29 July, 2021

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English Medium Education: Misconceptions & Inaccuracies

By Tara de Mel

Dr Tara de Mel

Discussions on English medium education have surfaced, once again. Every few years, or if ever a government decides on touching this topic, rumblings begin, on the merits or demerits of such an initiative.

It’s perhaps pertinent to trace events from recent history.

Rewind to the Education Reforms of 1998

The emphasis placed on improving English education was unambiguous and remained consistent.

In primary school the thrust was on Activity Based Oral English (ABOE) coupled with Conversational English. In the secondary school, it was to teach selected subjects in English whilst emphasizing Conversational and General English in the Advanced Level. In addition, there was the option to have English medium classes which allowed Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim students to learn in one class from young days, allowing greater integration between communities. A parallel initiative with the same aim was to initiate special Amity Schools for students of all three communities.

Criticisms and allowing Choice: One main criticism leveled against English medium education was that children should learn in the mother tongue during their formative years. This was an opinion of one section of people whilst others promoted exposure to two languages (mother tongue and a second language) during formative years based on newer neuroscientific discoveries on brain growth during early years.

The other objection raised was that the Constitution prohibited the use of English as a medium of instruction. This was while all international schools and some private and even Government schools had English medium instruction available as an option. What the Constitution actually says in Article 21. (1): ‘A person shall be entitled to be educated through the medium of either of the National Languages’.

It doesn’t mean that the choice of being educated in another language is prohibited by the Constitution, i.e. there is no impediment to providing English medium instructions at the primary school. All that was proposed by enabling English medium education was allowing the choice of English medium education and establishing the resources to facilitate same. Nobody advocated making English medium education mandatory while jettisoning the national languages.

Despite the leadership the then President gave to the English education program, and indeed to the entire Education Reform agenda, the obstacles posed by selected groups were largely political & often non-substantial. Meanwhile, the demand for English education from parents was growing apace. Large numbers of parents were left disappointed that their children couldn’t access English medium education, and therefore were considered not eligible for attractive employment opportunities after leaving school. Those with means applied to International Schools and some to private schools. But the large majority were left without options. Tuition masters swiftly began to supply what was in demand, since government schools didn’t offer what was sought. Meanwhile, International schools which were registered as BOI companies (and still are), began to mushroom. What began with a total of about 100 such schools, now stands at nearly 500, bearing ample testimony to this demand.

It’s interesting to recall how during 1998-1999 it became necessary to ‘prove’ that there was indeed such a demand for English education. This was done by administering a simple questionnaire to parents of students attending about 100 schools in about ten districts. They were asked if they were favourable if the option to study selected subjects in the English medium was offered to their children. The large majority said ‘Yes’.  And when asked for reasons they gave the following : ability to face interviews confidently, converse with those in higher socio-economic brackets, to apply for overseas placements and to secure a ‘good job’ when leaving school.

Proof Concept: Such ‘Proof of Concept’ became necessary to get the Cabinet of Ministers on board. Apart from about five Ministers the rest were either skeptical, critical or totally against the idea. Interestingly but not unexpectedly, some of the Ministers who opposed the idea already had children attending private or international schools which were teaching in English. And those children were destined to either seek jobs in the corporate sector or to head overseas for further education, eventually.

Looking back, what’s most interesting is that it took the daughter of a former Prime Minister who implemented a ‘Sinhala Only’ policy, to even start taking baby-steps towards undoing the harm done by her father decades before that. Recently Dr Mahim Mendis wrote ‘…Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike (SWRD), benefitted from the Western Protestant ethic at St. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, and the University of Oxford. As a politician, SWRD became the father of the Sinhala Only Act, while knowing  well that this policy would deprive the ordinary people, the model of education that made him a polished personality during that time..’ 

In promoting the policy, President Kumaratunga took a bold step and had the courage to face significant political opposition. The team entrusted with implementing the Policy had the determination to transcend multiple hurdles since there was backing by the Head of State.

The famous argument on why this proposal wouldn’t work was the issue of ‘lack of teachers’ proficient to teach English. There were even suggestions to bring trainers from overseas. 

These poorly-thought-out suggestions were made whilst excellent teacher training institutions existed (and still exist) in Sri Lanka. The four National Colleges of Education dedicated for English education from which about 600 English teachers pass out annually, the 30 Regional English Support Centres (RESC) distributed across every district, University English Language Teaching Units (ELTU) affiliated to Departments of English in Universities, and of course the premier institution mandated to train teachers, the National Institute of Education (NIE). There was no credible way that  an argument such as ‘where can we find trained teachers’ could hold. The Task Force for English at that time had experts on the subject and there was excellent support from  university academics.  But when governments changed in 2005 the enthusiasm dipped and gradually implementation slowed.

Fast forward to 2021: The same discussions are happening more than two decades later. More than 20 batches of students have left school since 1998. Political and other leaders have come and gone, and most of them have been able to give their own children an English medium education in school and university. They had the means and hence the choice. Private & International schools, and English tuition masters continue to flourish, levying fees from students who are denied English medium education in Government schools. Most of these international school teachers are also from Sri Lanka, but they receive intensive training from experienced trainers, again from Sri Lanka.

The current government which promised to renew English teaching and also English medium education, has again shelved plans. Once again, the same anti-English education lobby of two decades ago has won the battle.  It’s interesting how the same wheel turns, 20 years later.

Todays context: Although general enthusiasm on teacher training in English has lost its vigour, and there appears to be less energy, the same institutional arrangements remain. The current staff at the NIE and the Ministry still have interest to renew previous efforts. They too believe that the only way to leapfrog into a situation where English proficiency is accessible to ALL students and to not just a few children with means, is to keep training teachers over and over again, using modern material and audio-visual methods. Most of them believe that Sri Lanka has the capacity to train teachers in English teaching, on par with those with overseas experiences. 

Emulating Singapore: Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew (LKY)  transformed an insignificant port city into a model nation state. LKY’s actions were firmly grounded on the principle that he should share with the people of Singapore, what he himself benefited from, by creating  a level playing field for all Singaporeans. Like SWRD who was educated at Oxford, LKY had his higher education at the University of Cambridge, albeit 24 years later. In his book, “My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey”, , LKY  mentions the challenges the Education Ministry faced in 1975. How Chinese-medium schools existed for a decade after the policy was introduced, and how teachers had to painfully switch from teaching in Chinese to teaching in English, and how students had to transit from a Chinese medium of instruction to English, almost overnight. 

Dr Mahim Mendis’s recent article then reminds us, ‘…at the National Day Rally of 1986, LKY  claimed that he was  “.. a proud man that day”…  For the first time since Singapore’s independence, 21 years earlier, the Master of Ceremonies for the event did not have to use three languages – Chinese, Malay and Tamil – to lead the audience, as finally, English had become a language understood by all Singaporeans..’ 

Referencing the success of that tiny nation state is intentional. Today it’s almost a fashion to want to emulate Singapore in every way. Leaders of our Governments are quoted as saying that Sri Lanka ‘must become another Singapore’.  What we need to repeatedly remind ourselves is that, Singapore metamorphosised into what it is today, for one reason, i.e. that nation was built on a very solid and robust bedrock – namely the foundation of Education. The leaders of that country led by LKY invested heavily in making Education the most important currency of that country.

Any current or aspiring future leader of this country should always remember this.

*Dr Tara de Mel – former Secretary, Ministry of Education

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Latest comments

  • 15
    2

    “What we need to repeatedly remind ourselves is that, Singapore metamorphosised into what it is today, for one reason, i.e. that nation was built on a very solid and robust bedrock – namely the foundation of Education.”

    The above statement is only partially correct: The more important part is that Lee Kwan Yew was not a Chinese racist but he wanted to make sure of the equality of all the ethnic groups; Chinese, Malays and Tamils. He also made sure that his government provided a fair piece of the national cake to all the communities and meritocracy was valued as paramount.

    Sri Lanka from independence, on the other hand started with Sinhala Buddhist racism which has reached its height today after 73 years. Meritocracy was consigned to the dustbin long ago and now Sri Lanka has become nearly bankrupt unable to provide for even the basic needs of the population.

    As far I can see there is no dedicated Sinhalese leader even today who can rise above Sinhala Buddhist racism to make Singapore model possible here.

    Sad but racism, not respecting meritocracy and lack of rule of law are the causes of Sri Lanka’s fall to this pathetic state.

    English education is not enough to solve Sri Lanka’s ills: racism from the top must be eradicated first.

    • 1
      15

      Thiru,
      Talking about Sinhala Buddhist racism in Sinhale/Ceylon from the time this country gained Independence is utter rubbish. Before European colonial rulers colonized this country Tamils and Muslims who came from Hindusthan and settled down in Sinhale lived in harmony with Native Sinhalayo. Racism was introduced to this country by British and Tamil politicians that emerged in 1930s mastered it and used that to fulfill their political ambitions. G.G. Ponnambalam was the father of anti-Sinhala Buddhist campaign. He started his campaign by delivering a racially charged speech at Nawalapitiya in 1939 ridiculing Mahawamsa and denigrating the Sinhala-Buddhist culture, its history and the people. SJV Chelvanayakam who came to Sinhale from Malaya during British rule took it further by establishing the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (toned down as Federal Party in English) in 1949 which had as its hidden agenda the establishment of a separate state. Tamil racism culminated when Tamil politicians passed the Vaddukkodei Resolution to create a separate State for the Tamils in the North by grabbing a part of the country of Sinhalayo and declared war on Sinhala Nation.
      —-
      You guys are following the foot-steps of racist Tamil politicians and try to put the blame for the blunders made by Tamils on Sinhala Buddhists.
      —-
      “Sri Lanka from independence, on the other hand started with Sinhala Buddhist racism.”

      • 14
        2

        Americans speak English; sometimes even better than the English themselves ………. 74 million voted for Trump.

        Many Lankans whose English is magnificent ……… voted for the Rajapakses.

        What does excellence in a language bring? ………. Perhaps, not much ……. other than more tools to entrench one’s already stultified unexamined biases ……


        When I visited Sinhala_Man, Old Codger, …….. they said “Please come in and have a cup of tea.”

        When I visited Native Vedda, he said “Please come in and have a tea cup.”

        For me, that signifies the crux of this debate about English …….. A storm in a tea cup. :))

        • 4
          1

          Dear Nimal…

          Do you reckon any benefits of English proficiency in the SriLankan context including on the economic front?

          Would you say that the benefits can outweigh the uselessness of English proficiency in other aspects as you have rightly pointed out?

          • 8
            2

            Sugandh,

            “Do you reckon any benefits of English proficiency in the SriLankan context including on the economic front?”

            That’s a very difficult question for me to answer ………. kidding aside, I simply don’t have the knowledge/experience/expertise ……. I think Dr De Mel, Sinhala_Man, OC ……. as their comments/writings show would be better at it.

            We travel a lot ….. and have encountered many countries/societies/people where English is hardly spoken but still economically and technologically very advanced …….. perhaps, like OC says, these societies already had “a body of work” to fall back on.

            I am just flabbergasted by the “Germanic people’s” (for lack of a better collective term due to borders keep changing) contributions in all fields imaginable.

            The Japanese, hardly speak English but technologically and economically very advanced ….. now, China as well …….. likewise, many Scandinavian countries where people show Buddhist-behaviour without ever even knowing Buddha …….. have more unknowing-Buddhists than “Buddhists.”

            One thing I notice …… in those societies, the inability to speak English don’t have the stigma attached to it that one encounters in SL.


            In spite of LKY’s magnificent achievement …… Singapore is a terrible society, as Paul has said ……. I don’t even like to visit ……. their existence: battery-hens comes to mind ……….

            • 5
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              Appreciated your thoughts Nimal!…

              Can’t blame lack of proficiency in any language for our lack of social progress and economic failures!

        • 7
          1

          Thanks. Good sense of humour

    • 6
      1

      Thiru, obviously you have not experienced the contempt, rudeness and ridicule with which non-Chinese Asians are greeted in Singapore. Ask any housemaid.

    • 8
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      Lee Kuan Yew, when off guard, has said his own share of racist things. Most people do not know that side of his.

      • 6
        0

        Jaffna Man

        Many stories circulating since 1990s claims Mahatma Gandhi was a racist too.

        • 4
          1

          Part I of II
          I do not want to detract from or sidetrack the main article. Here are two quotations on Gandhi’s casteism from my book The Exile Returned in the 1990s and also in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
          1. Harijan, Vol. IV, December 19, 1936. Gandhi in his interview with the Missionary Dr. Mott: “I cannot help saying that the activities of the missionaries in this connection have hurt me. They with the Mussalmans and the Sikhs came forward as soon as Dr. Ambedkar threw the bombshell. …It hurt me to find Christian bodies vying with the Muslims and Sikhs in trying to add to the numbers of their fold. It seemed to me an ugly performance and a travesty of religion. They even proceeded to enter into secret conclaves with Dr. Ambedkar. I should have understood and appreciated your prayers for the Harijans, but instead you made an appeal to those who had not even the mind and intelligence to understand what you talked; they have certainly not the intelligence to distinguish between Jesus and Muhammad and Nanak and so on.”

          • 3
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            Part II of II
            Harijan, Vol. IV, No. 49. January 9, 1937. Gandhi, responding to criticism of his earlier piece: “In my conversation with Dr. Mott, at one stage of it I said, ‘Would you preach the Gospel to a cow? Well some of the untouchables are worse than cows in understanding. I mean they can no more distinguish between the relative merits of Islam and Hinduism and Christianity than a cow.’ Some Missionary friends have taken exception to the analogy. I have no remorse about the propriety of the analogy. There could be no offence meant to Harijans because the cow is a sacred animal. I worship her as I worship my mother. Both are givers of milk. And so far as understanding is concerned I do maintain that there are, be it said to the discredit of superior class Hindus, thousands of Harijans who can no more understand the merits and demerits of different religions than a cow. That after a long course of training Harijans can have their intelligence developed in a manner a cow’s cannot, is irrelevant to the present discussion.”

            • 2
              0

              Further to the above two, his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi came to Michigan to speak on Gandhi. I raised these with him and also Gandhi’s statement to the Guardian (Madras) of 7 Jan. 1937: “To approach the Palavas and Pariahs with their palsied hands and palsied intelligence is no Christianity.”

              He had heard of the first two, but not this. I sent him the reference.

              As I recall he said we all have two sides to ourselves and those who are good try to control their bad side.

  • 11
    1

    The debate on English medium education inevitably drags in notions of elitism and demotion of native culture, both Sinhala and Tamil. However, there is another side to this. It can be argued that the Japanese, French, Russians, Germans etc. have acquired advanced knowledge in their own languages, so why can’t we do the same? The simple answer is that all these people have an existing body of knowledge, and advanced literature in their own languages.Can we seriously claim that we have anything close to Goethe, Tolstoy, Curie, Pasteur….? We use the same word for ink and paint !
    Then there is the cultural baggage which is built into any language, which is clearly visible in the exaggerated respect that is given to the clergy here, and the unthinking faith placed in “indigenous” practices, from agriculture to medicine, even among those such as doctors and scientists.

    • 7
      2

      It is difficult to eradicate such backward attitudes without educating children from a young age in a secular atmosphere. That means that no child should be forced to (as at present) attend religious classes. Religion should NOT be compulsory. English has the largest body of knowledge available to us directly, without translation. Of course English too has cultural baggage, too. It doesn’t encourage respect for authority, rather it encourages the asking of inconvenient questions. This may not be to the liking of the powers that be, but that is no reason to be stuck in the Middle Ages.

    • 3
      1

      old codger

      “and the unthinking faith placed in “indigenous” practices, from agriculture to medicine, even among those such as doctors and scientists.”

      How about astrology?
      Astrology didn’t help Mahinda in 2015.

      Seriously both Mahinda and Gota look very sick.
      I can read their faces from afar, it is written all over their face.
      Take care.

  • 5
    5

    Dr. Tara, I totally agree that there is a better future if we revert to English education like Singapore. Even India reverted some time ago. Political votes survive with slavery not only to China but also prevention of global communication and intellectual advancement. Sangha too must have same opportunity, so they can teach dhamma in English. After Sinhala only policy, a priest shot Premier Bandaranayake. This will be a great upliftment of the village masses which god mimicking politicos dislike.

  • 7
    3

    Dr Tara De Mel,

    Management of Change is a skill

    English and more English is the need of the hour.

    Let us have English medium along with Sinhala and Tamil medium and the children given a choice to opt for English medium in selected subjects of their choice.

    English medium for all subjects other than their mother tongue could be considered at senior Secondary level.

    Care should be taken not to force English to unwilling children.

    • 3
      2

      Dear srikrish,
      .
      You’re right on all counts.
      .
      This link will take you to a description of the methodology upon which the efforts of Tara were centred:
      .
      https://www.english.com/blog/content-and-language-integrated-learning/
      .
      That is how it operates in State Schools. There is a range of possibilities.
      .
      In the International Schools, yes, you’re right, apart from English the languages of Sri Lanka ought to be taught, and may be Chinese, or Japanese. Once one European language (English) is taught, there is little purpose in teaching another. Not many of our Lankan International Schools understand that. They imagine that it is compulsory to teach French to be “International”.
      .
      What this approach does is to stress the utilitarian value of the foreign language. Are we concerned about Literature, and the like? Not very much when implementing this scheme.
      .
      However, this article may interest some:
      .
      https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/jun/19/novelists-issue-plea-to-save-english-degrees-as-demand-slumps
      .
      Children should certainly be allowed to learn what interests them; almost never forced.

      • 4
        1

        Sinhala_Man,

        Thanks for the link that had described the Methodology- Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)

        We, in the Northern and Eastern provinces had GTZ/GIZ funded STEPs programme – Skills Through English for Public Servants with the methodology -Task Based Participatory Approach, implemented by British Council with native English teachers from UK.

        In this methodology, teacher is only a facilitator who creates an environment for learning to take place and the students learn on their own in a participatory setting.

        It was a novel experience and I very much like to share my experiences with an English teacher like you..

  • 4
    5

    I wonder in what language they teach in Thailand, Japan China, N&S Korea.
    They do teach more English these days.
    But do they try to teach in English?

    • 2
      2

      I am with you.

      Soma

      • 5
        0

        soman

        “I am with you.”

        With who?
        With Dr Tara de Mel, nimal fernando, old codger, Sinhala_Man, Amit Shah, SJ (preferred medium of instruction would be Standard Chinese), ……………………. ,

  • 5
    2

    Switching the medium of instruction to English is a step too far, simply because SL hasn’t got the resources to do it. There aren’t many of our Sinhala_man types to be brought back from retirement to do the job. But effort has to go into raising competence in English at late secondary and university levels simply because that gives access to a lot of knowledge one cannot get in Sinhala and Tamil. But then suggesting it will get dismissed as coming from a “colonial mindset”, so we won’t progress on that front either.

    • 2
      2

      SAV,
      You’re quite right. There are hardly any competent English teachers nowadays, let alone those who can teach other subjects in English. It will take a generation to recover what was lost, since we can’t afford to import teachers.

      • 5
        1

        SAV and OC,

        If we wait for competent English teachers to launch a laudable programme, we have to wait eternally to reach the ideal and the time will never arrive.

        We will never reach ideal situation, but be satisfied with the real situation.

        Let us start with the available resources and build up slowly but steadily.

    • 4
      0

      Singar A. Velan

      “so we won’t progress on that front either.”

      Do you think the “noisy minority” want progress?
      Most countries that teach one or more foreign languages while keeping local indigenous language as medium of instruction are likely to develop faster than other countries which stick to one language parochial policy.

      Many countries slowly turning to English as medium of instruction, for example South Korea, Thailand …. a fact SJ is unaware of.

      What is amazing is that in this island though medium of instruction is in local languages 18 year old find it difficult to write properly without any error in his or her medium of instruction.
      Sinhala_Man
      Please forgive me if I am wrong.

      • 1
        0

        NV:
        “….write properly without any error in his or her medium…”
        Sadly, this is true. A small middle class is doing fine, but just beyond that quality drops off a cliff edge.

    • 2
      0

      Dear SAV,
      .
      There can be no question of my being again a class-room teacher, but there may be something that I can contribute in discussions.
      .
      It may be that some in my generation were taught effectively, but you must remember that such education was not for all. Actually, today, there are good young teachers, but they tend to be in the best-run “International Schools” which are outside the State System. Values certainly have changed – and that is true of every stratum in society.
      .
      Have you heard these two Sinhalese expressions: “guru mushtiya” and “wawagena kanawa”? This now applies throughout society. There is a selfish concern with ensuring continuing benefits for those who have knowledge. Almost none can escape it.
      .
      What is great about Tara is that she recognises that there has to be a team effort, and that young people have to be attracted into the profession, and trained. Let’s reduce nit-picking here; there is corruption that has to be exposed. If Tara makes some effort to contact me, and if she still has ways to get that corrected, we can work at it.
      .
      Most of what you and others have said is on the right lines. Three days more for discussion?

  • 6
    0

    Dear Dr Tara de Mel,
    .
    I’ve been teaching English all my life, mostly in the Education Ministry, but also in some other environments; I hope that you remember some comments that I made when you wrote another “Education Article” here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/switching-to-distance-elearning-too-little-too-late/
    .
    I have told you a lot there, and I could contribute much more; and we have met. It would be good if those who have already commented please look at what I said last year so that we could proceed from there.
    .
    There will never be the perfect forum to discuss issues of this sort, but on this site we understand something of the line pegged by each person – for instance, old codger seems almost an intimate friend although his name is concealed.
    .
    Your analysis is good: matters seem to be getting worse. However, for the first time in decades, we have a Minister of Education who is sufficiently steeped in learning to understand the issues. It is true that I have been critical of his role in politics, but there can be no doubt whatever that he is a scholar with special aptitudes for languages.
    .
    tbc

  • 5
    1

    PART TWO
    .
    I agree that our obsession with the glories of our Swabashas (it’s recently begun to dawn on me how much ahead Tamil is in that respect) has hindered progress, but I keep insisting that unless we treat with respect those who don’t currently have English, the hostility will continue. Almost everybody wants English, but then they discover not just a nasty streak in us, but the possibility that we don’t really want to impart actual mastery of English to them.
    .
    There’s much more that I want to say, but let me also see what others feel. If you take into account what I said last year, then there’s a lot that has already been said by me.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (NIC 48 3111 444V)

  • 2
    1

    Your focus on bilingual education has been lost after the change of Kumaratunga government. Thousands of unfit Sinhala and Tamil medium graduates have been given employment in the public service to minimize the pressure. The government of Gotabhaya Rajapakse understands the issue.

  • 5
    0

    Opposing to introduce English as a medium of instruction for primary education a former education Minister of Sri Lanka, mislead the people on UNESCO’s position concerning the issue during a recent TV interview programme. The Minister categorically said that UNESCO has advised to use only the mother language in the primary education, which is a blatant lie. He went on to say that Sri Lanka will be banished by UNESCO if we are going to introduce English as a language of instruction at the primary level. The poor journalist , who could have checked the UNESCO’s actual position on the issue before the interview, was not well informed to confront the Minister. (A very good reason as to why we should produce more bilingual journalists in our vernacular media to check actual facts.)
    UNESCO has not advised its Member States to limit the language of instructions only to the mother language at the primary level. What UNESCO advised exactly is the “early acquisition (in kindergartens and nursery schools) of a second language in addition to the mother tongue.” Moreover, UNESCO advised to… “further education in this second language at primary-school level based on its use as a medium of instruction, thus using two languages for the acquisition of knowledge throughout the school course up to university level.”

    TBC..

    • 5
      0

      This position of UNESCO is clearly mentioned in the resolution No. 30C/Res.12 unanimously adopted by all the Member States during UNESCO’s 30th biennial General Conference held in 1999. The question we should be asking is as to why since 1999 all the Education Ministers of Sri Lanka have failed to implement this important UNESCO resolution.?
      Below is the operational part of the above mentioned UNESCO resolution No. 30C/Res.12
      [UNESCO……] Recommends that Member States:
(a) create the conditions for a social, intellectual and media environment of an international character which is conducive to linguistic pluralism;
      (b) promote, through multilingual education, democratic access to knowledge for all citizens, whatever their mother tongue, and build linguistic pluralism; strategies to achieve these goals could include:
(i) the early acquisition (in kindergartens and nursery schools) of a second language in addition to the mother tongue, offering alternatives;
(ii). further education in this second language at primary-school level based on its use as a medium of instruction, thus using two languages for the acquisition of knowledge throughout the school course up to university level;
(iii) intensive and transdisciplinary learning of at least a third modern language in secondary school, so that when pupils leave school they have a working knowledge of three languages – which should represent the normal range of practical linguistic skills in the twenty-first century;

      TBC..

      • 4
        0

        (iv) an assessment of secondary-school leaving certificates with a view to promoting a grasp of modern languages from the point of view of communication and understanding;
(v) international exchanges of primary- and secondary-school teachers, offering them a legal framework for teaching their subjects in schools in other countries, using their own languages and thus enabling their pupils to acquire both knowledge and linguistic skills;
(vi) due attention in education, vocational training and industry to the potential represented by regional languages, minority languages, where they exist, and migrants’ languages of origin;
(vii) availability to teachers and education authorities of a computerized network, including a database, to facilitate exchanges of information and experience;
(viii) the establishment of a national and/or regional committee to study and make proposals on linguistic pluralism in order to initiate the necessary dialogue between the representatives of all professions and all disciplines so that they can identify the main lines of a language education system which is adapted to each country but which also facilitates international communication, while preserving the rich and inalienable linguistic and cultural heritage of humanity;
        (c) encourage the study of the languages of the major ancient and modern civilizations, with a view to safeguarding and promoting a literary education;

        • 3
          0

          You’re right, Wijayananda Jayaweera. It can now be seen that this notion of “mother tongue” was never sound; with globalisation, it should be possible to jettison it completely.
          .
          You have dealt with the issues adequately, but giving it only a “thumbs up” will be inadequate to stress how right you are.
          .
          Society must ensure “equal opportunity”, but it is some who will be in a position to make the best of the conditions around them. More later.
          .
          I’m not the best authority for getting into the details of psychology, but it is true that starting in infancy, language is acquired at tremendous pace with little effort in the pre-school years, and right up to puberty. Four or five languages can be taught, but they must be kept separate. Some parents arrange that; it depends on circumstances, and that needn’t necessarily mean money. Having pecuniary resources certainly helps.
          .
          In secondary school, languages have to be taught more cognitively.

  • 5
    1

    Thank you Dr. de Mel. You were a bold Secretary with ideas you pushed for. That worked. Today we do not even know who our secretaries are because they have no ideas behind which they stake their reputation.

    A matter that needed and still needs focus is English medium when the A. Level is the University admissions test.

    My daughter’ class was surveyed to see who wanted English medium. Close to 100 asked for it. Kandy High School made the arrangements.
    Grade 11, day 1 came. Only 13 showed up in the English medium class. WHY?
    The students who asked for English had been advised: “one mark often makes a difference to your university admission and to what faculty you go. When you struggle with language at the AL you will lose.”
    Educationists have been advising for years that university entrance must test many things and needs a separate process. But no one touches this hot potato. The AL remains only for cramming and we are stuck with dud graduates who move up to be dud professors

    • 4
      0

      Yes, Jaffna Man,
      .
      Many are the kids who sit most of their O. Level subjects in English. It used to be the case that Religion and History had to be done in the “mother tongue”. I don’t know whether that is still the case, but I don’t think I’m going to find out, either. Those Regulations have more amendments than J.R.’s blasted Constitution!
      .
      OTOH, the meaning of terms like “mother tongue” have to be carefully discussed, as Wijayananda Jayaweera has said.
      .
      But come A. Levels and most revert to the Swabasha, unless, of course, English is the de facto First Language.
      .
      All those who have commented have done so assuming that there are only two sources of knowledge available to children: school instruction by “teachers” and tuition by the horrors known as “sirs”.
      .
      Wake up! There’s all the informal learning from home & family; and the children who get that, also usually have ‘friends’ and still have time to ‘play’. Others ask what those are. This is where inequalities creep in, although only a few of the others have an explicit realisation of that factor.
      .
      Analysing all this tomorrow won’t be easy!

  • 3
    1

    Many have raised the issue of our deficit in qualified English teachers.

    We will have to leverage technology to make up for this deficit. It could be pre-recorded online lectures or language learning software or other technology based learning platform to teach the English language. This would also ensure a consistent standard of instruction across the country.

    In my opinion, teaching the English language is far easier than teaching any other language which I have attempted to learn or learnt.

    While read/write proficiency can be attained even much later in the schooling time frame, oral proficiency is better initiated as part of the elementary school curriculum to achieve better success.

    • 3
      1

      Sugandh,
      It seems that the advent of SMS on mobile phones enabled a level of English proficiency among many. Conversational English could be improved by allowing local TV to broadcast English soaps. But there are protectionist interests who wouldn’t like that.

      • 2
        0

        Dear old codger,

        Yes so true. Smart phones, messenger apps, and the ability to connect to social media apps etc too have opened up the users to the English language.

        There are children in affluent families learning English watching a whole slew of subscribed Children’s programs on TV, iPads etc. Impressive how quickly children pick up the language.

        But much of SL population is left out. That segment of population has been at a disadvantage during the pandemic related school shutdowns as many schools set out to keep up instructions through whatsApp groups.

        • 2
          0

          Dear oc,
          .
          Speech can be recorded on most phones today. Few do, until prompted by a fellow like me.
          .
          I’ve taught Phonology in the University (after Prof. Thiru Kandiah left, I’m the guy who had to teach it, since nobody else wanted to touch it. Mind, Professor Ashley Halpe could have taught it better than me, but there were other things for him to do).
          .
          Professor Sarathchandra Wickremasuriya was the man with qualifications in Linguistics, and he had excellent knowledge of many sections of it, but when I said that I didn’t know “all that much of Phonology” he’s the guy who told me that what I said still didn’t change the fact that I was still the best! He used to speak “villager English”, although he taught us Chaucer, the guys who developed the novel like Swift, Richardson and Fielding, and then James Joyce!
          .
          tbc

        • 0
          0

          Continuing
          .
          I was recording myself speaking on those huge open reel tape recorders when I was still a schoolboy. I also used to listen to the BBC on short-wave for hours. The result is that I sound terrible in my opinion, but even many Brits imagine that I must have had some of my education in their land.
          .
          I’ve never visited Old Blighty, of course. Here’s something that Tara will not know, although she was Secretary/Education in 2003. Having made a proper survey, the Ministry of Education decided that there were some guys who deserved at least a fortnight in England. I was probably top of the list in the whole island. I got myself a Passport, never used.
          .
          A pushy, fellow named Singanayagam, not possessing anything extraordinary by way of qualifications, who had been given supervisory work because we needed Up-country Tamils, sent off a petition saying that he should have been considered. Delay.
          .
          Then came the Boxing-Day Tsunami. CBK decided “no money for junkets”. Millions flowed into the country – is there any reader who doesn’t know where that ended up?
          .
          I see a hand going up. Can’t be a Lankan!
          .
          tbc

          • 1
            0

            Continuing
            .
            We guys were never taught elocution in school. However, there was a two-year gap between sitting my GAQ and entering the University. I was still English teaching in school; not the heaviest of time-tables, but I was press-ganged into “helping” the excellent Sinhala teacher who was required to teach A. Level Drama in what may have been a new syllabus in 1981.
            .
            The kids had to write about what Aristotle thought about a play called “Oedipus Rajjuruwo”. Now all that was Greek to everybody in Bandarawela. The text was there, but who knew about “Tragic Buskins” and all that? Even before the results came with me getting an “A” only for WCC, it was known that I could talk buskins. So, I did. Taught Oedipus Tyrannos in Sinhala, looking at a Penguin book.
            .
            tbc

            • 1
              0

              Continuing
              .
              Since I could disappear any moment into the University, in 1982 I was allowed to run “my library”, teach Drama in Sinhala in my way (Elizabethan as well, not confined to Shakespeare), and so forth.
              .
              About March a new fellow turned up, and didn’t like it that some guys had got on well with his predecesor, and declared that an “English Trained Teacher” was too important an asset to be wasted on such frivolous undetakings, but no real change took place before I left for Peradeniya in November.
              .
              Ah, but elocution. I was visiting a home where there were three sisters; teaching the elder two. When I was asked to teach the youngest, I baulked, asked them to get elocution taught. There was nobody in Bandarawela, I was told. I asked one of my many sisters, who had had elocution, ended up meeting Wendy Whatmore in Colpetty.
              .
              tbc.

          • 1
            0

            Continuing
            .
            Upto 1983, there were quite a few second-hand bookshops in Colombo and I used to run a library in schools where I worked with books purchased from them, plus quite a few that I received from the Asia Foundation. I used to collect 25 cents per term per child, and when I transferred (that happened only three times before I entered the University) the books were handed over to a student who promised to continue the private library.
            .
            Bandarawela M.V. was a very large school with a Hostel, but the Past Pupils refuse to turn into M.M.V. in common parlance. Here my penultimate Principal gave me school money and asked me to purchase only new books, with proper receipts, and run a rival library because “the Librarian” never lent books. It had been observed that when a small child wanted to borrow a translation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (Urumakkarayo) the fellow was asked to select something simpler. Then an A. level student tried and was told that the book was “unsuitable”.
            .
            How the guy knew that much was a mystery, since his boast was that he was dedicated to preserve those valuable books, although he hadn’t read a single himself!

          • 1
            0

            Continuing
            .
            There really was a person who went by that name, nee de Kretser. Her first husband had migrated to Australia, and there fathered Davenell Whatmore, who coached our National Cricket Team.
            .
            Wendy, having been told that a teacher from Bandarawela MV desired to meet her, allowed me in, but proceeded to rag me; she asked me what the “Resonator Scale” was. I didn’t know!
            .
            I had said that i had taught “Speech Theory” to some Teacher Trainees in 1974 and 75. I really had, on a programme called ESTEPEX. About twenty years ago, somebody said that he had met teachers who had been trained under that scheme, but never “a lecturer”. (I was called that!) Strange: some students were twice my age.
            .
            Anyway, I was allowed to join some schoolboys about fifteen years my junior, and completed my ATCL (Speech and Drama) in record time. Wendy was an excellent teacher; I couldn’t have done it without her.
            .
            tbc

    • 2
      0

      Dear Sugandh,
      .
      I take you seriously, but isn’t Spanish an easier language to teach?
      .
      To make the sort of statement that you have, one ought to have learnt many languages. I wonder at what age you learnt the rudiments of English. Your English is now excellent.
      .
      My English is good enough, but it is my de facto first language.
      .
      I think that I learnt both English and Sinhala as an infant. My English has developed to embrace all skills. My spoken Sinhala remains perfect, although I don’t have an advanced vocabulary. I read Sinhala rather slowly, and write it both slowly and clumsily. However, I used to admire My3 Sirisena five years ago because he speaks cultured Sinhala so well. Even today I have no prejudice against a guy who can speak only Sinhala.
      .
      Motivation is an important factor. I think that English is a messy language, and it is very difficult to teach in Lanka because the “kaduwa” factor persists.
      .
      I can make some sense of other European languages, but Dhivehi, the Maldivian language didn’t just get learnt, despite similarity to Sinhala, nor did I learn Arabic although I lived in a village where it was the only language used, except the bit of English that I taught using all sorts of aids provided by good Sultan Qaboos.

      • 1
        0

        Dear S_M:
        Interestingly Spanish was the first foreign language after English which I attempted to learn. What was extremely challenging for me was the pronunciation and so the advent ended rather quickly.

        I began learning English in a private English medium secondary school in India. It started with a big “F” at the end of the first term… But even then I was still able to recognize the hilarious pronunciation butchery by many at my school.

        In terms of English grammar and spoken English, I learnt the most during my professional years. This learning was mostly self taught. Perhaps for this reason, particularly within the context of using English in a technical and business environment, I think English is the easiest language to teach and learn. Of course I am still learning. Though secondary, it’s one of the motivations for participation here on CT.

        And who are you kidding dear S_M!? Your English proficiency is enviably super duper impeccable. I really truly wish I was a student of yours.

  • 3
    1

    We’ve got to focus on the benefits to be had through the education in English Medium. Sri Lanka has missed out on employment opportunities in the out-sourcing arena. Countries like Philipines, India have benefited immensely. Textbooks and the expertise to be gained are incalculable. I was in the last batch of students to be taught in English Medium. We did not have any textbooks in Tamil when the transition took place. That says a lot about SWRD, bloody moron.

    Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike (SWRD) benefitted from the Western Protestant ethic at St. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, and the University of Oxford. As a politician, SWRD became the father of the Sinhala Only Act, while knowing well that this policy would deprive the ordinary people, the model of education that made him a polished personality during that time.’

    His act was purely self-serving, and no other thought of any long-term benefit to the nation came into the equation. May he rot in hell. Even the blood spilled in Sri Lanka is due to this imbecilic act of the introduction of ‘Suya Basa.’

  • 2
    0

    Dear nimal fernando,
    .
    I’ve been kept rather busy today, but since you imagine that I have more knowledge/experience/expertise than you in this area, I’ll try to say a few more things before comments close on Saturday.
    .
    I’m setting some homework for you; Please make sure that you come up with some intelligent observations:
    .
    Read selectively this terrible article by me, and the comments, to learn something about the use of computers in education.
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/two-categories-of-presidential-candidates/
    .
    Many comments by me relating to computer use: Can you believe it that I have yet to meet this daughter of Evans the Cobbler?
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/human-right-to-quality-education-eight-demands-to-all-presidential-candidates/
    .
    Comments indicate how badly teachers are treated:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/presidential-election-the-multiple-crises-in-sri-lankan-education/
    .

    You will find here how the “Prestigious Private School” has a thug as Principal:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/does-legality-matter-at-all/comment-page-1/#comments
    .
    NPP survey of the Education Scene:
    .
    https://radiotelegraphically/index.php/presidential-election-the-multiple-crises-in-sri-lankan-education/
    .
    All emphasising the terrifying lacuna between planning and implementation.

  • 2
    0

    I feel that this article, too, threw up some interesting views on how languages are learnt, and on the extent to which societies assimilated new ideas:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/closing-the-gaps-in-our-cultures-heritage-histories-a-reassessment-of-arumuga-navalar/
    .
    This live article relates to the extent of miscommunication in the North of Sri Lanka:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-police-as-lords-the-tamils-as-serfs-the-case-for-provincial-powers-as-devolved/

  • 3
    0

    I think it was one Thiru who said:
    “Lee Kwan Yew was not a Chinese racist”

    Here is a speech of his I cited in my book “Professional Ethics: A human rights, internationalist perspective.” Cognella Press, San Diego, 2018.

    This is what Mr. Lee said:
    “I have said this on many a previous occasion: that had the mix in Singapore been different, had it been 75% Indians, 15% Malays and the rest Chinese, it would not have worked. Because they believe in the politics of contention, of opposition.”
    President’s Address, Debate on President’s Address, Parliament of Singapore (March 01, 1985)

  • 3
    0

    Dear Tara,
    .
    PART ONE
    .
    The comments are over; the responses have been satisfactory given that people are pre-ocuupied with so many other issues, and your article got buried in an avalanche of newer “Opinion articles”. My comment below was an attempt by me to attract reader attention, and three days ago, I emailed the link to many.
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/tamil-diaspora-rajapaksa-regimes-nemesis/
    .
    Yesterday morning I was pleasantly surprised when Dr Darshana Samaraweera responded to my ring; we chatted for 17 minutes. He said that he’s in touch with you, but he has no time to even look at this article, and we had to curtail the call because he had to get ready for a “Zoom Conference”. Please contact me through him or through Arjuna Parakrama. Hemamala is a friend, but I don’t have her contact details, and I couldn’t console when Mano passed away.

  • 3
    0

    PART TWO
    .
    Tara, you’ve been so steady and sincere in your commitment that I hereby anoint you an “Honorary Teacher”. It is the highest honour that you can be accorded, but the good that a teacher has done will not be evaluated by anybody.
    .
    There is no evidence of anybody having seen my last few comments, although I know that you will pay a visit when you know that newer comments are barred.
    .
    “Jaffna Man” is Professor Jeevan Hoole. Some things here (still live), may hold some interest:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-police-as-lords-the-tamils-as-serfs-the-case-for-provincial-powers-as-devolved/
    .
    I see that I have given that link already, and also the “Navalar link”. So, Au revoir.

  • 1
    0

    I hadn’t expected to make another comment, but suddenly CT had come alive, after I’d had the much needed post-prandial nap.
    .
    This video is amazingly significant to us, although I’ve listened only to half:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm6lWJc8KmE
    .
    I had been up all of last night, trying to bail out the honest author of this highly political article, partly because he somewhat naïvely wants to stand up for principles in a society that doesn’t seem to understand what principles are.
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-police-as-lords-the-tamils-as-serfs-the-case-for-provincial-powers-as-devolved/
    .
    I’ve scrolled up, and see that I seem to be stuck in a repeating groove of one of those gramophone records that were already obsolete in our salad days.
    *
    .
    The articles and the comments coming in are encouraging; the politics must undergo a sea-change ere we can do anything meaningful in a field as delicately complex as education.
    *
    .
    This article is by a totally honest man;
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/is-there-any-alternative-to-the-fuel-price-increase/comment-page-1/#comment-2398463

    *
    .

    Anybody trying to draw attention to his English idiom has got values mixed up. Honesty must come before linguistic sophistication.

  • 2
    0

    Yet another pleasant surprise; a new and seemingly serious articel on Education has just come on, and is, as usual with this subject, still awaiting its first comment:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/education-as-a-tool-for-community-building/
    .
    Let us hope that, during the ensuing week, we can have serious discussion of issues that are only now emerging. Incidentally, I’m very surprised that comments are still being accepted here.
    .
    However, there’s also a shockingly racist article by a seemingly erudite guy. Many rejections of the guy’s thesis already, but I think that there is time for me to comment there.
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/concerning-the-american-ambassadors-tweet-on-duminda-an-open-letter/
    .
    One obvious riposte would appear to be to throw back at him the fact that a critic of American foreign policy whom he respectfully refers to is Noam Chomsky. In what ways is Chomsky critical of mainstream politics in America? He represents “universalism”, but this author seems to represent Sinhala racism, which Chomsky has identified and condemned.
    .
    Let me submit this before it gets too late.

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