22 May, 2019

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I’m A ‘Victim’ Of Sinhala Medium Education

By Anushka Kahandagama –

Anushka Kahandagama

The departing point of the article is the statement made by Rathana Thero ‘Teaching Students From Grades 1-5 In English Should Stop’. He bases this argument on the (ill)logic, ‘If a child is given a primary education in a language other than their mother tongue, that child would not be a citizen of that country’. This argument holds illogical, and I do not see a way to even build an argument over this statement. With all due respect, as per Rathana Thero, the ‘citizenship’ of the child is based not even on his/her ability to use the mother tongue, but making the medium of primary education child’s mother tongue.   The second argument he makes based on the ‘mother tongue’ patriotism is, national unity should be achieved through making the mother tongue medium of education. 

While we are aware of the fact that, 13 years or more English education is an utter failure in the public education in Sri Lanka, can we expect a miracle of teaching a language after grade five? Either the system did not want us to learn the English language properly, as it is a prerequisite to maintain the gaps between social classes, or we were fed as children that, English is a language not suitable to our ‘culture’. Either way, many of us failed in engaging with the English language. However, throughout my life, in studies as well as in carrier, I have regret in not having the opportunity to learn in English medium. I have seen much potential in Sri Lankan students, which dissolves due to the lack of English language ability. We like it or not, English is the international language, and we have to accept it. The global knowledge production is basically in the English language, and we as students are incapable of competing on the global level, not because we lack intelligence, merely due to the lack of English language skills. When making statements such as “Teaching Students From Grades 1-5 In English Should Stop”, one should not misuse the power held by the ‘robe’ to mislead the nation in one second.  Throughout history, we have seen this power of the ‘robe’ which led or contributed the nation towards wars, conflicts, riots or communal tensions. 

Let’s go back to the first argument again about producing ‘pure Sri Lankan citizens’ by making mother tongue the sole medium of primary education. If you are entrapped in the island with your precious language, what is the need you to especially become the ‘citizens’ of the country? Anyways, you will be imprisoned on the island forever, as you do not get any opportunity outside the country as it is impossible without the English language. Thus, there is no need for you to be present yourself as a Sri Lankan, as you would only get rare opportunities to present the country out in the world.

The second argument he makes is ironic about the national unity. As a person who has seen the history than me, Thero knows that he is proposing a system which is already in place for many decades, which is Tamil/ Muslim students learning in Tamil medium and Sinhala students learn in Sinhala medium. This has led the country towards bloody separatist conflict for many years, while Sinhala medium students participated in two youth insurrections in 1971 ad 1988, due to lack of job opportunities for Sinhala medium student. Thero does not propose a new system which can deal with the national unity, but an already existing system which caused many problems mainly due to language. 

Finally, this type of an education system, which Thero is proposing, would have adverse effects on students like us who are coming from lower-middle-class or rural areas. The damage it did to my entire carrier is undoubtedly immense and can not be repaired, and I know that I am not alone in this disadvantage, but there are thousands of Sri Lankan students who are struggling to achieve their full potential with lack of English language skills. The proposed policy would sustain the class structures forever in the country and will only favorable to nationalist politics which is an advantage to a political minority who wants to hold power in the Island forever. 

*Reading for MPhil/PhD in Sociology, South Asian University, New Delhi

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    Dear Anushka

    Thank you for your writing. I share the following article which I find complement your work very well
    http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/eng6365-saunders.htm

    • 1
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      Mr. T. Venugopal

      I found the link you provided useful – though I do not fully agree with all what Sanders has stated. Tku. I hope my friend Native Veddah took note of this link.

      R. Varathan

      • 0
        0

        Dear Varathan

        With pleasure. The whole idea of this platform is to share knowledge. I am always learning from others too.

        I also agree with you the investigated/fact checked article be it with reference material however is the Author who draws conclusion based on that as they deemed fit that we may differ. I do respect the foundation/facts laid by the author to make his case is very useful for our discussions in this platform related to this article.

        I am not sure if the author has lived SL etc may have helped him/her more insider vision. Nevertheless less a great work set examples for more CT articles too I hope will help us learn more specially now we have generational gap already.

      • 1
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        R. Varathan

        Thanks for pointing this link to me.
        I will read the material when I got time as I have saved it on my computer.

  • 2
    1

    Language is only a medium of instruction. Whether it is Sinhala, Tami or English, the content of the education syllabus is important. Such nationalistic values should be instilled in the child in the first place using one of the apt languages. Rathana Thera is one individual and his opinion should be respected but not to be followed as the gospel truth.

    • 3
      1

      Lionel

      “Such nationalistic values should be instilled in the child in the first place using one of the apt languages.”

      What are the nationalistic values are you talking about?
      Sunday Sil Monday Kill
      or
      Kill the Veddah, Rob the Buddah and Blame the Sudda?

      Well, I bet you haven’t got any idea about nationalistic values.

  • 10
    0

    Appreciate Anushka Kahandagama’s view in this column. When SWRDB promoted Sinhala only, Short-sighted Tamil politicians during the 50s fought for the Tamil language by eliminating English medium which was a blunder mainly by the Federal Party, resulted in carnage. As a result standard of the Tamil people deteriorated to the worst level. In this respect, we should blame the Federal party as a bunch of idiots didn’t have the vision for the people who jeopardized the future of the Tamil people. SWRD’s slogan was an eye-catching caption of “Sinhala Only in 24 hours” that deceived the innocent Sinhala people ended up in electing him as the prime minister. Resulting SWRD achieved his personal agenda by betraying his country which is on turmoil today which we are witnessing. It is historically huge damage done to the country. If SWRD was a genuine patriot he could have given the people the mandate of 5 – 10 years time for that change which would have made a smooth transition without hurting the system. In today’s context, no one has even the faintest idea to put the country in order. Blind leads the blind.

    • 1
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      Dear Sinhala Man, where are u you ?
      :
      I would like to read your comments on this valuable TOPIC here please.
      :
      I think many lankens that speak English tend anglophile than anglophone. That is why the we have a lot more problems in lanken society. Lately, I happened to come across a middle aged srilanken female who kept bragging to be an old girl of st. bridget girls school colombo, but my friends (English, German, Americans) thought why some of lankens behave so, even if they are not even brites. Btw, this partuclar female was not even a basic-graduate. You as a senior citizen, a retired Englsih Teacher may know lot more about as to why many of our people tend to be anglophile
      Anglophile
      noun [ C ] UK ​ /ˈæŋ.ɡlə.faɪl/ US ​ /ˈæŋ.ɡlə.faɪl/

      a person who is not English but is interested in, likes, or supports England or the UK)
      .
      Anglophone
      noun [ C ] UK ​ /ˈæŋ.ɡlə.fəʊn/ US ​ /ˈæŋ.ɡlə.foʊn/ specialized

      a person who speaks English, especially in countries where other languages are also spoken

    • 1
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      Paramanathan K says “When SWRDB promoted Sinhala only, Short-sighted Tamil politicians during the 50s fought for the Tamil language by eliminating English medium which was a blunder mainly by the Federal Party, resulted in carnage”.
      Totally incorrect. The 1956 Sinhala Only Bill ordered schools to teach in Mother-tongue or will loose state subsidy. The Mother-tongue was stipulated as the Mother-tongue of the Father!
      Paramanathan’s memory cannot be that short unless it is pretended.

      • 0
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        Dear Mr.Pillai, Muslim leaders were wise enough to convince SWRD’s government to allow Colombo Muslim schools to carry on with the English medium. Tamil leaders (Federal Party) of 50s were not flexible at all and embarked on non-violence finally the senseless war was imposed on our people. As a matter of fact, there were too many desperate youths who were unemployed even until their mid-20s or above had to face immense problems of risking their lives. Of course, we are fortunate to be alive under heavy shelling and firings and unlawful detention. Please note our memories cannot be erased that easily.

  • 5
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    Anushka.

    As a budding Sociologist, you may have heard that the Architect of the Sinhala Only within 24 hours [SWRD] is a direct descendant of a South Indian Tamil by the name of Neelaperumal.
    At Peradeniya in the old days Sinhalese, Tamil, and English were referred to as Meva, Arawa,and OWA respectively. This shows the Mind-Set of Undergrads with respect to Languages,giving it a Political flavour.

  • 3
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    Anushka

    I agree. Those who stand to lose -among both sinhalese and tamil students – are those from the lower and rural classes. The very same group of young people who have taken up arms against the state against the discrimination they faced from the state and the elites – who, for the most part, escaped the ravages of war either by fleeing to the West or to Colombo, and continue to live comfortable lives.

    The thero is trying to play election politics. When will they ever learn that short term vision has ruined our country in the long term. One language- 2 countries; 2 languages one country indeed!

  • 5
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    English is an important universal/International language spoken/understood in most parts of the world. Today everybody need English, the world prefers to hire English educated people. All Sri Lankans irrespective of race/religion strive hard to learn English because they also consider it as a prestige to speak in English. If you look at the number of International schools popping up in Sri Lanka, more than 90% of the students are locals (not foreigners), WHY? Every Sri Lankan will learn English right from grade 1 if he/she can afford. Bringing English back right from grade 1 in the government schools where even the poor gets a chance to learn in English medium is one of the best steps that the government has taken. Some stupid politicians in the opposition should be simply ignored. When SWRD Bandaranayake tried to replace the English language with ‘Sinhala Only’ to gather some cheap Sinhala votes, he ignored the future consequences. This so called ‘Buddhist Monk’ is nothing but an opportunist politician trying to gather some cheap Sinhala votes from a few idiots.

  • 0
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    How will be the tourist industries marketing Social Media scope survive.

    • 0
      0

      rbh…..for tourist industry, the more rural they sound, the more authentic the place would be. And tourists love this.

  • 0
    0

    Ms Anushka Kahandagama: Please spare a thought to ‘others’ debarred, permanently for all practical purposes, from State Services and businesses.

  • 0
    2

    Rathana Thero is correct! The country (any country) needs an identity, and Sri Lanka’s ancient language, Sinhala, is the most important to teach to her majority inhabitants, with the minorities upholding its right of usage.

    As for the universal language English, it should be taught as the second language from pre-school onwards. Tamil can be taught as third language.

    Anushka Kahandagama, any lack of opportunity is not due to lack of English knowledge, but lack of opportunity due to wrong employment structure in the Motherland.

  • 1
    2

    Stupid Article. Japan became an economically developed country. china has passed the International community. Is it because they excelled in business language. Sri lanka is talking English for how many centuries. what is the Sri lankan position except those children of MUDLIERS who bent in front of th english Officials became Sri lanka’s chosen ruling elite. colombo cockroaches may be thinking they are better off. but what is the rate that their children have screwed up, their incidences of CANCER is very high in comparison to the rural Farmers, what is the rate of Screwing up children from those English speaking elite class because they do not relates with the local culture. Are they those who respect drugs, booze and sex. Only the Tamils and black-white cockroaches value this.

    • 0
      2

      JD, I agree whole-hardheartedly.
      _
      But, need you call White (and Black) settlers, and their mixtures with the locals, racist names? Realize that in other countries, Sinhalese are also called derogatory names.
      _
      Yet, the frustration again the minorities are understood. However, many of us ARE supportive of the struggling Sinhala race. Also, there are many Tamils outside Colombo who are struggling grossly.

      Yes, blame your Sinhala politicians like Ranil, CBK, Rosie, for sucking up to these rich minorities. Indeed, as you say, many of the rich Sinhalese are directly the problem, for they want to consolidate themselves by latching up to these minorities to secure their lifestyles. Get them, and only them, before name-calling others.

      • 0
        0

        ….wholeheartedly*

  • 6
    0

    We did get several things right in post independence Sri Lanka, but Swabasha education was not one of them.

    • 2
      0

      Mahesan Niranjan: We never got anything right since 04 February 1948.
      Swabasha education had the intended effect to keep a section of population off main stream.
      It also induced the extremism
      We are ALL paying for this with having to come up with bigger and bigger begging bowls.

  • 3
    0

    How ironic that the family of the man who gave us ‘Sinhala Only’ overnight came from a family whose elevated existence came from sucking up to the Old White Mastah. Who but an arch sucker (Sir Solomon) would have christened his son SOLOMON WEST RIDGEWAY Dias Bandaranaike (Sir Joseph West Ridgeway was his godfather). The British rulers rewarded the Bandaranaike’s well for keeping the natives quiet.

    But, truth to tell, Sinhala and Tamil must be the foremost and paramount languages in this island. English will have its place as we interact with the rest of the world. With good teaching and lots of long overdue investment the task of producing capable dual-language young people is a definite possibility.

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