ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 45

English is here to stay

With the English medium becoming more and more popular even with students in remote areas, Kumudini Hettiarachchi and Dhananjani Silva report on how the Education Ministry plans to implement the curricula more effectively

Has your child opted to study in the English medium in Grade 6? Are you being assailed by doubts and fears, facing sleepless nights?

Will they, won’t they scrap the English medium?

Priyatha Nanayakkara

Have no fears, assures the Deputy Director of Education (English medium), Ministry of Education, Priyatha Nanayakkara, explaining in detail how the option or choice the students have been given to study in any one of the three languages of Sinhala, Tamil or English is here to stay.

“Of course, the child has to study his mother tongue as the first language, be it Sinhala or Tamil,” she stresses, adding that some specified subjects would have to be studied in a particular language because they cannot be done in any other. Allaying recent fears among students, teachers and parents that it would be mandatory for children to sit Roman Catholicism or Christianity in Sinhala or Tamil, Mrs. Nanayakkara pointed out that a circular had been issued, dispelling this misconception with regard to those who would be sitting the G.C.E. Ordinary Level this year.

Why does this circular not cover all students from Grade 6 to 11?

The circular to the school authorities for these students is being prepared and will be issued shortly, says this Deputy Director, explaining that there has been a curriculum change introduced for Grades 6 and 10, this year. “That’s why we have dealt with those students sitting the OLs this year separately, as they do not fall under this category. ”

New curricula

Recalling the introduction of the English medium in 2002 under the Amity Schools Project, Mrs. Nanayakkara said students had the option of first undertaking the study of three subjects in English in Grade 6 and when they moved to Grade 7 taking up four. Simultaneously, students sitting the Science ALs (Biology, Physics and Chemistry and also Agriculture) could choose to do their subjects in English.

With only 125 schools taking on the task of teaching the students who wished to study in English in 2002, now the numbers have swelled to 526 schools across the country from Colombo to Hambantota, to Moneragala, to Jaffna, Batticaloa, Kandy, Kuliyapitiya and even touching the lives of children in areas considered remote such as Mahiyanganaya.

A majority of the schools are National and provincial, with only 37 being private schools.

This year the first batch of 3,500 students will sit the OL in the English medium for selected subjects, while the ministry has plans to extend the teaching of “selected” subjects in English to the Arts and Commerce streams of the AL next year (2008).

Emphasizing the policy of the Ministry of Education, Mrs. Nanayakkara said the choice of the medium of language, when it comes to English, for certain subjects, unless so specified, would be the student’s entirely. “What we have done is build a framework of subjects for the students to choose from. Certain subjects, however, would have to be studied in a particular language because of the content,” she says citing the example of Sinhala and Tamil literature which like English literature would have to be studied in that language to enrich the student.

The two objectives linked to this policy or strategy are:

  • In a country like Sri Lanka which is multi-ethnic, English should be a link language among the communities to enable them to communicate with each other.
  • To enable Sri Lanka, especially the younger generation, to use English as a tool to access global knowledge in this advanced knowledge society.

“We are not teaching English as an ornament but as a link to minimize and overcome communication barriers and also for our children not only in Colombo but in the far corners of the country to have the advantage of accessing knowledge,” she says, reiterating that the policy with regard to children in the primary (from Grades 1 to 5) having to study in their mother tongue, either Sinhala or Tamil, has not changed.

In the English medium which is for secondary sections, there will be standard textbooks and standard examinations like in the other two streams, The Sunday Times understands. The textbook for a particular subject would be approved by a panel of experts and then translated to the relevant language, preventing shortcomings which have been experienced in the past and giving children in all three streams the same knowledge, she assures.

It is learnt that while policy implementation is handled by the Ministry of Education, the publication of books comes under the purview of the Education Publications Department and the teacher instruction manuals under the National Institute of Education.
How is permission granted to schools to initiate English medium classes?

The two main criteria would be for the school to have competent subject teachers who can handle the work in English while there should also be students who wish to study in this medium. “The idea that English language teachers should handle other subjects is not acceptable,” she said.

Teacher training

Explaining the teacher training plan, Mrs. Nanayakkara says four trainers for each subject per province would be trained by the ministry with the assistance of the NIE, who will in turn go back to their areas and under the guidance of the provincial training coordinator, conduct teacher training.

Lessons for teachers the hi-tech way

Winds of change will soon blow over the education system in Sri Lanka, with plans to train the vast multitude of teachers, using hi-tech.

The vision of the educational reforms cannot be achieved if the most important group – the teachers – do not play a pivotal role, stresses the Director General of the National Institute of Education, Prof. J.W. Wickramasinghe.

The electronic media is being tapped to train teachers and the NIE has already set the wheels in motion to relay training programmes from its headquarters in Maharagama to remote schools scattered across the country, through the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) and its services at grassroots, explains the DG conceding that teacher training is essential, when The Sunday Times pinpointed this major anomally.

The earlier system was to train trainers as the NIE does not have the capacity to train the teacher cadre of 187,339 for 3.9 million children in 9,727 government schools (2005 data) and then send them out to the schools to train the teachers. But this has not worked as well as expected because the feedback we have got is that the message has not reached remote schools, he says, explaining that while they would bring the In-service Advisers (ISAs) in groups for training and send them out to schools, radio and television would be another channel of communication with the teachers.

While the radio-teaching programme is to be launched this month, the Ministry of Education is currently negotiating with a TV station to have a special channel for teacher training, he discloses, detailing how NIE trainers will operate from the studio at Maharagama, allowing teachers to view the sessions, make suggestions and also seek on-the-spot clarifications through the CDMA phone system. “We are hoping to finalize this in May.”

On the recommendation of Education Minister Susil Premajayantha plans are also underway to start continuous teacher-training, seen as long overdue, by resurrecting the teacher training colleges and also making use of facilities at the National Colleges of Education, says Prof. Wickramasinghe.

Under the scheme, a teacher will go in for training every two or three years to rethink methodology, gather new information and also share his/her experiences.

The NIE has also started a programme to develop research as no reforms can be effectively implemented without good research. A new department is being set up for research and a few people are already involved.

Research grants will be available so that we can find out the problems pertaining to reforms, how teachers and students react to the reforms and what other factors like poverty affect them.

When The Sunday Times brought to the notice of the DG complaints from teachers that some of them have not been able to get the teacher-guides, dubbing it an “inherent problem in the system”, he explained that being a government institution they have to follow tender procedure. Sometimes there are problems with regard to printing but all the books the NIE has got have been distributed to regional/zonal educational directors from where the schools have to collect them.

Each school will get one teacher guide for one subject which then will have to be photocopied. The guides are also on the web, he said, citing the case of the Eastern Province and some parts of the Northern Province, where some school authorities themselves came and collected the books. “The problem seems to be in the Western Province,” he added.

Taking into consideration these problems, the NIE hopes to ensure that by December this year, the teachers will have the guides for the subjects to be taught next year.

On the contentious issue of children having to spend money on the materials needed for activity-based lessons, Prof. Wickramasinghe stressed that teachers have been instructed to get resources that are readily available in the locality and least costly. Teachers should have the ability to guide the children to use things around them and not always buy every little thing they need. “This seems to be more a problem in Colombo where raw material is difficult to come by rather than in the village,” he says, adding that donors have expressed an interest in providing assistance, especially with regard to technological subjects.

There is also a special fund allocated to schools to procure material for certain activities, without burdening the students, it is understood.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.