Reforming education in Sri Lanka for the 21st century


I wish to thank Professor Carlo Fonseka for the excellent article published in The Island of 28th February, 2013.

As usual, it is very well thought of and couched in a language of the most unambiguous variety.

However, no two persons can be generally expected to agree wholeheartedly on everything. It is to be expected that there will be some disagreements even if, in the end, they agree to disagree and part company without resorting to verbal or physical violence.

I wholeheartedly agree with the contents of the first six paragraphs, specially because the country has been now educated about the utility value of English.

I wish to refer to the contents of the paragraph numbered 7.

(a) Government should announce the policy that from the year 2015 education in the Universities would be bilingual, that is say courses would be available both in Swabhasha and English.

(b) After all, the main benefit that an education in English confers on people is to enable them to earn more money.

(c) Given our proud heritage and rich national languages I believe that the highest positions in the country should be attainable through them.

(d) To have to acquire competence in a foreign language in order to reach the highest positions in the land of my birth violates my sense of national pride and natural justice.

To begin with, I will refer to (a).

The then Vidyodaya University of Ceylon ( now University of Sri Jayawardenapura) drew up time tables in the 1960s in the Faculty of Science specially for the First and Second year students in such a way that every lecture was delivered in Sinhala during one time slot and in English during another. In my personal experience, the earlier lecture was in Sinhala given in the belief that those who were more proficient in Snhala could learn the subject matter better in the mother tongue and thereafter learn some English through the Mathematics they have already understood during the Sinhala medium lecture.

The medium changed gradually and by the time, a student came to the Final Year (4th year), it was English only.

Sometimes, the lecture was bilingual.

Even in the University of Colombo, I had the same experience in lecturing.

Colombo Science has switched over to English alone now.

I believe that the Vidyalankara University ( now Kelaniya University was no different.

Knowledge on the experience of the other Universities will add to the historical knowledge base.

It is my humble opinion that I cannot agree with the assertion made in (b) above.

This may be true of the medical specialists or lawyers, especially those with the appendage PC.

The new entrants who fill their parents’ shoes in the world of business have all been educated in the US or UK and therefore, their competence in English would have been designed by their parents. This is not true of the pioneers who, by and large, built huge economic empires without English.

Even in Sri Lanka of the 21st Century, there are many, in the world of business and therefore earn more money but are not competent in English.

Those who are in the business of prostitution or drugs or illicit hooch or extortion earn lots of money but they are not likely to be English educated.

I may have, by now, more or less, exhausted the class of Sri Lankan people who make a lot of money.

The greatest virtue of an education in English, in my opinion, is the freedom one has to make use, by himself, of the vast ocean of knowledge and information available in English.

The access one can gain to knowledge through, and the availability of information in, Swabhasha is rather limited.

I would have agreed with (c) completely if it had the words "in any sector" inserted between the word "positions" and the next word "in" and ended with the few words "by the best in the sector".

I have suggested the insertion only to make the suggested ending clearer.

If a person is the best in a sector, his character should be such that he makes every effort to gain access to the "vast ocean of knowledge and information" presently available in English and also succeed.

(d) above contains the possessive "my" in two places and therefore is a personal view.

With my comments on (c), (d) is proposed to be modified in accordance with what is proposed in respect of (c).

If the highest in the land (in any sector) is unable to benefit from the vast ocean of knowledge and information available in English, he will have to be advised always by interpreters.

The consequences of such a scenario in the 21st century where the relevant sector can end up in disaster, need no elaboration.

P. W. Epasinghe


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