Council of legal education, a black-white citadel, embraces the English panacea! Part-2
Posted on February 2nd, 2021

C. Wijeyawickrema, LL.B., Ph.D.


This essay was written 20 years ago. It was a reply to an essay which had strange ideas such as JVP was wicked because its members did not know English. There were several such odd points covered in the essay. But strangely, the point on JVP and English does so closely with the decision to make law college English.

Only thing permanent in this world is impermanence or change. Therefore, after 20 years I do not think C. A. Chandraprema has not changed at least some of his views about this human world we live in. I must apologize to him for re-opening an old wound by re-printing it. My purpose is to let the council of legal education (CLE) know that the country is not full of idiots to accept this kind of stupid decisions.

The vice principal of the law college is teaching English to law students. Teaching a second language is not a joke, some way to get an extra-income. It requires professional training. There are degree programs to teach/train how to teach a foreign language. A pass or a credit p has ass is not how one becomes and English language teacher. I wonder if there was an assessment of this English teacher’s performance by his students, and the principal used students’ comments as feedback for the teacher to improve his service.

CLE has a duty to let the country know why it took this decision. The impact of this decision is to prevent rural, poor students entering law college and make it again an academy for the rich, English-speaking kids. Reading English books is good but how does it affect a Sinhala-speaking lawyer’s ability, skill, and power of interpretation of laws in Sinhala? Was the corruption we find in the legal establishment, the exploitation of poor and innocent clients done jointly by the two lawyers of the opposite sides under an adversarial system of justice and perhaps, with the implied consent of the judge, due to a lack of their English language proficiency?

CLE should develop a strong English teaching program with labs or make sure students go to such programs in another university and get them a working knowledge in English so that they can read and understand books written in English. They should not be allowed to proceed until they pass a test of translating a one or two pages of a law text into Sinhala and vice versa.

Important text could be translated into Sinhala (Tamil students have no such problem as Tamilnad is full of such books) by giving contracts to retired lawyers, teachers etc. who are fluent in both languages (legal background is not necessary for this).

The general question of giving students a working knowledge in English is a national problem that the officialdom has failed to do despite wasting tons of resources.

CLE’s attempt to take the nation back to pre-1956 era is like the plan (conspiracy) to make Sinhalaya, Sri Lankan, using the newly designed birth certificate, so that in 100 years there will be no Sinhala nation. All these fit in with the Orumitthanadu balkanization plan and the anti-Mahavamsa project.  With the rumors around that Born Again agents have infiltrated state machinery including the Aluthkade, CLE needs to tell the country why it took this unnecessary step to clear any unwarranted suspicions on it.

And, CLE should have non-lawyer members, just like the need for non-medical persons on the Medical Council.


(This article appeared on the Island on April 13, 2001 (Sinhala-Tamil New Year’s Day).

Gurulugomi to the Rescue: re-Enthronement of the English Language

…Who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole literature of India and Arabia.”  Macaulay (1835) – Macaulay: The Shaping of the Historian, by John Clive, Random House, 1973, p.372

Mr. Chandraprema’s (CAC) paper titled In the footsteps of Gurulugomi..” (The Island, January 29), is an example of the sixteen dreams that puzzled the king Pasenadi Kosol. To understand the genesis of CAC’s paper I asked myself a question, Why was CAC picked up by an NGO to speak on this topic?” Several subsequent writings of CAC throw some helpful light in this regard. CAC was in the past an active socialist and had also served on the Chamber of Commerce (N.M., Leslie and Colvin did the same thing).  He maintains that the Sinhalayas are lazy (the Robert Knox complex). He thinks that Sri Lanka should copy the hire and fire” labour laws from the U.S. (he should ask Ralph Nader, the third-party candidate at the last U.S. presidential election on this matter). He implies that the JVP was a murderous clan because its members do not speak English, although he now accepts that Richard de Zoysa was behind the JVP killings of bus drivers. Apparently, the NGO did their homework.

The retired professor of education, Ranjith Ruberu, recently had an article on this topic titled Hasty changeover [is] unwarranted,” (The Island, January 19).  How did the professor reconcile this with his previous article in the Island, The need to make English compulsory for university admissions?” Because those who routinely promote English ignore two important concepts— proficiency in a second language and barriers to learning English in public schools— it is useful to ask a further question of who is promoting English and why? If English teachers trade union is promoting English, one can understand it, if they do not neglect their classroom duty before giving private tuition. But if globalization, McDonalds coming to Colombo, the mushrooming business of international schools, an ethnic war with a terrorist group, unemployment, youth suicide, corruption, bomb culture and enrichment of some via military supply contracts are some how connected with lack of English knowledge, then those promoters are simply dishonest. If ability to speak English is the path to Nirvana, then those countries where English is the mother tongue should not have poverty, unemployment or high school kids taking guns to schools!

Pali and Gujarati as Foreign Languages

Sinhala villagers have enough problems already and they do not need a new Pali problem created by an NGO seminar. They had a Mysore dhal/Bombay onion problem during Lalith’s time. But imagine the eerie feeling a Buddhist could go through by differentiating Pali as a foreign language? Recently, when my mother-in-law was dying, my wife and her brother were at the hospital bedside chanting pirith. I do not know whether any one of the three was thinking at that time that pirith was foreign object like Kentucky Fried Chicken or a McDonald’s hamburger. In the good old days people used to chant pirith when chased by a ferocious dog or walking past a cemetery in the night.  Do we consider the Buddha, or the children of King Dharmashoka, Arhants Mahinda and Sangamitta, as foreigners? The Tooth Relic was from a Pali and not from a Sanskrit mouth. For centuries Pali was the language of Buddhism just like math has been the language of modern science. It was a dead language required for those who wanted to become Buddhist priests.

The Diaries of Anagarika Dharmapala

If we look at languages from a utilitarian, proficiency perspective, instead of who is not a fool viewpoint, then we do not have to cite Ven. Anagarika Dharmapala’s diaries as evidence. The concept of proficiency strips English of its Kaduwa aspect from the Sinhala politics (Youth Commission Report, page xvii). It becomes just a language, a tool like a typewriter, fax machine, computer software or German. Did Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) use English to show that he was an educated” person in the tradition of Gurulugomi or the senior civil servant Amara Hewa Madduma?  May be Mrs. Annie Besant- with whom the young David was pleading for a chance to go to the Himalayas to meet with secret adepts- asked him to do so, before she found the future Krisnamurthy in the beaches of south India. Or was there a police order for him to keep a record of his daily activities? The point is, we just cannot speculate on such things. For example, I prefer to write this essay in Sinhala and send it to Divaina, the Sinhala daily” but it is not practicable for me to do so. I did it once and did not know what had happened to it. Does this mean that my intention is to join the educated” class? Does this diary-business put him in the category of a present-day politician? Didn’t he play an honest game? Just like Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), the liberator of South America finally left his country of birth, Venezuela in frustration, Dharmapala, the peaceful fighter also left the then Ceylon in disgust, vowing never to come back, so I heard.

This diary business reminds a previous debate by one Mr. Amaradasa Fernando, who commented on the inability of the late Professor F. R. Jayasooriya to write in Sinhala (The Island, June/July 1999). Why is that a group of NGO-sponsored people are not writing about politicians such as R. G. Senanayake or K. M. P. Rajaratne, but target persons like Professor F. R. Jayasooriya, Dharmapala, Munidasa Cumaratunga or the Christian-born James D’Alwis (1823-78)? One in this group calculated the percentage of Mahavamsa kings who killed a father or a brother to get to the throne! Could we expect that one day this group will cite that Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy was married four times, each time to a white woman? Or after done with the first list of targets, would they then cite G. P. Malalasekara, P. de. S. Kularatne and S. A. Wickremasinghe, for marrying white women?

Who is an educated person?

There was a famous case in which lawyers of an American newspaper tried to prove that Henry Ford was an uneducated” man. But Henry Ford changed the modern world. During the Premadasa regime some professors were talking about the clique of seven, seven ministers who had seventh grade education. When an apple fell on Newton’s head, fortunately he did not ask the wrong question, Why did this apple fall on my head?” in which case some say he would have written a long novel. Instead, he asked, Why do apples fall?” Because promoters of English do not ask the proficiency and barrier-related questions, they write about Pali, diaries and Gurulugomi.  The fifth verse in the Subhasitaya lists as stupid those who did not know Pali, Sanskrit plus TAMIL. Stupidity is also covered in the last verse of the Lokopakaraya.

But the question is whether one becomes an educated” person simply because he or she is bilingual. During the days of Sir John, there were many taxi drivers and Colombo seven Aayas (maids) who were bi-lingual. I knew people who spoke English at home but spell court of law” as coat of law.” Despite the story of Amawatura or Subhasitaya in the past, the pre-independence Ceylon treated those who knew Sinhala and English as stupid. Only a handful of white men did not agree with what Macaulay had to say about the Asian heritage. Rhys Davids (1881-1922) of the Ceylon Civil Service, son of a Christian minister, was one of them and was fired from his job because of his strange” views.  Sir William Jones (1783), the first president of the Asiatic Society of Bengal was another. Sir D. B. Jayatilaka was an Abittaya (temple servant) to Marxists because he had his early education in a Buddhist temple. Colonial rulers deported him to Delhi so that the seventh-grade, English speaking people who did not know Sinhala or Pali or Gujarati could rule the country. Cumaratunga Munidasa (1887-1944) was not qualified to entrust with the task of preparing the Sinhalese Encyclopedia. Ruskin Fernando who contested the Moratuwa seat was bi-lingual and he tried to say that he loved his urine-land (muthra) meaning his motherland (maathru)!

Until Colonel Olcott and the Buddhist Theosophical Society came to the forefront in the1880s, it was not Gurulugomi but Macaulay and the likes of Sir Ivor Jennings, trusted advisor to prime ministers, who influenced the education policy in Ceylon. In 1804, just two years after the coastal Ceylon became a crown colony, the London Mission Society started schools to convert children. Two other examples would be sufficient to show the Sir John-kicking-M.S. Themis-on the steps of the parliament building” (compare with the Ratnatunge attack on the Asoka Vidyalaya cricket players) mentality of Ceylon. If a person was sick for more than fourteen days a medical certificate from an Ayurvedic physician was not accepted. It must be from a western doctor or from a hospital [written in English?]. Those who came out of the English teacher-training college were paid a higher salary than those who came from the Sinhala medium training colleges. Sinhala became Bible Sinhala,” and a kitchen language, the same way that Buddhism became a kitchen religion. Among the many survival strategies, some Sinhala people had two first names, one Sinhala-Buddhist (Aryan?) and one western-English (Christian?). They were Christians in the office and Buddhists in the kitchen! The great religious debate at Panadura (April 1873) took place under such circumstances.

The International Irrigation Management Institute is in Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka had a sophisticated irrigation water supply system in the ancient world. Who were these ancient irrigation workers? Were they bi-lingual? Some Marxists branded king Dutugemunu as a fool of bricks” for building the Ruwanvali Maha Saya. Yet these same Marxists make trips to Egypt to see the great pyramids! I think a person who knows that he does not know is an educated person. An educated person knows the art of living in an impermanent world. Martin Wickremasinghe had so vividly described in his Apegama that the guru-gedara and the village temple were the centers of education and educated people in Sri Lanka, before, during and towards the end of the colonial period. Contrary to what the new NGO-oriented writers think, British governors took full advantage of such native institutions like the caste system, village council, village headman, village tanks and the temple-based village education, all in the name of peace and good governance of the colony.

Colonial Education Policy

As children we studied the colonial education policy from Horace Perera’s history textbook, Ceylon Under the Western Rule.” For a detailed history, the best source is chapter 12 Indian Education: The Minute” of Clive’s book on Macaulay. There were two opposing views. Engrafting” Western knowledge upon Indian cultural traditions by means of Sanskrit and Arabic and downward filtration,” the creation of an educated elite who would themselves become teachers to other great mass of poor Indian people. The latter policy had an evangelical and utilitarian bias.  So, Macaulay said, we must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” Who could deny that NM, Leslie, Colvin, Lalith, Gamini, JRJ, Dudley, Ranil, Neelan-GL and Chandrika did not qualify as grand children of Macaulay?

Since its top priority was making profits the colonial government left education in the hands of religious and private organizations. As summed up by Nehru, colonial masters supported a policy of education for clerks.” In 1851, Radha Kanta Dev, a progressive Calcutta merchant warned against a system, whereby, ..with a smattering knowledge of English, youths are weaned from the plough, the axe and the loom, to render them ambitious only for the clerkships for which hosts would besiege the government and mercantile offices…” Dev favored agricultural and industrial schools, where skills could be taught. For him, the prerequisite for these was a solid vernacular education. Lord Curzon who divided Bengal into two in 1905, made the same point half a century later (Clive, p. 416). We need to look at Sri Lanka’s economic problems today from Dev’s and Lord Curzon’s wisdom and not from CAC’s opinion of a vernacular disaster. In the USA alone, in each major city, dozens of vernacular educated Sri Lankans—engineers, doctors, chemists, physicists, professors and arts graduates— have successfully competed with those whose mother tongue is English in the latter’s own turf by acquiring a simple working knowledge in English. English did not give Sri Lankan Americans the brain, intelligence, creativity, or the power of analytical thinking. English was only a vehicle, and they do not carry this raft on their shoulders after crossing the river. Here then is a proven simple model that Sri Lanka should follow.

As Gandhi once said, it was nothing less than scandalous that people should devote the best years of their lives to mastering a foreign tongue.” Buddha said twenty-five hundred years ago that one’s mother tongue was the most appropriate medium of education. Those who think Sinhala is a poor language should try to translate into English the following line of a verse in the Subahsitaya, pin mada putun siyayak laduwat nisaru.” Sir D. B. Jayatilaka, who opposed the introduction of universal suffrage, was convinced that originality of thought was inextricably bound with one’s own mother tongue. He asked, we have had English education in this country over a century…but has anyone left a single book in English verse or prose which will survive a generation?” (Legislative Council Debates, 1928:368). As cited in Professor K. N. O. Dharmadasa’s book, Language, Religion and Ethnic Assertiveness (1992, p. 215), Ananda Coomaraswamy, who was fluent in ten languages, went even further to endorse strongly, the link between one’s creative and intellectual development and his/her mother tongue. Martin Wickremasinghe, who learned his Sinhala at Koggala showed so much creativity. What did the Peradeniya honours graduates who studied Sinhala language in English language produce? Some of them became civil servants such as Charles Abeysekera (English, Sanskrit and Latin?) who sat on top of all the state industrial corporations for decades.

Sri Lanka has no resources!

This brings us to CAC’s next theory that Sri Lanka has no resources. He should tell this to a Japanese or a Korean and ask them to buy the island! Resources are not, they become.” A geography professor could perhaps enlighten CAC on this topic. But after living in this resource rich USA for 21 years, I think Sri Lanka has more than enough resources to be a healthy-happy nation. The problem has been the UNP-SLFP leaders and the Colombo class. For example, when you think of the money paid to baby-sitters and to psychiatrists for mental stress in America, the extended family-net and the Buddhist way of life in Sri Lanka are two important resources. Agriculture and industry are the two legs of a country helping each other, and a garment industry based on shiploads of cloth or yarn converted to tons of exported shirts and pants cannot change this basic truth. About 30 years ago E. F. Schumacher, opened our eyes to the path we should have followed in his book Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. But politicians and their catchers and officers cannot get commissions unless they invite big projects.

Sri Lanka is poor, and the university educated are unemployed not because they do not know English, but the country is lacking leaders with wisdom and dedication. What the UNP and SLFP did to the country is candidly summarized by the Sri Lankan prime minister in the presence of the president .. All parties utter lies in their election manifestos and the party which utter better and more effective lies is the side that wins the election..” (Daily News, February 14, 2001). While the old Cinnamon Garden class is decaying, new types of classes are emerging in the Kotte-Nawala-Madivela area. Now people make money via politics, war supply contracts, NGOs, and commissions from foreign aid contracts. Their children could go at least to an Indian university and when they come back foreign companies prefer to hire them instead of the local graduates. The presumption is that those with an overseas education represent a higher class and are less radical and less nationalistic. It is an irony that poor Sri Lankans go to the Middle East as maids, clean toilets, and remit hard foreign exchange to Sri Lanka. Rich peoples’ children who cannot enter a Sri Lankan university use that money under the World Bank orders of a free-liberal economy to go to foreign universities.

Vernacular Disaster and the American Civil War

In Kent, Ohio I met a Physics student who got an assistantship to come for higher studies because he had a physics degree in the Sinhala medium. If his English was tested, he had no chance of coming here. But he was blaming SWRD for removing English from the university. A group of dedicated Sri Lankans fought to open the doors of the university to the common people of Sri Lanka. When the plug was removed, big-fat-rich kids from Colombo and other big cities had no chance. In the early days university admission decisions were made after a personal interview. And at the interview, as reported by Felix Dias B, Sir Ivor asked him, Since your father is a judge of the supreme court are you also planning to be a judge of the supreme court?” to which FDB replied, No, I want to be the vice chancellor of the university so that I could select students.” They were just scratching each other’s backs! While Royal, St. Thomas and St Joseph dropped out of the scene, village students with 8 distinctions at O.L. flooded the university. With so many qualified students the government added a second arts section in Colombo in 1962, nicknamed the Gopallawa faculty.” In 1962, those who were losing their post-independence privileges staged a military coup, allegedly with Dudley and Sir Oliver’s knowledge. P. de. S. Kularatne’s son-in-law, Stanley Senanayake saved the country.

What happened to the Philippine Islands, Africa or to some South American cultures did not happen in Sri Lanka, because of life-sacrificing acts of Walane (Panadura) Siddharta (1811-68), whose wisdom resulted in the establishment of Vidyodaya (1873) and Vidyalankara (1875) Pirivenas, Migettuwatte Gunananda (1823-90) Hikkaduwe Sumangala (1827-1911), Colonel Olcott, and many others.  It is true that a postal peon’s son could become a famous Sinhala Civil Servant (Ananda Guruge) or a poor school clerk’s son from Panadura could become a Peradeniya professor (I. D. S. Weerawardena), and some children of school principals, postmasters and village landowners had an opportunity to enter the University of Ceylon. But the Kannangara Free Education Reforms did not reach the masses until the people’s revolution in 1956 and the decision to teach in Sinhala and Tamil in the university. In the 1960s, to supplement the university bursary system, Dr. N. M. Perera, added a university students’ bank loan scheme through the People’s Bank.

But it was not an easy victory. We all know what Sir Nicholas, the dean of medical faculty told F. R. Jayasooriya when the former was approached to teach medicine in Sinhala, first go and teach your Sinhala in Sinhala and then come to me.” In this effort FR had the backing of I. D. S. W, who pioneered teaching political science in Sinhala, with the support of his English wife, until his untimely death by a misdiagnosis of chickenpox. But professor F. R. Jayasooriya, once told me that at a much later stage, when the movement had reached the point of no return, a person non other than R.G. Senanayake asked him, Is it really possible to teach science (medicine) in Sinhala?” FR should have cited the king Buddhadasa, the Russian doctors or the Jews medical researchers in Israel. Which is the language of medicine, English, Russian or Hebrew?  The language of medicine in Ceylon was class privilege and money. Private medical schools and private universities are not bad ideas per se if, we tell the real reason behind them. People who get rich by just means taking risks must be allowed to enjoy their wealth. Is this against Buddhism? But one should not say that the French enjoy justice and fairness under the French law because both the rich and the poor are allowed to sleep under the bridges in Paris.” One law for the lion and the ox is oppression.” Equality also did not come when minister Hamid sent trade representatives to the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington, D.C., who knew no other language except Sinhala. We did not know who was stupid, the minister or the ambassador?

There is a remarkable similarity between the period of Southern Reconstruction after the American Civil War (1861-1865) and what CAC brands as the Vernacular Disaster (1956-78). In the final analysis, the American Civil war was a war against slavery. Abraham Lincoln gave his life to save the Union. But after half a million deaths, the terms of surrender were so generous and gentle because that was what Lincoln wished. Slaves became free and in the South for a brief period former slaves enjoyed freedom and tasted little bit of political power. This was like what happened in Ceylon after 1956. But soon African Americans in the South succumbed to a reign of white supremacy, separate but equal laws,” and the Ku Klux Klan. Blacks had to wait until Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior led the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Legally and religiously backed racial discrimination was so rampant that when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on May 31, 1922, blacks were restricted to a section across the road from the white audience. Twenty-one black guests left the dedication in protest (Lies Across America, James W. Loewen, 1999, p. 334). In Sri Lanka, those who came to universities from remote villages had to think of buying at least a postage-stamp size plot of land somewhere near Colombo to send their children to Colombo schools. Sri Lanka needs to discard the Colombo paradigm and go towards Anuradhapura for a new capital city (The Island, April 21, 1998; Feb 7, 2001). The victimization based on English began with an English language provision in the JRJ constitution and now the department of education is issuing circulars to commence English medium public schools.

A Large Dose of English Therapy

According to Dr. (Mrs.) Kariyawasam, during minister Lokubandara’s time, English … was restored to its pride of place” (The Island, May 4, 2000). Among other things, with World Bank funds, a target was set to produce 1000 graduate teachers with English as a subject by the year 2000. Was this not an example of CAC’s therapy dose? What has happened in 2001? Sri Lankan president says over 40% of developmental funds in the state sector end in waste (Daily News, Feb 14, 2001). Despite talk about regional planning and the development of villages in remote areas for the past 60 years, Colombo is bursting with dust, filth, and corruption. The housing minister reports that half of Colombo’s population live in slum conditions. The problem is second only to San Salvador (Lacnet, March 7). That is why talk must be matched by walk. Otherwise talk ends up with Guinness Book records of youth suicide and international schools.

Macualay never played cricket, which most Americans brand as a lazy persons’ game.” We were taught that it symbolizes the British cabinet form of government. When the Royal-Thomian match was reported in the Ceylon Daily News, in villages we played cricket with coconut bats and Kaduru balls. Our Elle is America’s most popular game, the baseball. But to talk … make English so widespread that there is no status attached to it like cricket…” is misleading and cheating. According to this theory English-speaking countries have no ruling (Colombo) class and no injustice. If we take the predominance of African American in American sports, then if CAC is right, African Americans must also be presidents, CEOs, and senators by the dozen. In Sri Lanka nobody laughs at you if you cannot play cricket, but if you make a mistake in English, a language full of exceptions and few rules, you are ridiculed and condemned. Here we come to the question of denied access and opportunity, the class power of those who climbed up the English language ladder kicking down the Sinhala and Tamil-speaking majority. I often wonder why we do not consider learning English the same way we try to learn how to ride a bicycle. When the time comes, we do not give up it until we get the balance and able to take that first magic ride to freedom.

Colonialism and English

I think Ceylon was fortunate to come under the British in 1798, instead of any other colonial master. When the Portuguese finally abandoned Angola, there were no native stationmasters to man the few railway stations it had! In the streets of London, English workingmen and women fought for a fair deal for the colonies. This was why Gandhi said that except India he would prefer to live in London. When the stone heads of Lenin and Marx came tumbling down, starting with Lech Walesa’s Polish shipyard strike, Karl Marx’s was peacefully sleeping in his tomb in England without a single sentry to protect him. The old lion Prins Gunasekara, who could not return to Sri Lanka because of death threats, live safely in London in exile along with the JVP leader who is also in the same boat. The story was that a certain viceroy of India was behind the formation of the Indian National Congress.

Our admiration of the West and the English language need not become an obsession.  Blind faith in everything western and American could become a mental sickness. For example, why is that Colombo people embrace things coming from America, which even the Americans here are rejecting and protesting. A good example is the McDonald hamburgers notorious as an unhealthy fast food (The McDonaldization of Society, George Ritzer, 1993). It is widely believed for good reasons that the Buddhist India and the Greece of Socrates and Plato had exchanges of ideas. In Buddhist societies, both amongst layman and monks, one could find the existence of several modern democratic principles. The Buddhist temple with its own chief incumbent functions as one of the most decentralized and independent religious and civic institution in the modern world, at least before the ministry of Buddhism and its officers of the party in power started allocating government money to their favorite temples. In America, native American (e.g., Iroquois nations in the 1740s) ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality found their way to Europe to influence social philosophers such as Thomas More, Locke, Montaigne, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. These European thinkers in turn influenced American such as Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison, the authors of the U.S. constitution (Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen, 1995, p. 111).

The value of such knowledge is that it helps one to appreciate the lesson in a Buddhist Jataka story telling us not take the raft on to our shoulders after we used it to cross the river. English is only a raft and it need not be a Kaduwa. English is a very economical language. Because it is so widespread proficiency in English is a passport to see the world. It has a rich vocabulary, flexible and has relatively simple spelling and pronunciation. If a standard western typewriter keyboard were to expand to take in every Chinese ideograph it would have to be about 15 feet long and 5 feet wide (The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, Bill Bryson, 1990, p. 118). There is no reason to love English, and there is no reason to hate it. Politicians and their henchmen-officers are playing the same old game when they say that Sri Lanka is in a mess because English was ignored.

Barriers to English Proficiency

All what a Sri Lankan child needs is one class period of quality English every school day from grades 2-10. As Dr. Kariyawasam reported, of the 40,000 English teachers, nearly 19,000 recruited in 1972, came with a credit pass in English at the G.C.E. (O.L.). Three decades later are we doing a better job in solving this problem of quantity and quality of English language teachers? How many schools even within a 25- mile radius from Colombo could claim that they have enough qualified English teachers? Those officers in the education department who plan English medium schools must first complete the simple task of providing teachers who can teach English as a second language. Teaching English as a foreign language is not the same as speaking English. Sri Lanka had a reasonably good textbook translation service in the 1960s and who killed it?  There is no one path to make children proficient in English. But it can be done without killing their mother tongue.

The education department has failed miserably to develop an educational policy that helps the country. Instead, it became a service department to politician ministers giving jobs to party supporters. No wonder education has gone to the dogs. How can it develop English medium schools when it could not solve the English language teachers’ shortage for the past twenty to thirty years? Is it planning to import teachers from India to teach the other subjects in English?

Those days there were night schools attached to Temples where English was taught free. Who killed that concept? Why cannot this method be revived? This is a low cost, village level approach suitable for those genuinely concerned with helping the masses. We commemorate with gratitude what the American Olcott did for us in the 1880s. He helped to establish schools for the Buddhists at a time the government was not willing to help. Ironically, those who had the responsibility of continuing Olcott’s mission neglected teaching English to Buddhist monks attending temple- pirivenas. It is much harder to learn Sanskrit, but student-priests learned Sanskrit and Pali and not English. Buddhist priests had to rely on the English knowledge of the lay Buddhist leaders. Same thing happened with the Marxists. The leaders spoke English but the ordinary members, the laborers and clerks did not know it

Providing a working knowledge of English to those who study in their mother tongue should not be a matter of Anto-Jata-Bahi-Jata. There is low cost, more effective, user-friendly, community-based solutions people can do without getting under the iron heel of the education department or party politics. For example, two years ago a village temple at Walana, Panadura started an evening school to teach English to children who cannot go to English tuition classes. The school (Sri Siddhartha English School) is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:00-6:30 p.m. and now has over 150 students. It is mainly for those who come to the temple’s Sunday-school, but no one is excluded because of his/her religion. The children are provided with basic learning materials and strict discipline is maintained regarding attendance. The chief priest of the temple is surprised and moved by the dedication of the retired and other voluntary teachers who made this a success. They are also planning to start a night school for the working adults. In this case everybody is a winner. Teachers do something meritorious. Parents feel they are recognized. Children receive free English tuition to supplement their regular school English class. This is self-reliance and this is what we call access and opportunity. This is also an example of the Global Paradox mentioned by John Naisbitt, – the bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smallest players (1994).  A small fraction of the World Bank money, used by Colombo officers for big projects, if diverted to night schools, evening and weekend schools, retired teachers and other dedicated citizens at village-level are able to propagate English like cricket. I sincerely wish that Mr. Chandraprema and professor Ruberu would take a leadership role in organizing an evening or night English school in their hometowns. It will not be difficult to find a thousand sponsors from the U.S.A. alone if they could find thousand temples to offer free English classes.

C. Wijeyawickrema was an assistant professor at Kent State University, Ohio

One Response to “Council of legal education, a black-white citadel, embraces the English panacea! Part-2”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Sorry I don’t have the time to read this but I would sincerely advice all in the country to make the English language the official language of the country. This will make every one in the country think out of the box, also unite the country which is made out of more than one ethnicity. Language is only way to communicate with one another, with English one could reach to the wider world.

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