Tony Reilly, Country Director, British Council, speaks at the annual Council for Business with Britain ‘Project English’ Awards Ceremony, held on recently at the Ministry of Education. CBB Project English is a programme delivered by the British Council that provides distance teacher training courses to hundreds of teachers island-wide each year. “English changes lives. English [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

English changes lives


Tony Reilly, Country Director, British Council

Tony Reilly, Country Director, British Council, speaks at the annual Council for Business with Britain ‘Project English’ Awards Ceremony, held on recently at the Ministry of Education. CBB Project English is a programme delivered by the British Council that provides distance teacher training courses to hundreds of teachers island-wide each year.

“English changes lives. English is now a truly global language, and not just for the world’s leaders, statesmen and diplomats, all of whom are routinely required to master it. Millions of children on every continent now spend years studying the language. Sri Lanka is no different in this regard. English has become the passport to wealth and opportunity, an essential requirement for almost every profession and the means by which most internet communication is conducted. Planes take off and land in English. Protesters in distant countries scrawl their demands on placards in English for the world’s cameras. It is the language used to pioneer the latest research, open the Olympic Games, the ICC Cricket and 20/20 World Cup Tournaments and splash breaking news items across the world’s television screens.

There are now estimated to be 1.5 billion English speakers globally: 375 million who speak English as their first language, 375 million as a second language and 750 million who speak English as a foreign language. The elites of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon have dumped French in favour of English. India has reversed its former campaign against the language of its colonial rulers, and millions of Indian parents are now enrolling their children in English-language schools – in recognition of the importance of English for social mobility. Since 2005, India has had the world’s largest English-speaking population, with far many more people using the language than before independence. Rwanda, in a move dictated as much by regional economics as post-genocide politics, has decreed a wholesale switch to English as its medium of instruction. And China is about to launch a colossal programme to tackle one of the few remaining obstacles to its breakneck economic expansion: a paucity of English-speakers.

English has official or special status in at least 75 countries with a combined population of two billion people. It is estimated that one out of four people worldwide speak English with some degree of competence.

It is also said that there are around 1.2 billion people learning English around the world today. English is used as the lingua franca between nations where English is not the primary language. Safe to say in an increasingly globalised world, the number of English learners around the world can only be expected to grow further.

English has been at the heart of our cultural relations mission and purpose since the British Council’s foundation under Royal Charter in 1934. Our work in English creates opportunities for millions of people around the world. Improved English skills open doors to education, employment, mobility and international engagement. English as a link language can also crucially help build connections between different cultures, communities and countries – which is why it remains central to our core mission as the UK’s official cultural relations organisation with a presence now in more than 100 countries. In short, English changes lives.

Our vision globally is to reach millions of teachers and learners of English and to provide them with access to the best resources and latest approaches to English language teaching and learning from the UK. We do this through our Teaching Centre, the fifth biggest in the world, which teaches 12,000 students from young learners to young adults every year; through the GIZ-funded Skills Through English for Public Servants programme, also known as STEPS, we deliver language and content courses to a 1,000 government officials a year in the North and East; and through the CBB Project English we will have trained 1,000 English language teachers by the end of the year – 200 of whom are being recognised today as they receive an internationally recognised qualification from the University of Cambridge.

We also use digital means to reach out to more people and provide wider access to our English learning material. We provide Etisalat and Dialog users the opportunity to improve their English language skills through an SMS-based service. We provide free access to English learning resources through our Learn English websites which have resources for teachers, kids, and teens. Our Facebook page actively engages users by providing updates and easy access to our digital English learning material

And these are just some of the many projects and programmes that we deliver through different means across Sri Lanka to improve the English language skills of people island-wide.

Today, we celebrate our work in teacher training, in particular, and your dedication, determination, and commitment to teach English to hundreds and thousands of students across Sri Lanka. This is a solid example of the effectiveness of the cascade model in training and the strength of public-private partnership. Since the initiation of the CBB Project English, we have trained 740 teachers and 60 mentors. By the end of this year we will have reached 1,000 teachers who in turn teach 100,000 pupils island-wide – using the latest methods and materials to ensure that their pupils become part of a global community of English speakers and users.
And this is how we change lives.

English can give the most economically disadvantaged in society hope. It is a passport to countless opportunities in education, career advancement, and international engagement. It builds confidence and underpins personal development. And in Sri Lanka, it makes you bilingual or in many cases tri-lingual. As Federico Fellini once said, “A different language is a different vision of life” and I am sure you share the same sentiments. It is important that while you are proud of your own achievements, you also realise the significance of your role as teachers of English and how you can and are changing the lives of your pupils.

We are thankful to CBB for funding this project and enabling us to deliver our work widely across the island. I would like, in particular, to acknowledge HSBC’s involvement, leadership, vision and commitment to this project as the principal funder of the project since its inception in 2006.

I am thankful to my friend, Hon. Minister Bandula Goonewardena, and the ministry for your continuing approval of and support for our work in English and schools in Sri Lanka. Only with your approval and support can we hope to achieve our vision of delivering quality English language teaching and training to millions of teachers and learners globally. Our mentors play a crucial role in the delivery of our teacher training work, and I would like to thank and recognise each of you for your commitment, professionalism and hard work, without which we wouldn’t have been able to change the lives of the hundreds of teachers who are being awarded their University of Cambridge Teaching Knowledge Test qualification and certificates today.

Let me finish by repeating that English is fast becoming the world’s most wanted skill. With 1.5 billion English speakers globally and another 1.2 billion people learning English, it is hard to disagree with my assertion that English changes lives. “

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