over the ‘second language’ barrier
By Esther Williams
In keeping with the current educational reforms, English is being
introduced as a medium of instruction in several schools in the
country. So far almost 240 schools have implemented the programme
that requires the subjects - Social Studies, Science, Maths and
Health Science from Grade VI onwards to be taught in English.
say, to show outstanding results in the international arena and
secure positions in the corporate sector, proficiency in the English
language is imperative. While most teachers appreciate the importance
of English as a global language and the need to change their medium
of instruction from Sinhala or Tamil, actually making the transition
seems a daunting task.
competent when teaching their respective subjects in the mother
tongue, some teachers feel nervous and lack the confidence to tackle
the same subject in English, which they have studied as their second
Training Course at the British School in Colombo has been designed
to help teachers face the current changes in the system of education
in Sri Lanka. A brainchild of Roshini Cabraal, the current bursar
of the school, the programme is intended to meet the need for English
teachers and teachers who can teach their disciplines in English.
needs help to bring this about," explains Nirmalie Wickremesinghe,
the Course Director who has been responsible for formulating the
programme. "It is the British School's community reach programme
to be involved with local education reforms," she adds.
A former Vice
Principal of Bishop's College, Ms. Wickremesinghe has also been
involved with the Amity Schools' Project and has worked with government
teachers for around 16 years.
Development, Effective Communication, Conversation and Role Play,
Techniques of Literary Criticism, Formal English Grammar, Teaching
Strategies and Methods of Assessment form the course content of
the training programme that has been designed for those with basic
It is essential
for teachers to be given an opportunity to gain confidence to teach
in English, Ms. Wickremesinghe states. "It is OK for them to
make mistakes," she insists adding that when they know that,
they overcome their fear of conversing in English and facing interviews.
spoke at length of the importance of student centred education and
interactive learning where the teacher is a facilitator. "Teachers
should cater to visual, alternate and slow learners and use evaluation
methods that provide techniques for storage. Otherwise students
become rote learners - they study, reproduce and forget." New
teaching strategies and techniques are hence being covered as well.
The 30-day teacher
training programme spread over 10 weeks has had participants from
Tangalle, Malwana, Nuwara Eliya, Nittambuwa besides Colombo, most
being from government schools. School principals, school sponsored
teachers and independent participants are among the 160 who have
so far attended the programme.
"The training and knowledge I received has greatly improved
my employability," enthused one participant, Shenuka Thalpitiya.
"I enjoyed every minute of the course. As a parent I wish that
these attitudes and methods of teaching can be used by the teachers
of my own children."
Said Henry Corea, "I really enjoyed this course. I was very
backward in English when I started. But now I have improved a lot.
The teachers encouraged me a lot and that was just what I needed."
There has apparently
been much demand for the programme from different regions including
Jaffna. The British School also conducts weekend workshops to upgrade
The British School in Colombo, Mr. Jon Siriter, an Inspector of
Schools in UK for over nine years, has served in many countries
and brings with him inputs from a cross-cultural perspective. His
contribution to the sessions on self-evaluation has been immense.
"We provide a framework for teachers to evaluate themselves
from the set criteria and see how they can develop themselves."
the school's initiative in the field, he says, "A school needs
to serve the community it finds itself in - children, parents, teachers
and the community at large by passing on the expertise we have to
the next generation."