In the reconciliation process, many hope the government’s much-heralded policy of ‘trilingualism’ will play a key role, as Sri Lanka rebounds from a decade-long civil war and under this plan, English will serve as a lingua franca, providing a bridge between the island’s majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil community, ‘Khabar South Asia’ reports.
Substantial funds will be required, turning this vision into reality, to increase the number of English teachers and in funds allocated for instruction.
In this context, to set up projects across the country and provide assistance to students, neighbouring India has stepped in to help.
Gayani Edirisinghe (42), a school teacher from Colombo, who has first-hand experience with such programmes, enrolled at the Centre for English Language Training, funded by the Indian government, in 2009, seeking to improve her English-language skills for further career development and she became proficient in English after one year at its centre in Peradeniya, Kandy in the Central Province.
“It really helped improve my knowledge on the subject,” she told ‘Khabar South Asia’ adding; “there is a dearth of qualified English teachers. Therefore, India’s assistance will be of vital importance.”
Since Delhi is expanding its assistance further, the Indian High Commission in Colombo, in January, announced plans for language labs to be set in each of Sri Lanka’s nine provinces which fulfills the pledge made by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse during latter’s visit to India during June 2010.
Besides, India continues to offer scholarships, assist with the renovation of war-ravaged schools, donate computers and other equipment, and maintain e-learning centres.
Big changes are underway, according to Sri Lanka’s Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena.
“We have embarked on very ambitious programmes to develop ‘the education sector’. India pledged help in the implementation of the Trilingual Policy in the post-war era,” Gunawardena told Khabar.
“The Presidential Secretariat launched a programme called ‘English for All’. We are in the process of setting up modern learning centres at 1,000 schools already earmarked. Already, 459 of them are in different stages of construction,” Gunawardena said.
“I asked for India’s help which is now being extended in different forms. India also grants full scholarships annually to 42 Sri Lankan teachers to follow an English diploma course at Hyderabad University,” he said.
As Sri Lanka tries to reconcile its three major ethnic groups – Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims - analysts believe English can be the link language.
“The English-language learning could bridge the language gap between the communities,” the principal of Jaffna Central College, a leading school in the Northern province, Eilventhan Kanagasabai said.
“In Sri Lanka, Sinhala and Tamil are the two main languages. There are communication barriers in most cases. But if English is learned that barrier can be removed. It will enhance understanding between each other,” Kanagasabai told Khabar.
Harshaka Perera, who recently graduated from the University of Colombo with an arts degree, said he is now trying to improve his English.
“We need English even to face ajob interview. I studied in Sinhala media both at the school and the university. Now only I am trying to learn English. I know it is late but I should learn to speak,” Perera told Khabar.
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