increase the fierce competition to enter public universities, thereby increased the student’s demand for private tutoring.

3. Social competition to enroll in popular schools and universities

Sri Lanka has acute social competition to enroll in popular secondary schools and universities as people believe that entrance in to popular secondary schools and universities can generate higher earnings in the future which enable them to have higher standards of living. Thus, parents may believe that children have to take private tutoring in order to engage in this social competition.

4. Increase of household income

Although there may be arguments on increase of household income of the country, according to statistical data, household average income level has increased significantly over last two decades. For example, Sri Lankan per capita GDP was approximately $720 in 1995 and has nearly doubled to $1421 in 2006. It is reported as $3279 as of 2013. As a result, Sri Lankan middle class has expanded significantly over time. Thus, it is little wonder that proportion of households who spend money on children’s private tutoring increases over time because it is well known fact that private educational investments tend to increase with income level of the households.


In conclusion, it is implied that Sri Lankan households have high demand for private tutoring even under the free education policy provided by Sri Lankan government. The demand for private tutoring seems to increase over time indicating people’s less satisfaction on free public education. There may be several social, economic, cultural reasons for increased demand for private tutoring but I believe new government need to increase the public education expenditure, higher education opportunities in order to counteract the growing demand for private tutoring.

*Dr. Asankha Pallegedara is a lecturer attached to the department of industrial management at the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka. He received his MA and PhD degrees in Development Economics from National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Japan. He was a Japanese Government scholar for his undergraduate and post-graduate studies.


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Latest comments

  • 2

    Another possible reason could be the fact that tertiary education in Sri Lanka has not been sufficiently diversified. In the term tertiary education I would include diploma courses which are very prolific in the developed world. There is no point in having more and more universities that churn out run of the mill graduates who are hardly productive!

    Sengodan. M

  • 1

    Some states deliberately undermine free education via inadequate funding in order to smuggle in privatization. This must be stopped. Free education must be accompanied by proper funding and rational planning of quality education across the country. Private tuition cannot be stopped by force. The rising demand for private tuition may be a clear sign that something nasty is happening on the government level to destroy free education.

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