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Govt. struggles on the 'Language front', LLRC told

Govt. struggles on the 'Language front', LLRC told

2011 Jan 27

A study has revealed that there are 1,437 schools without a single teacher of English in spite of a surplus of 1,512 teachers of English in some educational zones.

The government’s efforts to create a trilingual Sri Lanka with English as the link Language had run into a snag with ministries tasked with the accomplishment of the ambitious project dragging their feet on the implementation thereof contrary to public pronouncements, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was told on Monday (24).

Testifying before the LLRC at the Kadirgamar Institute, Presidential Advisor Sunimal Fernando proposed a series of measures to strengthen the presidential initiative for a trilingual Sri Lanka. Former Attorney General C. R. de Silva, who heads the LLRC, expressed confidence the government would take serious note of Fernando’s proposals, which the country could realise.

Fernando said that India could help Sri Lanka in this regard, while every effort should be made to thwart attempts by INGOs/NGOs to take over the on-going efforts to achieve bi-lingual proficiency in the public sector.

Fernando, in a well presented testimony, highlighted the existing shortcomings caused by lack of funds, negligence and indifference on the part of the officialdom, while detailing an institutional structure, which could help achieve a trilingual society in a decade.

Fernando’s proposal won praise from the LLRC members, who sought clarification on some issues, including English being made compulsory for university admission.

Fernando said that he wouldn’t support that proposal as it could be a severe impediment to a section of the student community.

He said that the government was struggling to cope with the shortage of English Language teachers and was not in a position to prepare students to achieve proficiency in English for university education in the near future.

Citing a recent survey conducted by the government, Fernando revealed that 1,437 schools hadn’t been assigned a single teacher of English, whereas there was a surplus of 1,512 teachers of English in some educational zones. According to the study, the country is short of 3,561 teachers of English.

Referring to the socio-linguistic survey of Sri Lanka conducted for the Public Survey and Research Unit (PSRU) of the Presidential Secretariat by an independent research institute last August, Fernando said that the vast majority of the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities wanted a trilingual society.

He said that successive governments had failed to take meaningful measures to realise the aspirations of the people. He blamed the ministries of National Integration, Public Administration, and Education for failing in their task.

Fernando didn’t mince his words when he said that the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration and Public Administration and Education had been largely inefficient, ineffective, lacking in drive and hence grossly disappointing in their contribution to the country and the people.

He said that President Rajapaksa was expected to launch a 10-year national master plan for a trilingual Sri Lanka this year. He said that though there were many language courses conducted in the country with impressive examination results displayed, the reality was that the majority couldn’t communicate effectively.

He said: "Therefore the Ten-Year National Master Plan will have to bring in all institutions and resource persons engaged in language teaching to build a new infrastructure complete with a cadre of competent trainers of language teachers combined with supporting institutions and financial resources to sustain the initiative."

Fernando launched a scathing attack on the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration that had failed to make a difference.

"While the ministries complain that adequate funds are not allocated for their programmes in the national budget, it is our experience that creatively designed imaginative, viable programmes of a ministry do not find difficulty in sourcing funds from the national budget, especially if earlier programmes of the same order have been implemented by the same ministry with success and impact."

Fernando said that there hadn’t been a political will to implement a workable plan to achieve language goals in spite of assurance given by successive governments.

He alleged that the Official Languages Department (OLD) had failed in its duty for want of a cohesive policy of monitoring and accountability. He went to the extent of calling it a dead department, while asserting that it could never face challenges.

Fernando stressed the importance of reviewing the existing set-up to work out a tangible plan of action to tackle the language issue. He went on to explain the glaring shortcomings in the administration of various language programmes.

Another area of concern was the dearth of professional translators, he said.

He alleged that a decision to stop the recruitment of’ second language teachers’, too, had contributed to the deteriorating standards in teaching.

The Education Ministry had opted to groom in-service subject teachers to function as either Sinhala or Tamil language teachers to non-native speakers, following basic training at the National Institute of Education (NIE) or at one of the teacher training colleges. The official revealed that the Ministry had failed to maintain official census data on the number of teachers of the second language.

The presidential advisor said that the Higher Education Ministry had failed to encourage the development of the teaching of Sinhala and Tamil languages in the university system. He asserted that there hadn’t been a dialogue among the specialised subject oriented departments and the departments of languages in and that too had been a drawback.


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