The importance of learning English/Mathematics — II
Posted on February 18th, 2011

Vajiragnana Warnakulasuriya, Mewlbourne, Australia.

Island, 16th February 11

 This is an excerpt of this above article by Dr. Nanda De Silva.

 “Creativity in the field of knowledge was set back by at least ten years as a result of having to learn western science in English”

 By the virtue of living in this World for some time people gain Wisdom by observing, listening, reading and participating.

 Having lived a relatively long life on earth and with the acquired vast experience and expertise behind him, I am amazed to see the learned “Dr.Nalin De Silva” uttering a load of rubbish like this. We may have a chip on our shoulder on foreigners and their language for the atrocities they meted on us. They also made the present World a better place to live, of course depends on how one looks at this statement. Say for our advantage or not, we live a lot longer than before due to improved Health facilities these days as an example!

 I get the feeling you are discouraging students to be educated in the present day curriculum because somebody else designed to teach these subjects for us. Your grudge is we are following an English syllabus, you got the license to talk in this manner today, having being a student of their syllabus once. It’s obvious, you would be happy if you were given a free hand to formulate the Sri Lankan Education system.

 I also get the feeling that you have now become a strong disciple of Buddha, good for you, but the rest of the World has to have an education to move forward, be it in Sinhala or in any other language. To be a successful human being in the material World one has to have a competitive education in the present World. If one chooses to follow the spiritual path, certainly one may not required to pursue studies at all, they may learn the profound teachings of the Lord Buddha and practice genuinely and attain Nibana in this very life.

 True the colonial invasion has disrupted the living patterns of all inhabitants wherever the invasions took place. Had people been in their primitive styles they still would live quite contentedly not knowing any advance living conditions. The stark fact is we have moved forward, willingly or not.

 The essential message I concentrate upon is on your opposition to teaching English to students.

 For everything there’s a first time; from the day of its birth a child undergoes gradual development.  That child will learn anything, first having heard, later with the progress of time a meaning is added to what is heard. This process is perpetuated right throughout life. The standing of that child’s parents in society is irrelevant.

 Most of the countries that invented or discovered breakthroughs in scientific or otherwise recorded their findings in languages of their own, with the unselfish motive of passing on these unknowns to the future generations, unlike our forefathers’ knowledge (recorded?) of the Aryuvedic medicine in the past. We have heard that from Buddha’s time, there were marvelous doctors and surgeons in India and Sri Lanka. (Pardon my limited knowledge, excluding other Asia countries) Unfortunately except for a few recordings at most, most were memory based and passed on only to the immediate relatives, the result being the loss of the ingenious remedies they had to offer to the country. In this regards we must appreciate the new scheme that the present higher education Minister has started to exempt those with ancestral Aryuvedic practices to enter the Aryuvedic University directly and advance their knowledge while contributing and sharing to the improvement of what they know. Just like medicine, the advance practices, and skills the Asians had in other Engineering fields were lost forever, as they were not recorded. So, it looks like only the West kept records.  Perhaps we found, invented, discovered long before them, yet it’s they who paved the way for others to learn what has been already found and to advance further these findings with new breakthroughs.

 Unfortunately because nothing was written in Sinhala or even in Tamil (I believe), for our children to be successful in the material World they have to learn English. Incidentally the learned Tamils have never advised their community not to learn English. 

 Learning alien subjects in English is not at all a difficult task throughout the country at any time. As I said before, everything has a first time, so when a subject is introduced in English, say for instance, resistance, coil, induction, gravity etc, you hear it for the first time and teacher will describe it, because the developing mind can absorb anything no one finds it difficult to understand. It’s not same as learning the English language, it may be rather difficult depending on the teachers expertise to impart in a well structured manner. Key to learning English is the expertise of the teacher. 

 Coming back to Science/Mathematics in English, one need not be fluent in English grammar, crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s or forming a perfect sentence is not important, the teacher should pay attention only to the presentation, whether the student has grasped the principles, theory, calculations, even in calculations exact answer is not a requirement only the methodology is to be considered. Now surely this is not difficult for Asian children, with time they are inclined to learn English as well. 

 Your hilarious argument on figure seven is a classic, did you give a thought to the name “Nalin” I thought it’s just a “Label” to recognize you from another! So, is there any connection here? You are discouraging learning arithmetic, algebra etc. You say “I am not quite sure of this as there are so many among those who have studied Mathematics who are not very clear and logical in their thinking” This is like “Pot calling Kettle black”.

 Here again I commend Minister S.B.Dissanayaka for initiating to introduce English as a compulsory subject in schools. He is a wise man, he has seen that the future generation can only add value to the “Wonder of Asia” with the knowledge of English at ones command! Sinhalese is a rich language undoubtedly, yet let’s face it, we have nothing to contribute to advance our children’s Scientific knowledge to make the World a better place having read books, journals, magazines etc written in Sinhala. I can remember my classmates and Mr.D.S.Senanayake (not the Prime Minister!) translated Physics by Whitely & Hall in late fifties. This was a good effort for a detrimental decision taken by the then Government to teach science in Sinhala.

 It is common knowledge that the parents of many of these undergraduates go to extreme lengths to educate their children, and Sri Lanka has a very high literacy rate.  Why do these parents do this, it is to ensure that their children acquire a skill that would set them up for life, either in their motherland or abroad.  Our country not being endowed with rich minerals, oils and the like, most of us have to depend on our brains to find employment.  May be a few can go into farming and agriculture, but Sri Lanka being the size it is, we have to look at these points objectively.

 Most of us came from the villages, even the Colombians were once villagers, we were not English experts to learn Science/Mathemsatics nor are we still. Yet amongst us there are, Sinhalese World renowned Academics of various disciplines. I was not a lecturer in any academic institution nor did I attend an elite school, so to speak, I just happened to travel pass Royal College and Colombo University that’s all my experience! Maybe it was the Atmosphere around this area.

 One may find umpteen errors of English in this article having written with my limited knowledge of English, but I don’t care, as I use the language as a means of delivering a message, if you got my message, my attempt has been successful!

2 Responses to “The importance of learning English/Mathematics — II”

  1. Ben_silva Says:

    I would agree with VW but would not offend the good Prof. who has contributed a lot. We live in a fast shrinking and fast changing world due to improved communication and transport facilities. We cannot escape from commercial pressures that we will face. IWe cannot escape the thnreat from competitors such as Tamil Nadu Indians who want to grab our resources. Threats are already visible but w do not see it.If we want to survive, we need to master English, Science and Technology. The main reasons for mastering English is as it will enable to argue our case with the public in the world and the vast amount of scientific and technical information available in English. We lost the propaganda war to the Tamils because those responsible for our side could not communicate effectively. Sadly there are many preachers, who want us to live with mentality of 2500 years BC, with the aim of seeking extinction , Nirvana and giving up desires. Giving up desires will kill off the motivation force for success. What we should be aiming for is survival in a highly competitive global economy. Buddhism is no longer believed in India, since the Killing of Nalanda Buddhists by Muslims. Both India and China have made tremondoes progress since becoming secular and dumping religion. Religion is a dangerous mind virus that create blind followers. If we follow Buddhism, it is equivalent to us buying a product that even manufacturers do not use. Buddhism and Buddhistd have bee nwiped out from many counbtries. We should however respect Buddhism as it is a part of our heritage.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Over thirty Million Christians died in WWII, & over 12 Million Jews also died. Yet, no one finds fault with the religions of those areas for these catastrophes.
    And now we have a run away situation with over competitive markets & fraudulent money systems, a result of WWI&II, and the resultant FEAR & GREED.

    Yes, we must learn Sci&Tech/Math in Sinhala & some English, it’s true. But, to do so through Fear (or Greed) would be utterly wrong and counter productive. Follow the Middle Path.

    Buddhism is more than just a part of our Heritage. It is the Most Supportive Way of Life when properly followed. Other religions too are all supportive of life – the trouble is they are not followed properly. If they were WWI&II would never have happened.

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