A response to Douglas’s queries on my My3 Palanaya Bilingual Policy – A Warning
Posted on April 3rd, 2015

Asoka Weerasinghe Kings Grove Crescent . Gloucester . Ontario.  Canada

Good Friday, 2015

Sri Lanka’s My3 Palanaya Bilingual Policy – A Warning

Responding to Douglas’ Comments & Questions

Dear Douglas:

I was pleased that you read my letter of concern to President Maithripala Sirisena of 30 March, 2015.  It was written from my heart the way I usually express matters with passion.   And that’s me, alright!  I am also glad that you had some questions for me which I will try to respond honestly as well as I could as you deserve nothing less but honesty as I am an admirer of you as a patriotic son of our Mother Lanka.

I am also amazed that my letter had solicited a robust discussion with 48 comments. I offer my appreciation to all who contributed to the discussions.  Thank You.

Giving a priority for the languages of the two solitudes” in Canada is problematic for me.  I am greatly fond of the Inuit and the First Nations peoples and I am a supporter of their causes, who were here – the Iroquois, Plains Indians, Haida, Athabaskans, Algonquians, Micmac, you name it, having their own languages and cultures, before the French and English arrived.  I studied the Iroquois, Plains Indians, the West Coast Cultures and the Inuit in the early 70s when I was responsible and Heading the Thematic Research Section for the new Iroquois (People of the Long House), Plains Indians (The Buffalo Hunters), Haida and other West Coast cultures (Children of the Raven), and Inuit (The Inuit) brand new Exhibition Halls for the National Museum of Man, at the Victoria Memorial Museum in Ottawa.  And I cultivated an amazing respect for these First Nation peoples and the Inuit. So that has been the basis when I have to deal with the engineering of bilingualism in Canada and forcing it down our throats.

You asked: Perhaps you would know that both these languages, viz. Sinhala & Tamil have been ACCEPTED by STATUTE as Official Languages” of the country; just as much as English and French are in your country – Canada.”

Correct.  I do know.  Despite the billions of dollars spent since the adoption of the Official Languages Act in 1969, in Canada,  the already derisory rates of bilingualism are falling in English Canada.  I wouldn’t count myself an extremist” for having this negative view of bilingualism in Canada, for questioning the cost and failure of the current enforced language policy.

My advice to any nation that tries to reconcile any minority interests to the majority interests by using ‘language’ is – DO NOT DO IT!  This may sound very accommodating and generous to begin with but it will never work out for the country’s interest and will end up with more animosity between the two groups.  If Sri Lanka wants to do this, she MUST study what has happened in Canada.

When a majority language group puts the minority language on the same level (by making both languages carry the same weight and the same legal standing), it puts the minority language at an advantage because there are fewer people speaking or working in that language and it puts that language at a premium if both languages are needed for any kind of government work, which eventually effect the private sector.  I know, I sound a bigot.  But this is just a realty check, an eye opener for all of us.  And it is easy enough for people to understand that without a lot of deep philosophical explanation.

But here is Canada’s problem. Canada is so screwed up by giving the minority group so much power in the use of their language that they are now demanding that only the French language should be allowed to be used in all French Institutions but ALL other institutions across Canada MUST be bilingual.  Wow!  It is a hellava-how-do-you-do, isn’t it!    And I as an anglophone would tell the French to go and fly a kite, and that your French institutions  should be bilingual too. There won’t be concessions for you French, and there won’t be any if’s and but’s.

If this bilingual policy was meant to create a new Canada that would be more united,  more fairer and truly bilingual, then it has failed, big time.  It has been 46 years since Canada adopted the Official Languages Act.,  and make no mistake, Canada is not a bilingual country and far from it.

The Fraser Institute, an independent Canadian public policy research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal and tied to a global network of 85 think-tanks, says, Canada’s 10 provinces spend nearly $900 million annually providing bilingual government services.  Including the $1.5 billion the federal government spends on bilingualism, Canadian tax payers are footing an annual bill of $2.4 billion for bilingual services, a cost of $85 per Canadian.  This is shocking.

With all this money spent on bilingualism, according to statistics there is a puny growth in bilingualism since the adoption of the Official Languages Act in 1969.

Many Anglophones especially who have pursued French immersion program are encouraged to consider themselves as bilingual.  But with no deep economic, social and cultural reasons to master and maintain the French language, the skill simply atrophies.

Why?  It is extraordinarily difficult for someone to become bilingual in a country that is not.

Canada has tried hard and is still trying hard to call itself bilingual but it is not.  So there you have it.  As a religion, bilingualism is the God that has failed. It has no fairness, it has produced no unity and the French in Quebec wants to be a unilingual French community  and insists that the rest of Canada be bilingual speaking their French language, and most of the time wants to separate from the rest of Canada. The cost of this exercise  has cost the Canadian taxpayers untold millions annually.  So Sri Lanka, be warned and don’t quote Canada as a success story and follow them.  You are going to fall into a pot hole filled with snow.

Douglas, you had asked, Our studies show that a citizen who wishes to enter the Government service, viz Federal Service has to possess competency in both of those languages, as otherwise, he/she cannot secure a Federal Government job.  The Federal Government job is the most sought after out of all the jobs available.  Is that correct? 

Security in a Canadian Federal Government job is just a myth.  During the last couple of years the Federal Government laid-off thousands and thousands of workers making their jobs redundant right across Canada, and the stress factor on the community was /is enormous.   As a result of the Canadian cost cutting exercise, two summers ago I was at the temple (Hilda Jayewardenaramaya) on Heron Road one morning as I am one of the leaders together with Bhante Jinananda and Bhante Vijitha who conduct meditation.  That morning we were waiting for a group from the RCMP who were coming seeking instructions in  Mindful Breathing Meditation.   The door bell rang.  I went down to open the door and there was a lady at the door and I asked her, Are you from the RCMP?” No I am not, but it is important, may I come in and speak to you.”  So I invited her in.  And she told that 27 of her colleagues at the Government Department of Social Services were given pink slips.  And one was suicidal for having been laid off. Can one of your monks please help by teaching us how to meditate to reduce our stress and tension, and  also help our colleague who is suicidal, to come out of that depression and calm her through meditation?”   The following day Bhanthe Jinananda  and I went to her Department and guided 27 of them, all females, who had lost their jobs, in  Mindful Breathing Meditation.  And it was a good session and we hope it helped.

 

So much for bilingualism and so much for job security in Canada’s Federal Government.  There are many more stories that I could relate, but I won’t.

Oh, yes, let me tell you of my situation in 1972 at the National Museums, holding a Federal Government job as Head, Thematic Research Section of the Design and Display Division in Ottawa.

 

I joined them in November 1970 and was in a unilingual English position.  In 1972, they made it bilingual (English & French), even though the job did not entail the use of the French language.  We had a competent French Translation Unit at the Museums to do all the translations of texts, et cetera.

 

I was sent to the French Language School to study the language.  I was required to pass up to lesson 35, to make me bilingual to hold on to my job.  I passed Lessons 7 and 15 but failed lesson 21. So I had a problem as I would be losing my job.  And so did the National Museums have a problem to let me go.  If they had let me go, they would have had to hire a bilingual replacement (a liberal research scientist who understood design) for me to supervise the Research Section responsible for 15 new Exhibition Halls and three Museomobiles; the Senior researcher for the  Paleontology Dinosaur Hall; a researcher for the Archeology Hall, and a research scientist to be in-charge of the large interactive Tree of Life Exhibit in the Animal Life Hall.   I happened to accept the responsibility to do all four jobs as funds to renovate the National Museums did not permit us to hire four new science researchers.  So what was the solution?  The best was to  revert Asoka’s job to be a unilingual English position.  And so they did.  The case in point was, did I have to be competent in the French language and be bilingual”?  The answer is an absolute NO”.  A bit of an unnecessary and foolish exercise and stressful to the incumbent in the job.   And in particular when I was head-hunted and brought all the way from London, England, to do the job.

 

But here is the real problem and a scary one which is what Sri Lanka went through for 131 pre-independence years, when the minority Tamils were the privileged” community riding on the backs of the Sinhalese who were the wronged” majority due to the divide and rule British colonial policy.

 

When the majority of the senior positions at levels of Directors and so forth  in Sri Lanka’s public service were staffed by members from the Tamil community who hired their own ethnic counterparts to fill vacant positions in their departments, whether they were bright, brilliant, qualified, or duds or what-not, the majority Sinhalese were not happy about it as the vacancies were not filled on the merit principle.  And there was no fairness and we griped.  And here is a similar incident that happened in Ottawa, the federal bilingual city in Canada.

 

Because of the Federal bilingual policy, the majority of the Human Resources Sections in Federal Departments are staffed by mainly Francophones.  And so was  in the Department where my friend was a Director.  When trying to staff a couple of positions in her Directorate had requested the files of applicants for the jobs from her Human Resources personnel,  in came several application files and all happen to be of Francophone applicants.  Then the question was, Are their any visible minority applicants for the job?”  Yes, there are” was the answer, but they will come in the second batch.” The call was this Director’s who demanded having those files because she had a visible minority quota to fill. She wasn’t happy about it and obviously realized what was going on.

 

Well, will such shenanigans happen in Sri Lanka  too in their hiring of bilingual candidates.  It is also possible that a Sinhalese Director ignores the merit principle and hires a Sinhalese candidate over a Tamil candidate and vice versa.  So will bilingualism work in Sri Lanka where we have gone through sick hiring practices prior to adopting the Official Languages Act.   My guess is as good as yours when corrupt practices of nepotism and cronyisms are prevalent in Sri Lanka’s society, even with the present Sirisena My3 palanaya gang.  As in my estimation, none of them  can claim that they have halos over the crown of their heads.  “Just show me one”, I would say.

 

Let me respond to one more question of yours.  You asked: Also in another study it has been found that heavily populated Provinces” where predominantly English speaking people live, the educational authorities have set up a system to make available facilities for the students to learn French by setting up a system called French Immersion” schools and study programs to help them to qualify for wide range of employment opportunities throughout the country.  What is wrong with such a system being introduced in our country?” 

This is really a valid question.  But let me answer by quoting extracts from an article, ‘The real reason we send our kids to French immersion’ that appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on July 23, 2008.   I say,  Read it and  be warned Sri Lanka”.

Keep out the slow kids.  Keep out the troubled kids.  Keep out the poor and the crippled.  Only admit the bright, well-behaved, hard-working kids from prosperous homes.

That’s the ideal classroom.  That’s the one  we want our kids in.  And thanks to French immersion, we’ve figured out  how to get it.

Oh, well never say out loud.  We may not admit to ourselves.  But let’s be frank.

Everyone knows why French immersion is so popular among the ambitious parents who drive high-end SUVs, serve on school committees, and draft detailed plans for getting their children into Harvard.  It’s because immersion is the elite stream.

In the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, more children (2,329 in 2007) start French immersion in Grade One than the English program (2,014).  But in Grade Two, the number’s flip.  In each successive grade, the gap gets a little wider as kids trickle  from French immersion to the English program.

The rude word for this process is culling”.  Immersion is tough.  Kids who struggle the French language are culled.

Forget national unity.  Making kids bilingual for the good of the country is as dead as Trudeau.” 

Given the importance of immersion in Ottawa, and the potential consequences of streaming students at the earliest ages, one would think that Ottawa-Carleton Board would be deeply concerned.  But one would be wrong.  The board has no research on immersion and streaming.

Fortunately, the polite silence was broken by J. Douglas Willms, the Canada Research Chair in Human Development at the University of New Brunswick.

In the current issue of Policy Options magazine, Mr. Willms dissects the data on early French immersion in New Brunswick and shows conclusively that immersion is segregating students.

Kids with special needs are the first to go.  Mr. Willms found that while 17% of children in the English program are in special education plans for the whole school year.”  That figure drops to 7% in French immersion.  But that is just the beginning. The segregation associated with French immersion is much broader and deeper.” Willms wrote.”

 

So all in all the French Immersion program in Canada to make the whole country bilingual has not worked out the way it should have.  If the Canadian Government tries to sell their bilingualism policy to Sri Lanka,  saying it the best that was, the best that is, and the best that will be, beware,  since adopting the Bilingualism policy in Canada in 1969, Bilingualism is a complete failure and it is a failed policy. The Canadian Federal public service has lost some brilliant, bright, intelligent and very capable unilingual English-speaking Canadians because of this policy.  Pity!

 

But if you ask me, Don’t you believe that the Government of Sri Lanka should provide information to a predominantly Tamil community in Tamil and similarly a Sinhalese community in Sinhala.  Sure, that’s how it should be done.  And let’s find an intelligent and sensible formula to overcome this problem and not get involved in social engineering with the two languages and thrust it into the throats of the populace, for the sake of reconciliation with the minority Tamils of the North.  I say that is poppycock.

 

I hope you understand where I am coming from.

 

Keep well.

 

Asoka(Weerasinghe)

11 Responses to “A response to Douglas’s queries on my My3 Palanaya Bilingual Policy – A Warning”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    Thank you Asoka for that brilliant expose’. If this pseudo Yahapalanaya continues Sri Lanka is in for some deeply troubling times.

    Moreover our young children are under the ministry of Born Again Rosy! Ovunta Jesu Seviyange Pihitai!

  2. Independent Says:

    Let me give a good example that is applicable to Sri Lanka directly.

    In Malaysia ALL TAMILS speak Malay. I repeat ALL Tamils. This is a country with 60 % Malays , 25 %Chinese and 8% Tamils.

    Why can’t Tamils in Sri Lanka learn Sinhalese ? Because out Poly-Tics pamper them too much. Why do they do that? Scared of India. Which leader was the most scared of India ?

    The current illegal UNP government started pampering Tamils like never before. Who is at fault ? Those who did not do the right thing at the right opportunity, out of greed and fear of failure.

    Tamils avoid learning Sinhala because of false “Homeland” concept. Sinhala should be taught to all Tamil students as the 1st language. Student should be given a choice to learn either Tamil of or English as a second language.
    Sinhala should be taught to Sinhala students as the 1st language and the same choice of either Tamil or English shall be given.

    This is the system adopted in Singapore. One compulsory official language English and a choice of 2nd language ( also called mother tongue)

  3. Independent Says:

    If someone asks why Sinhala as the 1st language , the answer is the same as what Singapore gives for English. Because it is the official language and 90% people speak English ( Sinhala in our case).

  4. Christie Says:

    Namaste: Both French and British are similar to Tamils in the island. All colonists who came as invaders. The equivalent to non Indians are the Intuits of Canada. They longer have any rights and are disappearing from the Earth the same as the non Indians in the island. Jai Hind

  5. douglas Says:

    Dear Asoka: Thank you very much for your response to clarifications that I sought. You need not tell me how your thoughts and analyses emanate; because I am well aware that those are belonging to a “BORN PATRIOT” of my country. That commendation and honor are not an exaggeration but paid though my heart.

    I know of a very promising youth from Sri Lnaka who studied in Canada (Canadian citizen) lost a very lucrative and a responsible Federal Government job for not being conversant in French. He was put through seven rigorous tests (written & oral) and having gone through all those successfully, lastly tested,( before the “Final Interview” of selection,) his “ability to learn French” (I do not know what that test was) and was assessed to be a “mediocre”. As you pointed out, both that well rounded youth and the country lost, because of this “Bilingual Policy”.

    Anyway, we ( I am along with few others) are studying this scenario and your country’s “Policing System”, in that, your input will be much appreciated and valued for our future guidance.

    Thank you again for your valuable thoughts on the subject matter. In “Metta”. Douglas.

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    Asoka,
    A fine piece of analytical writing here for which we thank you.

    In particular, I refer to two great truths you have pointed out :

    (1) My advice to any nation that tries to reconcile any minority interests to the majority interests by using ‘language’ is – DO NOT DO IT! This may sound very accommodating and generous to begin with but it will never work out for the country’s interest and will end up with more animosity between the two groups. If Sri Lanka wants to do this, she MUST study what has happened in Canada.

    (2) Why? It is extraordinarily difficult for someone to become bilingual in a country that is not.

    Re #2, whilst this may be true for most countries, in Lanka there are other points to consider.

    I wish to point out again that Tamil Nadu proximity to North Lanka which area is claimed as Tamil ONLY, is the most dangerous area re keeping Lanka undivided. Tamil language Mother Area, Tamil Nadu, being so close to North Lanka ensures that the Tamil language will flourish in Lanka if illegal Tamil migrants pour into Lanka, as happened in the last few decades.

    At present the Chief Minister for the NPC, Mr Wigneswaran, is eyeing Federalism for the North (will be extended to Tamil speaking areas later) along with a claim of Tamil Genocide in Lanka. What if this becomes a reality ? The so called Tamil speaking areas will extend into the rest of Lanka in the future, and the Sinhala Nation will be squashed out of existence. Already there are Tamil speaking enclaves in the so called Sinhala areas. Use of the Sinhala language in the North, East and Upcountry will gradually cease as the Tamil language takes a hold of those areas. Division through language will be complete. Language as a weapon is being used under the very noses of the unsuspecting Sinhala majority.

    By the time our distracted MPs wake up, it will be TOO LATE !!

  7. Independent Says:

    Fran,
    Vasudeva ( brother in law of Tamil Elam) was very sympathetic to Mr Wigneswaran while he was under UPFA government. By right he should be sitting in the illegal Cabinet of Ranil or at least in the same government like Wickramabahu.
    But he is not. Why ?

  8. Lorenzo Says:

    I have no problem working in Sinhala. There is NO REASON (other than baseless ego by tobacco slaves from Kerala) for SL Tamils can’t work in Sinhala.

    But the bigger problem is the LTTE govt. in Colombo.

    Good news is Tamil Madu has already rejected the LTTE govt. in Colombo. LTTE My3’s effigies were burnt in TN yesterday. Its all happening, again. Coming events will be BEAUTIFUL.

  9. helaya Says:

    Asoka,
    Brilliant as usual. Yahapth palanay dudes are blind. If things go as usual all Sri Lankan has to learn Tamil and Tamil need not learn Sinhala.

  10. Fran Diaz Says:

    Independent,

    Vasu is busy keeping an eye on the firebrand earlier JVP boy now with MR !!

  11. SA Kumar Says:

    Why can’t Tamils in Sri Lanka learn Sinhalese ? Sinhala should be taught to all Tamil students !!!
    I am Eelam Thamilan fully agreed with you so why SL Govt can not give a Sinhala teacher to EVERY Tamils school in NEP ???

    You may say We-Tamils won’t learn Sinhala that is BS as We all know even if you give polidol free We-Tamil drink !

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