Language and Infrastructure issues: barriers to Sri Lanka’s progress
Posted on September 20th, 2009

Aloysius Hettiarachchi

I am a Sri Lankan Engineer presently based in South East Asia.

My daughter who is also working in a South East Asian country was interested in outsourcing some IT work to Sri Lanka. A local company was contacted and asked to send CVs of key people involved, with a view to interviewing over the phone. Some mobile phone numbers were given and on the appointed day attempts were made to call the candidates. Two of them could not be contacted due to system problems in Sri Lanka. The third was contacted, but the line was not clear. The person also had difficulty in communicating in English. Her company eventually decided to give the jobs to Indian companies – at a higher cost.

A similar situation occurred when I tried to interview an engineer (who was over thirty years of age) from Sri Lanka for work with my employer. Finally, an Indian engineer was assigned for the job. When it comes to growing the outsourcing business, we are at a distinct disadvantage when compared to some other countries due to the two problems highlighted above.

With regards telecommunication, I do not know where the problem lies. It is very difficult to get through to mobile numbers in Sri Lanka especially from this part of the world. Quite often either the line is not clear or the system is overloaded. Are our systems outdated? Perhaps the experts in this field can respond.

According to some, the English education in our country was disrupted by Mr. S.W.R. D. Bandaranayake in 1956 by introducing the “Sinhala only” policy. However in 1958, we would have English coursework packets prepared in Colombo and sent to all the central colleges by post. There were two packets per week. It was clear that his intention was to give opportunity to students in rural areas to achieve a good knowledge of English, which was confined only to a few schools in big cities.

Unfortunately after Mr. Bandaranayake’s demise his followers went in the wrong direction and closed all avenues to a sound English education in the country. I understand that even now there is no incentive for students to study A’ level subjects in English. They opt for local medium even when opportunity is there to study in English medium as they feel it is easy to score higher marks in Sinhalese. Can this be changed? The Chairman of the University Grants Commission should devise ways to encourage English medium rather than trying to hold back private universities which are few avenues available for education in English.

We welcome the initiative taken by H.E. the president to raise the level of English education by making 2009 the year of English and IT. Perhaps the Department of Education can restart sending of coursework to rural schools, this time by email. An ambitious programme must be launched to raise the level of English knowledge among students within a certain time frame by appointing a dedicated and committed team of experts. It is crucial to the development of our nation.

5 Responses to “Language and Infrastructure issues: barriers to Sri Lanka’s progress”

  1. Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:

    Dear Editors, I am bemused by reading the kind of stuff in this article. I think Aloysius Colosius should try to be bit smarter next time. If someone is after English speakers, first they should try the Rump English Empire (UK, USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand). I think the second choice of going to India was quite natural because they are the only ones in the whole world who would say yes to anything, anyone, anytime under any circumstances. I wonder whether SWRD (black English man who could not speak even a few Sinhala words in 1950s), MR, RW, JVP or any other loony could do what their English masters could not do for one and half centuries after so much slaughter and destruction. Is not it time to leave Sinhala people alone and send those local English community hiding in local costumes back to their home lands (Hell could be a better choice)? So-called Freedom and sovereignty can never be achieved by worshipping enemies or carrying on their burden. Lanka will be back to its old glory only when we get rid of these losers of all kinds following foreign religious, social, cultural and political values. There are many ways to make a living. But doing it as a servant (employee), is not what Sinhala people are looking for, though there are others including those bogus Sinhala name bearers in politics and other so-called educated (repeaters). If Sinhalese market their own intellectual value added products to the world full of primitive humans, every one will be learning Sinhala as one of the English who lived in Lanka predicted (Clark). I like to quote an interesting comment made by a friend of mine as follows. “Pigs must learn about pigs because they are pigs. Pig hunters must learn about pigs because they have to find, hunt and identify edible parts of pigs. Those who are forced to learn about pigs must learn about them because they have no other choice. Others like us seeking knowledge must learn about pigs because pigs are part of the nature with their own characteristics. If lions try to act like pigs, they are not lions, but pigs” I believe this could be applied to other aspects of life as well. By the way, when dealing with East Asians, I wish I could speak in their own native tongues because I took a long time to understand that ni means nine.

  2. Nihal Fernando Says:

    Thank you Mr Aloysius for your frank opinion. When the rest of the world is talking about the globalization we being Sri Lankans could not get isolated by clinging to our native language Sinhala and refusing to learn English which is widely accepted as a common language especially, in dealing with business matters. It is not praticable to promote our intellectual value added products to the world full of primitive humans. If we think that there are full of primitive humans in the world we can only start selling bows & arrows, beatles, loin clothes (amuday), clay pots & pans, and some neolithic tools, etc. Then those so-called primitive humans will start learning Sinhala to trade with us. Just becasue English is a foreign language we merely can’t reject it. Buddhism also came from India but we Buddhists do not feel that it is a foreign religion as Buddhism has no boundaries whoever wants to follow it.

    Lions will never act like pigs and they don’t need to learn about pigs to prey on them. You can never make horse out of a donkey because horse is a horse and donkey is a donkey.

  3. Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:

    Thank you Nihal for your valuable comment that helps me a lot in my interest to learn about the behaviour of migrants. Any private feedbacks are also welcome. As it looks, you seem to be the only one who at least understood a fraction of English I wrote. Unfortunately, using a language, whether English, Sinhala, Tamil or any other language, is not just putting together a set of words. It has its on value system and contains their own version of knowledge from the beginning of the humanity. A True English man would not bother about lions and would see them as beasts and would love to kill them. But for English, pigs are pets, a source of tasty food and lovable characters just like them. But in Sinhala, lion is revered, and words like pigs and donkeys are used as a low type and in a contemptuous sense. So, I leave for you and others smart in English to self-judge in your English skills. Though I seriously doubt your claim to native Sinhala heritage given your poor understanding of Sinhala civilisation, you seem to agree that horses are horses and donkeys are donkeys. In whatever order of choice, this is what I said. Sinhala are Sinhala and English are English. Those promoting English only repeat the same mantra fed by their English masters. There are only a few hundred million humans that make up your “rest of the world” (just like IC). Unfortunately vast majority of them speak English as the second language. To reach out to the world, it is much easier to do through their native languages. Unfortunately this is the latest approach adopted even by misguide politicians in Lanka. I am not aware of any ancient historical facts about exporting your list of items though Sinhala civilisation had a great reputation in manufacturing and exporting swords that determined the fate of many great warriors (I wonder whether ancient Sinhala people spoke English to do this business). This industry disappeared about three thousand years back when iron ore deposits were runout. Have you thought about whether your English masters were bloody primitives living like animals when Sinhala people started making pots, using stone tools and so on, and ate rice grown in their paddy fields while wearing amudas? What do you eat today? I identified vast majority of humans as primitives because there are Sinhala intellectuals today who can do far superior things to those made by other humans just like their ancient counterparts, dragging others to that category. Have you heard of the words coming out of the hopeless politicians in Sinhale’. Do they talk about exporting items matching your descriptions? It is just a matter of time to find meaning to my contentions. Those who love English, arch enemy of Sinhala, please keep learning English until the world runs out of petroleum products. I hope we will not have to cope with English gypsies like the Roman gypsies when their empire disappears into the oblivion. I am fully convinced that I am not a Buddhist and have no idea of what you mean. As a fully committed Sinhalist, I believe in life and my goal is to live longer (Universal religion of all life). I love being human and have no qualms about my pains and joys, which I see as part of my humanness. Personally, I see even gods as a misspelling of the word dogs that make a living out of our fear of losing our dear lives.

  4. Nihal Fernando Says:

    THANKS a lot Priyantha for responding to my comments. Neither do I know Aloysius nor you. Aloysius was only pointing out the importance of learning and having good knowledge, command in English. I can’t find anything wrong in it. I quite respect and inspire your knowledge and ldeology. By learning English we are not going to become enemies of our own mother tongue, Sinhala. Knowledge in English will surely make us value added individuals who can express our views to the rest of the world. I am also working in a South East Asian country, handling the overseas clientele of an export oriented company where I am attatched to. If not for my little knowledge in English (some says that little knowledge is dnagerous, then I don’t know who is safe in this world) I could not have got this job. I would like to know as to why you hate English so much and tell others in the same English language not to learn it. Somewhere, you sound a discordant note in a harmonius melody. I feel that you are confused, bewildered in your own thoughts. I’d rather go by reasons to learn English than become raccial minded and remain a frog in the well. I do not wish to become an ideological bigot, either. BTW, I would like to meet you in person as a sincere friend when I come home to Sri Lanka. May you live long with good health, wealth and happiness!

  5. Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:

    Dear Nihal, I thank you for wishing me good health, wealth and happiness, but next time, please do not make such wishes to strangers because they could be your worst enemies. Being a Buddhist, I wonder why you did not wish me to attain Nirvana, the best offer. I had recently wished some people representing Buddhism to attain Nirvana ASAP in response to their concocted stories about Sinhala people. What comes to our mind when someone tells us to attain Nirvana is proof that we have not truly grasped what this religion preaches. What about other religions? I have read some people commenting about late VP ending with wishes to live longer. Typically, as English language users, we indulge in insults and derogatory remarks, as it is part and partial of English culture. English are correct always when they make remarks about others. But they are totally incorrect when they describe themselves. Personally, I have dealt with Singaporeans and one such deal contributed my departure to greener/dead pastures. Since 1990 to this day, I spent more time with Natural English speakers than with any other ethnic group. In many places, I was the only stranger among them and had a very tough time at the start. But it was usual business after settling down. But, I never heard of them telling me that their language offers knowledge though many others like you from non-English background utter such claims and value learning English.

    I am surprised by what you expect by learning English except finding a job. I worked for a well-known Japanese global firm with factories in 47 countries as the second in command in an English country doing sales to the local English speaking community (trying to be in the middle of two worlds). I can understand why the South East Asians need people like you. I resigned from that company even rejecting the country manager position after learning a lot about them, which was my original intention.

    The idea that English is the key to knowledge and the medium to connect to the world is a mantra I have heard from many ethnic people coming from many countries around the globe. I also noted how they disparage their own ethnic values just like you did to Sinhala people in your comments. Having spent a lot of time with natural English speakers without becoming one of them, I learnt a lot about them and their way of life. This is the reason why I tell things that may surprise you. I never said to learn or not to learn English, but choose the way of learning to suit our needs. The most disgusting and sickening remark about own ethnic identity I ever heard came from a Sikh kid originating from India who was rewarded with state honours for his speech by English gentlemen. Since I know things that I can not write hear, I want Sinhala people to take caution when dealing with people following English way of thinking. I strongly recommend it for the local English community that you belong to. To be frank, I believe English way of life (Language, culture, food, traditions, laws etc.) must be taught to the worst of my enemies that I want to kill in the worst possible manner without getting my hands dirty or bloody. When you become a follower of English way, you do not need enemies because you are the worst enemy of yours. How it happens and why I tell that cannot be divulged. But if you need proof, I want you to come up with anyone who has survived for three or four generations after following English way that you can confirm as healthy, fit or intelligent.

    I want someone to come up with any knowledge gained by following English way and I am ready to prove using the same techniques that it is not the case. By the way, I have created a famous English word popular in technological studies by accident while struggling to explain something that did not have an English word. The description I wrote down is widely used by many of your kind seeking knowledge. I also have the misfortune to see what they have learnt from it and wonder whether I ever said such things. What you understand in English is strangely a subjective matter. A recent comment made by me giving a hint of the next generation technology (in response to a Wind and Solar energy related article) in an important area was discarded like rubbish even by the editors of this website who seems to have a good understanding of English way. So much so for your ability to understand and communicate knowledge using English. Obviously I did not make it to understand because of other concerns. Everything you say is knowledge. What ever others say is BS. You do not need to do anything to prove yourself. Others must.

    In simple terms, I say English is a killer language and it kills your life. English speakers are the most dispensable kind of humans I have ever met. Things like how, why, when is not easy to explain here. On the other side, Sinhala gives you life that you enjoy today. There are potatoes, sweet potatoes and niyagala that you may be offered to consume. You would eat niyagala if you do not know that it is poisonous. So learning a language is no different to learning about any other thing. But language is the door to a way of life good or bad.

    I make comments on this website with a purpose. I doubt that you will be able to see me unless you learn English in its entirety (I am yet to come home). Since you have misused a few English words to describe me, I paste a recent email text from a friend of mine to tell about me, and why I am making strong comments in defence of Sinhala.

    Dear Priyantha,

    I sincerely apologize for the delay in replying. It has been a hectic few weeks with my office work, which took lot of travelling.

    I like your idea in setting-up an education system in the Sinhala way. This has been a long awaited requirement. It will be a challenge initially but is a must if we need to re-establish the Sinhale.

    Last week I had the privilege of talking to a group of Sinhalese in Sri Lanka who are re-building abandoned tanks in Sinhala villages in the eastern province (border villages). They spend their time and money to re-build one tank at a time so the villages can start working in their paddy fields. The entire western world is putting pressure on re-settling Tamil IDPs and no one is talking about the Sinhalese who have been chased away from their villages 10 – 20 years ago.

    Perhaps you may know that there are 30,000 abandoned tanks in Sri Lanka.

    I can’t agree more about Sinhala way of living for all sorts of health problems that the modern world is facing. It’s great to hear that you grow your own vegetables. This is something that I want to do when I go back to Sri Lanka.

    As I said earlier please let me know when you need any help from me or from the people that I know to accomplish your targets in providing a better path to live longer to our people.


    ……. (Name deleted)

    —– Original Message —– From: “….”
    Sent: Saturday, August 15, 2009 2:28 PM
    Subject: Re: First Civilisation

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