Primary and secondary education in Sri Lanka

Primary education in Sri Lanka lasts 5 years. Pupils aged 5-10 go through grades 1-5. Pupils are taught subjects in the 4 subject fields of the national curriculum: language, mathematics, environment related activities and religion. From grade 3 on, pupils are taught English and the 2nd national language (Sinhala or Tamil) as subjects. At the end of the last year of primary education, pupils can take the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination.

Secondary education in Sri Lanka lasts 8 years and comprises 2 phases:

  • lower secondary education (grade 6-9);
  • upper secondary education (grade 10-13).

Lower secondary education

During lower secondary education (junior secondary), students aged 10-14 go through grades 6-9. In this phase, depending on the curriculum of the school, they can take a maximum of 5 subjects with English as language of instruction.

Upper secondary education

Upper secondary education (senior secondary) is divided into 2 stages:

Since 2016, education has been compulsory for Sri Lankan students through grade 11.

Grade 5 Scholarship Examination

At the end of the last year of primary education, pupils can take the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination. This is a competitive test administered by the Department of Examinations. The aim of the test is:

  • to select excellent pupils from poor families for scholarships;
  • to select the best pupils for leading secondary schools.

General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level)

After grade 11, students take national exams for the General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) . The General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) is often abbreviated as GCE O/L.

  • : 6 years (4 years, grades 6-9 + 2 years, grades 10-11).
  • Content: the curriculum comprises main subjects and electives. In grade 6-9 the curriculum consists of 12 subjects:
    • aesthetic subjects: music, art, dancing, drama and theatre;
    • English;
    • geography;
    • health and physical education;
    • history;
    • life competencies and citizenship education;
    • mathematics;
    • practical and technical skills;
    • religion;
    • science;
    • Sinhala/Tamil language (first language); and
    • Sinhala/Tamil language (second language).
      In key stage 1 (grades 10-11), students take 6 main subjects:
    • English (second language);
    • history;
    • mathematics;
    • religion;
    • science; and
    • Sinhala or Tamil (first language).
      In addition, they take 3 or 4 electives from 3 fields of study:
    • aesthetic subjects;
    • languages and humanities; and
    • technical subjects.
      Students can choose a maximum of 5 subjects to take in English.
  • Admission requirements: concluded primary education.
  • Function of the diploma: access to the 2nd stage of secondary education (grade 12-13) or secondary vocational education.
  • Diploma: General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) from the Department of Examinations.

We compare a General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) in 6 subjects with grades ranging from A to C to at least a diploma

Please note: 'at least a VMBO-T diploma' means that the diploma has a higher level than a VMBO-T diploma, but a lower level than a diploma. The level of the diploma lies between a VMBO-T diploma and a HAVO diploma.

General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level)

After grade 13, students take national exams for the General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) . The General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) is often abbreviated as GCE A/L.

  • Duration: 2 years (key stage 2: grades 12 + 13).
  • Content: there are 4 streams: science, commerce, arts and technology. Students choose at least 3 subjects within their stream. The national examination comprises these 3 (or more) subjects, an English language test (General English) and a Common General Test.
  • Admission requirements: a GCE O/L with a passing grade for 6 subjects, including at least a credit pass as exam result for their first language (Sinhala or Tamil), mathematics and 3 other subjects.
  • Function of the diploma: access to higher education.
  • Diploma: General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) from the Department of Examinations.

We compare the combination of GCE O/L and GCE A/L to a diploma if:

  • the GCE O/L is obtained in 6 subjects with marks ranging from A to C; and
  • the GCE A/L is obtained with at least an Ordinary Pass (S) for 3 subjects and a score of at least 30% for the Common General Test.

Please note:

  • The subject General English does not count as 1 of the 3 subjects.
  • In some cases (if certain results are achieved), we can compare the the combination of GCE O/L and GCE A/L to a diploma. Please contact us for a credential evaluation.