‘Sinhala Only’ was the right policy
Posted on December 31st, 2017

HUGH KARUNANAYAKE Melbourne, Australia Courtesy The Island

I read with much interest HL Seneviratne’s piece on the impact of Sinhala Only, and Mr. Samaraweera’s response.

I believe that the Sinhala Only reforms of 1956 heralded a new phase in the social and economic development of the country. Up until that time, a minority of English educated people had a monopoly over employment opportunities, as well as leverages into the business world, which was all worked in English, a language alien to two thirds of the population of the country. The rural poor in the pre 1956 era had access only to sub-standard educational facilities, mainly provided in Sinhala, despite the fact that access was eased through universal free education introduced in 1944. English education was confined to Colombo and the bigger cities such as Galle and Kandy, and to the North and East courtesy of the American Missionaries.

Consequently, employment opportunities for the rural Sinhala population were very limited. Many impoverished rural families were happy to send their sons and daughters to homes in Colombo to work as domestic servants. All that changed with the introduction of Sinhala Only. The country should be proud of the fact that the post 1956 generations had access to education, however diluted in quality at the beginning, but improved over time. Seneviratne’s gripe is over the low standards of English. That lacuna has been more than amply filled by a private sector responding to demand. The main issue here, however, is that the 1956 reforms provided entry to a large section of the population educationally deprived and disenfranchised if I may use the word in this context. The acquisition of knowledge should be a basic universal right and every child should be given that opportunity. Of course there is more work to be done, and more educational reforms needed, but the basic structural reformation brought about by recognising Sinhala has paid dividends, and will continue to do so. One of the areas of dismal failure is the totally inept response from the Peradeniya University to the language change over.

The teaching staff, especially in the Arts Faculties, failed to rise to the challenge. It took the easy way out by providing lectures in Sinhala but without ensuring that the broader reading material was available to undergraduates. The quality of the graduates produced was so low that many were unemployable, although they had good degrees obtained by cramming lecture notes. These were some of the issues associated with graduate unemployment and associated social unrest.

That initial period having been traversed, albeit with its attendant issues; it seems that the system has responded positively in later years, and there seems to be a definite improvement in the quality of Arts Graduates. The Science faculties have always maintained wholesome standards, despite switching over to Sinhala and Tamil, and many alumni have found lucrative employment both in Sri Lanka and overseas.

I agree with Mr. Samaraweera on his observations, and the oft repeated fallacious overstatement of the value of English has to be put to rest.


Melbourne, Australia

3 Responses to “‘Sinhala Only’ was the right policy”

  1. Senerath Says:

    English education was confined to Colombo and the bigger cities such as Galle and Kandy, and to the North and East courtesy of the American Missionaries.

    Not sure about North and East, the best facsilities were in Jaffna. Not only that there was a systematic fravouring of Tamil student which was organised by writing “OOm” when answering alll island exams in English. I also have the personal experience that most Tamil lecturers and professors mad sure Sinhalas are failed (and answers were leaked) at the university entrance practicals.
    No only that even until 1980 Tamil lectures leaked the important exam papers to Tamils. This is a fact.

  2. Senerath Says:

    After doing all that we Sinhalese have to say sorry for killing LTTE.

  3. Christie Says:

    මේ බන මොකාට කියන්නද?

    ඉන්දියාවත් ඉන්දියන් කාරයොත් කියල අපිට සින්හල කවපු බන්ඩ උන්ඟෙ පැටවුන්ට කැව්වෙ ඉන්ගිරිසි.

    ගම්වල දුප්පත් උන්ට ඉන්ගිරිසි කවන්න තමයි රටපුරා මැදි මහවිදුහල් හදල පහේ සිස්සත්ව දුන්නෙ.

    මේ ඔක්කොම බන්ඩ ඉන්දියාවත් ඉන්දියානු පරපෝසිතයනුත් එකතුව විනාස කලා.

    අද සින්හල කෙල්ලො කොල්ලො ලෝකෙපුරා ගිහින් වහල් වැඩ.

    ඔට්ටෙලියාවෙ උනත් හුඟක් උන් එහෙම තමයි ඉන්ගිරිසි නැති හින්ඳ.

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