15 December, 2017

Blog

English: Our Way Or Their Way?

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Because of the colonial baggage it’s associated with, English as a language is both a hiramanaye and kaduwa. It allures us and distances us. We love it and are afraid of it. We want it but can’t have it. At the same time. Concurrently. English Our Way is the official policy regarding the teaching of the language in our schools, and I believe in our universities too. The concept as such is easy: Sri Lanka must get rid of its colonial baggage and that by being empowered to speak the colonialist’s language the way its people want. Warts and all. Taken it itself, there’s nothing wrong with this line of thinking. The proverbial devil, however, and as always, is in the details.

The problem with English Our Way, which I have written on elsewhere and have explored with unabated interest, is roughly the same problem with affirmative action policies, no matter how well structured and well intentioned they are, since at the end of the day both reward and even subsidise mediocrity. It’s one thing to praise your child when he or she plays the piano, it’s another thing to think of sending him or her to Juilliard even before the basics are picked up and mastered. English Our Way (which I will refer to as “EOW” hereafter) substitutes complacency for precision, encouragement for pedagogy, and, probably worse of all, staticity for dynamism. A language can’t be predicated purely on how a collective wields it, after all.

In Sri Lanka and at the outset, English is still very much a marker of distinction, status, and privilege, as opposed to ability. The irony is that language being a great leveller has almost always been used, not to communicate, but to divide. The bigger irony with respect to English, however, is that its function as a social divider is based on how it is spoken. Not how it’s read or written. That’s why we still haven’t produced a great prose stylist, a great poet or novelist or even playwright, in English. Snobbery is and always will be, when based on a language, dependent on how the snobs, or the “uppities” as I call them, articulate. Not on how they write, not on whether they’ve read, and not on whether they’re productive. It’s less a matter of learning to wield it at all than of learning to get through the elocution class.

A language is nothing if it isn’t made to live, to breathe. English, in our country that is, hasn’t been made to live and breathe for a long, long time, particularly at the hands of those who insist on speaking it for the purpose of social mobility. It’s largely a variant of my earlier argument for cultural modernity: if we don’t take to the world outside without losing our grip on our cultural sphere, we can’t progress one inch.

The problem with English here is that we are divided between the gama and the city. Those in the gama, proverbially speaking, are legitimately interested in gaining worldly knowledge (in terms of literature, philosophy, popular culture, etc) for the betterment of their society. They lack the requisite skills in lingua franca, however. Those in the city, again proverbially speaking, are less interested in worldly knowledge than in spawning their peers. They have those skills. It’s a division between those who can do but don’t have, and those who can’t do but do have. The one aren’t endowed but can do wonders, while the others are but, pathetically, can’t.

I am amused whenever those who lived and were educated at elite institutions before the 1956 election and revolt contend that they lived in peace and amity because there were no linguistic barriers: both Sinhalese and Tamil, and Muslims and Burghers thrown in for good measure, spoke the same language. English. What’s forgotten here is that inasmuch what transpired after 1956 was an uprooted social process, what existed before it could hardly be referred to as an arcadia. No less a person than Regi Siriwardena, who himself was no basher of English, called a spade a spade when he cogently pointed out the mistake of this pre-1956 generation: confusing their privileged childhoods for the notion, and myth, that a completely English education had done away with the interethnic rifts which were to emerge in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. It’s in this context that what happened after swabasha must be assessed.

Swabasha wasn’t a misconceived project, but like EOW, its intentions, laudable as they were, concealed certain deplorable flaws. The thinking behind the movement that bred swabasha, which was contorted politically to yield Sinhala Only, was that no nation was going to develop without coming to terms with its history, its heritage. On the other hand this did not and does not mean a rubbishing of the colonialist’s language, or for that matter his customs. Anagarika Dharmapala, that much vilified national figure, was therefore careful in differentiating between absorbing the West and aping it: for him, we were preoccupied with the latter, not the former. That is why, as records indicate, he went to the extent of teaching the Sinhalese to eat with a fork and a spoon. Malinda Seneviratne wrote on this and observed the following: “Acquiring the weapons of the enemy or in the very least picking up mannerisms [makes] it harder for the enemy to distinguish himself/herself from the ‘rabble’.”

Naturally then, swabasha never meant “letting go” of English. But that’s what we did. Those who were elected to power, who then transformed a much needed social process to a narrow-minded, chauvinistic political process, made it a habit to condemn the elite and the language of the elite while wallowing in it. They praised the game iskole, the sangha, veda, guru, govi, and kamkaru, while ensuring that their kith and kin didn’t go to that celebrated iskole but would learn their letters and obtain their higher education in the big city school and overseas. This dichotomy between practice and precept has been sustained all these decades. Sadly. One comes across them in very many speeches, by our officials, even today, when they speak about the wretched and the helpless. These officials aren’t bothered by the wretched and the helpless, of course: they just want to turn their sympathy for them into political mileage.

By letting go of the lingua franca we gave into what those we fought against – the elite theoreticians and ivory tower scholars – had wanted all along: a different and more insidious form of social discrimination. What swabasha did was to hide away social divisions without really hiding them. By temporarily consoling the underprivileged, 1956 repressed their concerns and anxieties and at the same time sustained those divisions which had been ailing them until then. The problem wasn’t with the movement, clearly, but with the people who had been elected to direct it. It was as much an attempt at levelling our society as it was at getting that society closer to the kind of cultural modernity, rationality, and industrialisation that the likes of the Anagarika here and Tagore there, during the Bengal Renaissance, had envisioned.

It didn’t take long for those concerns and anxieties, of the underprivileged, to re-emerge. There’s a symbiotic relationship in any country between the language of the discriminating minority, the language of the rabble, and the insurrections and revolutions such a rift provokes. It happened in Russia, where the mother tongue was discarded in favour of French (which readers of War and Peace will know is what the aristocrats speak), and it happened in Sri Lanka, twice: in 1971 and 1988. While it would be simplistic to root these in language barriers, they did have a say, and still have a say. Because those who are rather mediocre in the language fear it, they believe that their inability is a sign that it shouldn’t be learnt at all, which is why the children of 1971 and 1988 are the hardcore radicals the children of 1956, who were their fathers and mothers, were not. The latter were more often than not idealists, who genuinely believed that the country had opened up to them. It has not. Not yet.

So after all these insurrections and calls to arms, after the stalled revolution that was 1956 was aborted, what do have today? A program that teaches us that language standards are very many, that there is no one standard or yardstick which can be used to assess ability and mediocrity. I am no originalist, and when it comes to English there probably are several standards (Indian, Jamaican, Singaporean, etc) which can be coupled with and separated from its birthplace. But there’s a difference between those countries and ours. That difference, which I pointed out above, is that we are still carrying that burdensome colonial baggage. India has, for the most, let go of this baggage: that’s why they aren’t bothered with diction and accents and even elocution (the latter of which I studied, and was chastened by). They don’t have the English-as-she-should-be-spoke mentality we do, which is how they developed over the years.

To be sure, not everything in India should be emulated, after all theirs is a vastly different territory. But when it comes to the dissemination of English, which is so voluminous that it deserves a less sketchy treatment than mine, our neighbours provide a good starting point. Which is where I rest my case, for now: the more you give into the notion that mediocrity in a powerful language is alright, the more you give into the rift between the uppities and the underprivileged, between the have-nots and the snobs. Language is still potent, a divider as opposed to a leveller. It remains a sign of cultural hegemony. Even in India, and especially in Sri Lanka. English Our Way, by the looks of it therefore, may well be an extension, no matter how well paved with intentions the road to it is, of what we saw after 1956, 1971, and 1988.

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

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      There was a guy named Erich von Daäiken who wrote several books; the best known was “Chariots of the Gods.” ……. Later he was discredited for falsifying evidence to suit his claims.

      His basic premise and the underlying theme of all his books was “extraterrestrial influences on early human culture.”

      He claimed that in some primitive ancient cultures there were brief periods where inexplicable tremendous advancements were made ……….. He claimed, for such advancements, there could be no earthly explanation and the only explanation is that those cultures were visited by vastly advanced extraterrestrials.

      Some “evidence” he presented – to prove his point – was how these cultures had strange rituals that were so alien to their own indigenous culture. He said there were some tribes in the jungles of South America (or somewhere) that had passed-down special festivals to make offerings to the sky. So he claimed that was to the extraterrestrials who had visited their ancestors.

      Cont ….. below

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      cont ……….. from above…..

      To hell with extraterrestrials, this happened to us with the arrival of the Europeans especially the English.

      Although the aliens have left, now we have all these strange rituals passed-down by our ancestors who first made “contact.”

      It’s even worse in India, still there are schools there – first set up by the English – that still get boys to wear kaki kits and Rudyard Kipling kaki hats and do horse riding. For them time had stood still for 70 years after the Raj had left. And it has become a strange ritual to offer offerings to the ancient visitors.

      Eaton, Harrow …….. have moved on with the times while time has stood still for our schools – ones that were set up to emulate them – and what’s passed-down now from generation to generation is a very Sri Lanka-nised version of strange set of ancient rituals that have not even a remote resemblance to what they were supposed to resemble/emulate.

      What is our culture?

      Anyway, I’m off to visit my ancestors and be a quintessential Uncle Tom among the good old boys and old chaps. See you in a while ……….. gotta play the hand fate has dealt me ………. only thang I must make sure I play it well………….

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        Thanks, Nimal Fernando, I think you are quite right. When we generalise about our huge Northern Neighbour we forget about places like this, don’t we?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Doon_School

        I’m not sure that we have properly understood the details of the Bandaranaike background. The alumni of our “Roy-tho” schools do, perhaps unwittingly, allow bits of distortion. At S. Thomas’ it is held that Dr N.M. Perera had some of his education there.

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      Uditha Devapriya

      ” It was as much an attempt at levelling our society as it was at getting that society closer to the kind of cultural modernity, rationality, and industrialisation that the likes of the Anagarika here and Tagore there, during the Bengal Renaissance, had envisioned.”

      Rabindranath Tagore was “no match” for a roaring lion Anagarika homeless Dharmapala.

      Was Tagore a public racist?
      Did Tagore support fascists?
      What kind of country did Tagore dream about?
      What was Tagore’s contribution to nation building in his country?

      Please read the following:

      “The widely held conception of the central role of the monks in precolonial Sinhala Society is a myth that was invented by Anagarika Dharmapala the founder of Buddhist modernism, and fostered by later advocates, both monk and lay. Monks did play a social role in precolonial times, and that role changed within a pattern of broad continuity, but it is nothing like the one that Dharmapala invented.”

      The Work off Kings. The New Buddhism in Sri Lanka (page 27)
      By Prof H L Seneviratne

      Uditha Devapriya

      Please try compare like with like.

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    ” They praised the game iskole, the sangha, veda, guru, govi, and kamkaru, while ensuring that their kith and kin didn’t go to that celebrated iskole “
    Ironically enough, the word iskole itself is of Portuguese origin.
    “To be sure, not everything in India should be emulated, after all theirs is a vastly different territory. But when it comes to the dissemination of English, which is so voluminous that it deserves a less sketchy treatment than mine, our neighbours provide a good starting point. “
    A good starting point would be to get down English AND science teachers from India. Our English standards have fallen so low due to mediocre local graduates teaching even more mediocre students. Just compare a quality Indian newspaper like the Hindu with one of ours . Some run a daily errata column on very minor errors. I pity our students who read the “Daily News” to learn English!

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      Have you noticed the peer reviewed articles published in most of the international journals in advanced science, engineering and medicine are now being edited by highly qualified English language editors in India? After the IT, India silently got the English language editorial works that cannot be challenged by China in near future.

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    Uditha submits ~ “…………………Swabasha wasn’t a misconceived project, but like EOW, its intentions, laudable as they were, concealed certain deplorable flaws. The thinking behind the movement that bred swabasha, which was contorted politically to yield Sinhala Only, was that no nation was going to develop without coming to terms with its history, its heritage…………..”.
    The 1956 SWRD B “Sinhala Only in 24 hours” was to satisfy his ambition to be PM – he succeeded here. Another purpose was to disempower the minorities – he succeeded! Lankans (Ceylonese then) thought that “Thupahi Culture” will be gone – this was not to be!
    The children of SWRD B had their education in Europe. This is very much like the talk of last week “Republican Tim Murphy, an anti-abortion politician who allegedly urged his mistress to have an abortion when he thought she was pregnant, is resigning from US Congress”.
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-06/tim-murphy-resigns-from-congress-following-abortion-scandal/9021654
    SWRD B family rode the ‘Sinhala Only wave’ but resigning was never ever considered.

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      KP
      “The children of SWRD B had their education in Europe.”
      Not when SWRDB was alive.
      He may have liked the children to have their higher education in Britain, but that is speculation.
      *
      Daughters Sunetra and Chandrika were at St Bridget’s Colombo to finish school and Anura was at Royal College. All went abroad for university education.

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        Mr. SJ,
        “Daughters Sunetra and Chandrika were at St Bridget’s Colombo to finish school and Anura was at Royal College. All went abroad for university education.”
        It is rather telling that none of them went to Ananda or Visakha, isn’t it?

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          Dear Raman,

          I think that SJ’s observation is the one that matters, although it is useful to have some fine tuning by you and me.

          Sunethra and Chandrika attended the school that their mother had attended. Is it really important for us to have someone delving in to the details of proximity to Rosmead Place, etc? Royal for Anura? Was S. Thomas’ too far away, or what? Yes, SWRD was at S. Thomas’ – for how long, I wonder? Wasn’t he mostly educated at Horagolla by British tutors? I’ve just not delved in to these things.

          Ananda? We could go on and on! It’s only relatively recently that I made a point of getting to know Dr Vikramabahu Karunaratne, whom I had long admired. He made the point that the school he entered as a ten or twelve year old was not a Government School to be entered after winning a Grade Five scholarship. It was a Buddhist School, he said proudly.

          Those were the days when Buddhists actually existed in Sri Lanka (and I guess Burma).

          Seriously, though, what we now have is the State controlling things that it cannot possibly handle, and so, you have this impersonal standardised education that inspires none, PLUS corruption and distortions in many of the most prestigious places.

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        SJ

        “Daughters Sunetra and Chandrika were at St Bridget’s Colombo to finish school and Anura was at Royal College. All went abroad for university education.”

        The racist weeping widow has nothing to do with her children’s education abroad.
        Blame Sambandan and Federal Party.

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          Native, very unfair, of all the leaders since 1970 she was the best leader we had.If her policies were followed we would not have been in this plight.In following her policies one would have to tone down those policies not kill them as her successor JRJ did.JRJ and Trump are from the same hoe, both destroyed and destroys what good was done by their predecessors – In case of JRJ Mrs B and Dudley and in the case of Donnie boy, that of Obama and George Bush.
          She was not racist, she kicked out a Buddhist monk who had built his Temple at Tunmulla and also had the guts to order the police to enter a mosque when the thugs went into the mosque.
          She was the last person to allow one of her MPs to be prosecuted for murder and finally he was punished during her period.
          Punchinilame after running a six inch nail into a boys head only lost his seat in the parliament.The people who were photographed attacking a naked Tamil and said to have set fire to him was never prosecuted.
          The weeping widow was way ahead of her successors.

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            sathsidu ganasara

            After reading your Mahawamsa of the weeping widow I am beginning to suspect your sanity. Well one has to put up with all kind of crap.

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          Dear NV,

          Aren’t you being a bit harsh on the “Weeping Widow”? In her time there weren’t any actual pogroms.

          The Sirima-Shastri pact: I remember the heartbreaking crying at railway stations as families were separated owing to forced repatriation. But it did solve a problem without all the mayhem that there was in May 2009. Shouldn’t we now forget all that period now; there’s almost nobody who is still suffering from that by now.

          I was trying to say something about it here:

          https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/bond-scam-ags-department-silenced/comment-page-1/#comments

          This is all so complicated! Thanks NV, for your consistent concern about all these matters. At least that concern is a positive.

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    The English articles in Sri Lankan newspapers are written so badly written that it is painful to read them. The out-migration of locals proficient in the language, and the availability of
    better-paying and less life-threatening jobs keep those skilled in it from journalism as a profession.

    While I agree with you that Indians perceive English as a tool for its practicality as a lingua franca than as a social marker, in all countries there are class differences expressed through the spoken language.

    In England itself, up until the 80’s even, the BBC newsreaders had a very specific accent; one did not hear Cockney/the Irish brogue or any other accents spoken in the UK.

    In the US, Southerners who move to northern cities change their accents intentionally (called “code-switching”) in order to not be perceived as “southern trash” (lower class Southerners). African American climb the social ladder do likewise.

    The same goes in India, listen to the accent of actresses like Sushmita Sen or Lara Dutta (upper class) vs. Kangana Ranaut (not elite).

    I think people all over the world use language and accent as social markers. However IF we are able to make sure that the democratic process brings ALL the different speakers to the same table to make policies, then we can overcome the problems of language-based discrimination. It’s a tough task, but the US has been successful at doing that so far. We’ll have to see how the current administration changes that country.

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    The English articles in Sri Lankan newspapers are so badly written that it is painful to read them. The out-migration of locals proficient in the language, and the availability of
    better-paying and less life-threatening jobs keep those skilled in it from journalism as a profession.

    While I agree with you that Indians perceive English as a tool for its practicality as a lingua franca than as a social marker, in all countries there are class differences expressed through the spoken language.

    In England itself, up until the 80’s even, the BBC newsreaders had a very specific accent; one did not hear Cockney/the Irish brogue or any other accents spoken in the UK.

    In the US, Southerners who move to northern cities change their accents intentionally (called “code-switching”) in order to not be perceived as “southern trash” (lower class Southerners). African American climb the social ladder do likewise.

    The same goes in India, listen to the accent of actresses like Sushmita Sen or Lara Dutta (upper class) vs. Kangana Ranaut (not elite).

    I think people all over the world use language and accent as social markers. However IF we are able to make sure that the democratic process brings ALL the different speakers to the same table to make policies, then we can overcome the problems of language-based discrimination. It’s a tough task, but the US has been successful at doing that so far. We’ll have to see how the current administration changes that country.

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    My experience is when many leaders as well as citizens comes from the stronger countries in the world, they do not know english. but, in Sri lanka, if we do nit know proper and grammetical english, that is a shame. On the other hand, there are over 100 english dialects in the world. If you go to India different communities pronounce english in different ways. IT is the same in different parts of London, as I heard my fiar LADY, and also when you comepare american, australian, Irish or Scottish etc., English is different when you talk legal english and day to day english etc., Other than that, english Philosopher Bernard Shaw valued Sanakrti and he had said, What would we do if Sanskrit was not there. Sankrit is a complete language. that is why, MAY BE, NASA is exploiting Sanskrit as a computer language. english became important only when British came and settled here. Other than that, do not estimate Sri lankan buddhist monks before the colonial invasions, As monks were the educated, they knew more than one language- Sihala, Sanskrit, Pali, Burmese and some other Indian languages. Even to date, english won’t be that useful as world turns to business and Hindi and chinese become more useful than english. English has lot od technical journals in that language though it canturn around one day. In here, people who knows only english are learning other languages. Some whites are good at eating Lunumiris and Katta sambol which I cannot do.

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    I was very happy to see, yesterday, that Uditha Devapriya, who is so fastidious in his own writing of English as to prove to me that although he sincerely wants to hold on to his Sinhalese roots, his prime concern in his short life has been to master the use of this foreign language. I could well understand the exasperation of some comments from those in the North wondering why he seems to keep writing exclusively about major Sinhala cultural figures in a forum where few of the readers are going to start listening to Nanda Malini. There can be no doubt about the value of Nanda M., but let her be enjoyed without intellectualising that entertainment.
    _

    Let me hope that he keeps writing on the subject that he is now on. It is very important to hear the voices of young people like him. He’s fortunate in that he is a young guy who appears to be in control of his destiny. Having made this initial statement, I will confine myself, for now to making a few desultory “comments on comments”, which will therefore appear above this on the page. Having been fated to be a “game iskole mahattaya” myself, I’m familiar with the issues.

    These observations I will have to continue in a Second Part . . .

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      Please permit me to draw your attention to the very first sentence that I wrote on this article: the sentence commencing, “I was very happy to see . . .”. It is a muddle, and ought to be re-cast if it it is to be grammatically correct. I start with a subordinate clause, then I launch on what is supposed to be the main clause, but I haven’t ensured that it has a suitable verb. I guess that some meaning has got conveyed, but, given the subject under discussion this is just not good enough!

      *

      Does that mean that I don’t know English? No, by no means. It was a careless mistake, and I’m to blame. Our students, knowing no better, try to master all the rules of grammar, and it is very easy for teachers to keep teaching them “Rules”. That will never allow them to USE the language. Nobody has been so cruel as to point out to me the mistake that I have made. I am to blame, but there is a difference between my mistake, and ERRORS that occur because the user of a language just doesn’t know how something has to be said.

      *

      Yes, so if we go on ignoring the need to adhere to certain norms in our use of language, what we say is soon going to get incomprehensible, and that is happening just now not just to English, but to Sinhala as well. I wonder how Tamil is faring? That question mark is “unnecessary” but it has a function. Not a mistake!

      I keep referring to the Tamil language which I don’t know, because it is one of the languages of our country, and has to be respected as such. I “know” that it is a highly developed language. The Veddah language matters, but not in quite the same way.

      There is a moral dimension to everything!

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        SM,
        “Our students, knowing no better, try to master all the rules of grammar, and it is very easy for teachers to keep teaching them “Rules”.
        You flog yourself too much. I write tolerable English (?), but I wouldn’t know a subordinate clause if I tripped over it. The best way to learn English is not by rules, but the three R’s- Reading, Reading, and more Reading.

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          Dear “old codger”,

          Absolutely. What an incredible amount of reading I did as an adolescent, and there were quite a few others who were with me in school. And you, undoubtedly another.

          But even in our time about half didn’t read, did they? Unfortunately very few read today, and it’s not going to be easy to change that. Uditha Devapriya is one of the very few of his generation. And the next?

          *

          My daughter has given me two grand-daughters, aged 4 and 2. My daughter has stopped working, and has become a full-time mother. No live T.V. either for herself or her husband. Those kids may become serious readers, but not many parents will be willing to pay that price.

          *

          What solution can we present for the vast majority of kids who are allowed too many distractions? As individuals we can shrug off our responsibility, but how is the System of Education going to cope with the responsibility?

          *

          Mind! I started off saying that I have no solution. I think that Uditha should be himself, and try to promote English reading, and whatever culture he personally values most. He wants us to listen to Nanda Malini because for anglophiles like us, that would be the “intellectual” thing to do, but I know that he loves the music of Brahms, with this being his favourite work:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QS6b8JKzUeo

          I’ve been downloading these on to pen drives, and they then play on the large T.V. that my daughter has, with the grand-kids getting familiar with cellos and french horns.

          *

          I wonder if the kids will grow up to be as eccentric as their “Seeya”, though.

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    Continuing . . .

    I’m very happy that Uditha has rejected the notion so commonly held that all problems in this country are the result of what one man (Bandaranaike) is SUPPOSED to have done in 1956. It is very necessary that all who consider themselves educated should come to terms with the events that centre upon that period. I won’t attempt the analysis, and I’m wondering how the results of such an analysis are to be made part of the ethos of our country.

    Let me stop there since I think that the solutions must be found by younger people. I hope that the comments I make above will not be considered snide by readers. What I feel that I know, I think it my duty to say.

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      Dear SM,
      I believe that education in the mother tongue was introduced in the 1940’s by Kannangara, in State Council times. So it is unfair to blame SWRD personally for the present situation. He was only riding the wave , and the UNP too was part of it.
      Falling standards are not something new. I have a Prize Day speech by a College head, griping about imminent swabasha etc. It was my father’s school, and the year is 1936!

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        Dear OC

        Sinhala certainly deserved a better place and recognition than what
        the ruling Brits afforded it at that time of history. But, while SWRD, the anglophile suspected his decision to plunge the country into the dark unknown is courting trouble, nonetheless, the temptation of
        political power and settling scores with many in the UNP power-structure – took the better of him. The rest is history and a once lovely and united nation and land is in the doldrums – perhaps not to see normalcy and lasting peace for long – certainly not in our time.

        If someone thinks English will be the panacea to all our current ills, I beg to differ.

        Backlash

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          Banda’s – and the grievous error of the Apey Aanduwa crowd in the late 1950s was – they threw the baby with the bath water and have
          since tried to right the wrong. It cannot be done. Merely bringing in
          English teachers from India will not do. Learning good English, as a tool to get ahead in the world, is not from books and schools only.
          One has to have the right atmosphere – at home, school, playing areas. The splendid English we produced was the combined effort of all of these. Some of the leading private schools – International Schools, if you like – have succeeded in some way. But the problem here is you create a new class here. And that can be counter-productive in a country seething with politics from dawn to dusk.
          Look at the immense suffering Dr. Neville Fernando undergoes ??? All that for creating an opening to some of our talented
          future Doctors!!! Or is it the country suffers a continuous curse from 1956.

          Pandaranayagam

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          Dear Backlash,
          “If someone thinks English will be the panacea to all our current ills, I beg to differ.”
          No, certainly not . But English brings with it a certain baggage, a broader world-view among other things, which could get us away from this morass of superstition, religious bigotry and pseudo-patriotism.
          I leave you to guess what Swabasha’s baggage is.

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            Dear “old codger”,

            Pandaranayagam has said this:

            “But the problem here is you create a new class here. And that can be counter-productive in a country seething with politics from dawn to dusk.”

            I, too am afraid of us bringing up children who are either rather too sensitive, or who feel superior.

            *

            If you say that I’m being masochistic, I will have no real counter, but when we think of society as a whole, what ARE we going to give them?

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              Sinhala_Man,

              One way out to expose the hypocracy of our politicians is to re-do the education system in allowing parents to decide the language their children are taught in. The answer will be most of them will chose English – including the fake Sinhala nationalist parents. Naturally, Sinhala and Tamil children will learn their mother tongue. But, like the previous years of the pre-1960 period most subjects will be in English. Why not?

              The problem will be the large number of teachers required. Here India and other English-speaking countries can make a contribution. If the salaries are good enough locals with English teaching capabilities may will come in. Will our corrupt political system provide enough funds for the Education Ministry budget? Singapore’s English-centric education, with well-paid teachers, is a
              tremendous success because of the large sums voted into education there.

              There is no other way. Naturally, a few hundreds of our Buddhist mobs – a.k.a. monks – will take to the streets joined by
              rent-a-crowd mobs. But that has to be expected.

              Pandaranayagam

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                Dear Pandaranayagam,

                Yes, the mobs of Buddhist monks, who by definition cannot have children of their own to educate, must be firmly put in their place. It’s good to start with something that we can agree on.

                Today all parents HAVE the freedom to choose the medium of their education – provided that they have money. This may seem a naive statement to younger people who have no memory of how things were when all was controlled by the State in the 1960s.

                *

                We’ve said enough about some considerations, and let them be expand on by others. However, I don’t know whether you have any idea of the NUMBERS involved when we talk of allowing education for ALL.

                *

                Our own people who know English are leaving the country in droves. Can we justify bringing foreign teachers unless we are willing to attract to the profession Sri Lankans who are competent? What then happens to salary structures within the teaching service? As it is even, there are many very competent and dedicated Swabasha teachers who have a right to resent the low esteem in which THEY are held. Salaries reflect how much people are valued.

                I know that many countries (irony: that includes Sri Lanka!) have some persons who use English very well, but as Nimal Fernando pointed out very early, they belong to a social class that will not come here for peanuts, and will never go in to our Estate Schools (the least privileged) or in to Village Schools (the Sinhala ones of that category being the most politically sensitive).

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                Continuing . . .

                I allowed two full days to go by before making my first comment, since I knew that I could prove a wet blanket.

                *

                Have you noticed that the last comment by others in proper sequence has been that of Percy a full 24 hours ago? And he’s an obviously intelligent guy who’s given up in despair. We now have only comments on comments. It would be good, if any further comments come from you, that they should appear right at the bottom, with fresh thinking. I don’t want to repeat the link that I have given to my own experience; it will become a joke.

                By now, half the comments are by me. What I know, I have already said.

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        OC
        You are right about when education in the mother tongue was mooted.
        Education in the mother tongue until around 1960 was, however, not implemented in the mother tongue for the science stream.
        Also there were people having their entire education in the English medium in some schools at least up to 1960.
        Many confuse the Sinhala Only issue and the medium of instruction issue.

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          SJ

          “Many confuse the Sinhala Only issue and the medium of instruction issue.”

          It was Federal Party’s fault.
          There was no confusion between Sinhala Only and the Medium of instruction. It was crystal clear to every Tom Dick and Harry. Soon after the Sinhala Only act was passed in the parliament everyone one who worked for the government was expected to work only in Sinhala language though Banda was slow to enforce it the weeping widow made sure the new language policy was enforced in Tamil Speaking areas as immediately as was possible. She sent her trusted civil servant to North overseeing the implementation of Sinhala language forthwith.

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          The last batch of Sinhalese and Tamil students that was allowed to sit O. Level Science was in 1964.

          However, Burghers and Muslims were allowed to study in the English Medium ALMOST until J.R. reversed it all in 1977. Yes, the same J.R. Jayawardena who had undertaken the March to Kandy in 1958, which put paid to the Banda-Chelva pact.

          It may sound somewhat racist for me to say that the 1960s Minister of Education, Badi-ud-deen Mohamed, saw the possible benefits for the Muslim community. But it is an objective fact that today it is the Muslim community more than any other that is fluent in English. What sort of English? Ah, that is what Uditha D. is trying to explore, I guess, for all that Percy complains that “he is unable to convey a coherent message.”

          SJ, do you sometimes wonder whether having two highly developed native languages became a curse to the country? We so much wanted our culture – unlike Singapore.

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            SM,
            ” Badi-ud-deen Mohamed, saw the possible benefits for the Muslim community. But it is an objective fact that today it is the Muslim community more than any other that is fluent in English. “
            You are perfectly correct. Two good examples are “Shay” on MTV and Sharifa Thahir on Rupavahini. Both do their homework well, have no fake accents and are hard to beat.

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            Sinhala_Man

            “SJ, do you sometimes wonder whether having two highly developed native languages became a curse to the country?”

            Sinhala as well as Tamils youth/children/students had an easy ride while their politicians were embroiled in language war. In fact kids should have been forced to study minimum of four or five languages. And I am sure youth/children/students could have mastered all four or five languages. The question is resources. If the state and government could find resources to fight JVP and LTTE, surely they could have found amble resources to invest in the future generation.

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    Iam afraid I am unable to understand the written word of this writer. Whether he is getting his metaphors mixed or whether he just lacks depth in his thinking,he is unable to convey a coherent message. Do other readers feel the same.

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    Dear “Old Codger”,

    You have said above that “A good starting point would be to get down English AND science teachers from India.”

    As a statement to startle those who are complacent, this is fine. However, is this going to be the solution?

    *

    Yes, we have to face up to the fact that as in many other areas the country is floundering. However, if we accept that statement of yours, we will have to hand the entire country over to somebody else to run.

    The problem is that all our young people who are capable of performing in any field are hell bent on going abroad. They just don’t stay here and contribute. This now appears to apply to every field. I have already welcomed the attention that this young author has drawn to the fact that we are using English in any way we wish to and that there are, broadly speaking, two varieties of English used in our country; the variety spoken in the “city” and that spoken in the “gama”. But he had already made the point that English is a “social marker”. That is more accurate.

    OC, all the statements that you make are sincere, but when you state that we’ve got to bring Science teachers also from India, I fear that you overlook the the fact that 90% of our students are still studying in the “swabasha”. Whom is the Science teacher going to teach?

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      Dear SM,
      ” However, if we accept that statement of yours, we will have to hand the entire country over to somebody else to run. “
      Sometimes I seriously think that would be a good idea.
      ” I fear that you overlook the the fact that 90% of our students are still studying in the “swabasha”. Whom is the Science teacher going to teach?”
      Well, I know that IT and Medical students as well as Science students have to take courses in English when they get into campuses. No amount of Swabasha will keep them up to date.
      I am NOT advocating that all should learn to speak like Colonel Blimps. No, what is needed is ability to function effectively in English, especially reading. Thanks to IT, there are now limitless sources of up-to-date information.
      Swabasha “learning” in cram-shops only produces memorizers with a very narrow vision and people who rubbish the scientific method as some Western plot. Read Dr. Siri Gamage’s take on the matter in this forum . One of my neighbours, a graduate principal of a Govt. school, recently inquired from me quite seriously why the Sinhala Kings did not use the abundant water supply to produce electricity in their time? This indicates that the poor man had no idea of the timeline of hydro-power or when and where the technology developed, which is something even an Arts grad should know.

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        Dear OC,

        Almost every young graduate wants to be able to claim that their University studies were in “the English Medium”.

        *

        In actual fact, far too many of the students from rural Maha Vidyalayas end up having to concede that they understood almost nothing of the lectures and had to attend “kuppi classes”. And, of course, the lecturers wouldn’t have known much English, either. This is part, at least, of the reality. When I say this, please appreciate the fact that I have spent 29 years in the Education Department (where I was berated for my awkward Sinhala writing), and most of my teaching has been in Maha Vidyalayas in Uva.

        *

        As for the schools I studied in, too many of the younger guys whom I meet at Old Boys gatherings (where I am usually the oldest) come up with the a priori argument that since I’ve been a “game iskole mahattaya” I cannot possibly know good English. They and I speak different brands of English – that’s part of the problem.

        *

        Knowing English is not enough; one must have wealth to go with it. Just today, I told a young guy that it was disgraceful for us to have used a helicopter to take the rival captains from the S. Thomas’ Bandarawela Grounds to the Municipal Grounds for the toss with a gold coin before the commencement of the Uva Thomian Cricket Encounter. The distance by winding road is 2 miles. He told me that it was personal money that was used.

        *

        Politicians dominate our thinking, and even our schools. Even at Mt Lavinia. I remember some exchanges that I had on line in the Sunday Leader about the doings of the Rajapaksa siblings with a sycophantic woman.

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    Continuing . . .

    We surely have to put the entire country right. Perhaps we have to teach History in a clear and objective way to show our young people that they can’t all migrate, and that we are not going to be welcome elsewhere. We must quite simply stop quarrelling here and put our house in order. Ultimately, we must learn how to think clearly.

    *

    Once more it boils down to putting the country right; let us recognise the fact that it is the corruption that is endemic in our system that has got us in to this mess. In my initial comment I stated that I would leave the analysis for younger people to make, and that dear, respected OC, we must let them do. There are enough young people in the country who know English, but they just don’t become teachers. What do we do about it? You are conscious mainly of what has happened at the top: about the crisis in the elite schools. That I have analysed here, and nothing has yet happened:

    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-thomian-pharisees-are-unrepentant-why-this-matters-to-all-sri-lankans/

    That was the last of three articles that I wrote, and I must thank you OC, for the kind comments that you made there. That related to the crisis among some of the most prestigious schools of the older sort. I’m quite simply holding my fire on those problems, hoping that there will be resolution, but nothing has emerged so far.

    *

    Then there were many articles on some schools in the North:

    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/crisis-at-uduvil-girls-college-jaffna-a-report/

    That is just one of many articles. I tried to say what I knew.

    To be continued . . .

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    Concluding these cogitations . . .

    However, before anybody else point it out let me be the first to say that these schools, however prestigious are just the handful of Anglican Schools. There are other Christian Schools – mostly Roman Catholic. I’m less familiar with the problems there.

    These schools have begun to matter less because of the sort of schools that the author, Uditha, has attended: those loosely referred to as “International Schools”. They are of various sorts. What they have in common is that they are not recognised by our Ministry of Education.

    *

    And then there are those schools that the vast majority of our students attend and that must be considered the ones that really matter: the Vidyalayas, and the Vidyalayams. Media: Sinhala and Tamil. We spend huge amounts of money on them – and what happens there?

    *
    This listing will be incomplete without mentioning the Private Tutoring that takes place after school. A few things that I know of, I have talked about. I’d like to know what others think.

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    I am sorry I can’t understand this. What is the writer trying to convey ? To me it seems that it lacks a message and depth of thinking. Just trawling but not catching anything! Waste of time trying to read this!

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      Dear Percy,

      I think that I get what you mean. I hope that you have not got exasperated with me as well.

      *

      I feel that it is just not possible to ensure only that the “right” sort of English is taught, which is what the writer has made his theme. Having been a teacher of English myself I understand that to be what he’s talking about.
      The comments mainly focus on the fact that English is not NOW properly taught. What lies behind my comments is the realisation that we NEVER were giving good English to our entire society, only to a section. The rest of the country was still in its medieval sleep, and were content with their lot. This could not last for ever. Bandaranaike saw the opportunity to capitalise on this fact, hastened the process, and then lost control.

      *

      Please find out for yourselves, Readers, (Percy probably knows this himself) what Sir John was saying by the time the 1956 elections came round and the writing was on the wall for him. Also, why the shrewd J.R. Jayawardene undertook his march to Kandy, which was stopped at Gampaha.

      To be continued . . .

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    Continued . . .

    We cannot put only Education right. So few of us are willing to really learn, and to admit our own mistakes. Please note that I’m not trying to find fault with people like “Old Codger” who are wonderful people, undogmatic and ever rational.

    I mean those who represent vested interests and who want to hold on to certain positions that they currently hold. You find them in key positions everywhere – Private Sector, Public Sector, even within families!

    *

    And, of course, there are the politicians!

    *

    Having said so much let me go to the very first sentence that I wrote on this article. I see a problem there! We must correct ourselves before finding fault with others.

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    It’s very simple. If our so-called ‘administrators’ understand that without a reasonable comprehension and ability to express themselves adequately, our present and future generations will not be able to have access to information (of all sorts) that those who are able to, do. Of course, our present lot of dodos (mostly illiterate in English) won’t give a rat’s arse about doing anything about it. So it will be up to parents to stress to their children the importance of English for their own well-being in the future.

    One problem is that (and Sinhala Man could probably bear me out on this) we lack proper teachers who are competent enough to handle the job.

    SWRD started the rot for his own political ends, and not because he gave a damn about Sinhala and the succeeding brain-drain and mass exodus of a majority of English-oriented folk not only depleted our diverse gene pool, it was the beginning of the end of English as we knew it in schools of the pre-Sinhala Only Act.

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