Exporting English teachers

In a move that could be described as an attempt by an educational or political bigwig to gain cheap popularity or any other such short term plus, the educational authorities of this country are believed to have hit on an eye brow- raising plan to send some of our teachers of English to serve in South Korea. We are all for sending our human resources to South Korea or any other country which is in need of them but the poser the plan in question raises is whether we could afford to deploy the required teachers for such a purpose, given the extreme paucity of qualified teachers of English in this country. In other words, how are we going to find the required personnel to meet South Korea’s needs when it is public knowledge that we just do not have sufficient numbers of the required category of teachers to serve our needs here in Sri Lanka, in the first place?

Finding qualified teachers of English who could serve in our primary and secondary schools, is one of our most pressing needs. Needless to say, it is the public school system which is in dire need of such teachers and most lettered persons in this country are aware of this. In fact, the state has been wracking its brains over this issue over the years and we have never been short of official schemes which, we have been given to understand, are ideal formulae to meet the teacher shortfall.

But this is one need which seems to have defied resolution and we have been left nursing this problem with a sense of bafflement over finding the correct answer to the crisis, while abysmal failure rates by our students in English Language at public school examinations, such as the GCE Ordinary Level, have been leaving us dumbfounded. While faced with this gargantuan problem, to propose sending the few qualified English teachers we have to serve in other countries, smacks of cynicism of the most exasperating kind.

We challenge the Minister of Education or any other such heavyweight who is likely to be behind this apparently feather-brained scheme to prove to the public the viability of the project, given the monumental proportions of our own needs in the English Language teaching context. We would be only stating the obvious by telling the authors of this dream-scheme that this county’s needs must be met first before the needs of others are catered to. Once our needs are fully met it would be only in the fitness of things to meet the requirements of others, because goodwill towards all should be our policy in interacting with the comity of nations.

Given the seeming hare-brained nature of the scheme, one wonders whether some extraordinary inducement is goading any of our officials to dangle this plum of a project before the eyes of the authorities. Needless to say, these possibilities should be closely examined before the programme is even discussed at any length. We remember how some years ago Sri Lanka offered a UN Security Council seat, which was due to her, to South Korea, reportedly for anticipated material benefits, such as jobs in South Korea. This was setting a bad precedent and Sri Lanka should not have been motivated by material or other short-term considerations, if that really was the case. In the present instance too, the integrity and honour of Sri Lanka is very much in the balance because in a situation where we could not guarantee the provision of quality English teachers to meet our own needs, to what degree could we satisfactorily meet South Korea’s needs of this kind?

We wish we were really in a position to meet the English teacher needs of other countries. This would be an ideal position to be in and would prove an effective tool in establishing friendly and sound international relations. But the truth is that we may not be in a better position than most other countries which are needy in this respect. This is the bald truth and it is the most stupid of politicians and bureaucrats who would deny it.

Rather than enter into self-defeating grandiose dreams and schemes our educational bureaucrats and other responsible sections would do well to consider how our English Language teaching needs could be fully and effectively met first. We suggest that our politicians and public officials put their heads together in an honest search for the answer. Our bugbear all these years has been a tendency to play politics with problems of this kind. What has been recurring with regard to teacher training and other vital needs, is for one set of decision makers to summarily undo what their predecessors have come out with. In other words, our educational bigwigs have been doing everything other than come out with a national policy to issues of this kind. The result has been that both the teachers and students of this country have been reduced to Guinea Pigs of the most pathetic kind.

We call on the authorities to achieve some clarity of thought on this question. Time is fast running out for a suitable answer. While the big brains in our educational circles split hairs over the best ways to churn out fully qualified teachers, our students and the teachers themselves are woefully suffering and public examination results are staring us out of countenance. We need to come out with a national policy on education, teacher training and the like and unless and until we do this the education sector would remain a number one public embarrassment.

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