English Literature and its position in the Sri Lankan ESL classroom

It is obvious that any child, irrespective of all the discriminations, acquires his mother tongue from his immediate social context; the family whose affectionate conversations can be considered as literary discourses which no one would deny.

The young learner must be offered the language in meaningful, interesting, authentic contexts providing him ample opportunities to interact where the child is motivated to use linguistic structures spontaneously. Gradually he develops in acquiring his mother tongue mastering most of the necessary linguistic competencies at the age of five or six. This is a methodical long run process, a result of cultural framework, especially in eastern countries where grandparents play a vital role in the transportation of culture. The young child is made aware of the culture through fables, stories, poetry, epics and various other narratives depending on the level of understanding. In this process parents play the role of a clever dramatist in performance providing him a ready- made theatre which is very much authentic.

When considering the ESL classroom in Sri Lanka, it is evident that almost all the genres and other sources of literary value have been tried out in language teaching over the centuries. In the past the language teacher was proficient and efficient enough and had a mature knowledge of literature that was welcome by the students.

Therefore the use of literature in the ESL classroom was a driving motivation and students found that it opened the gates to the world of creativity and imagination which is a key to meet their deepest needs and innermost concerns. This allowed them to escape the limits of immediate surroundings as they created their own world of imagination which was kindled by the simplified masterpieces from world literature and they were included as adaptations or translations in their Sinhala texts. Therefore every language teacher would agree that Literature represents the best that the language can offer and it provides the learner with authentic materials rich in historical and cultural content with a high degree of variety erasing monotony in which the learner gains fluency effortlessly.

I do like to stress the fact that the Sri Lankan ESL learner has been subjected to many fluctuations over the recent decades where he was tossed up and down due to the sudden introductions of several approaches and methods which were a waste of national income. For instance, it was reported some books published for the use of EED series under communicative approach were not distributed to schools as another new syllabus was introduced. When L1 learner finds fragmented dull lessons, workbooks, endless activities on the same skill painful, it doubly affects the L2 learner who needs to listen, speak, read and write in the target language since they are often without exposure to English outside the school. But this does not mean that the aforesaid activities are not totally meaningful; they can be used for comprehension in testing understanding. What is emphasized here is, Literature fulfils the psychological needs of the child and provides him the needy stimulants.

The introduction of English Literature to the school curriculum in 1992 is a highly appreciable step towards the development of English Education in Sri Lanka. Though relatively a few students offer English Literature at the examination, both O/L and A/L , the pupils and the teachers were encouraged to explore the discipline where the learner was able to sharpen his critical skills who proved progress in mastering the language better than a mere language learner. Nay, one can deny the fact that the acquisition of social values through Literature makes the learner ready to face the future challenges and paves the way for a moralistic society.

In this interactive teaching-learning process of Literature, the major obstacle is the shortage of qualified teachers, which must be taken into consideration by the government. On the other hand the school Principals should be equipped with this weapon and made aware to facilitate and supervise the process to ease both teachers and students in their difficulties. The Principals should be promoted according to their language proficiency at least as a means of an incentive where they are motivated to learn two or three languages which enable proper management of bilingual or multilingual streams in schools. It should be appreciated that the government as well has taken steps to develop English education at present.

In comparison to O/L, offering English Literature at A/L is poorer since it is not given due recognition and facilities for which the university admission is not considered fair as earlier. Even in testing and evaluation, it is not incorrect to say that the department of examination has lost its early dignity of reliability and confidence in accuracy. Selection of qualified, experienced examiners and training, especially for A/L English should be more regularized and properly handled for the well-being of the future generation. In my opinion a highly constructive supervisory programme must be regulated from top to bottom to encourage both teachers and students and to help them where necessary.

However it is apparently evident that the Literature learner is inspired with living strategies. Literature links with him to his own life which can be applied from the pre school to higher education so that it is the responsibility of teachers and all other responsible authorities to provide the learner with essential tools of Literature; texts, audio visual media, theatre experiences etc to produce balanced personnel. As a result the child may develop the linguistic competencies to be an 'in' group member in the world of elitism.

To provide this with an example I do like to quote the following fiction by Eric Carlile with which the young learner is provided the opportunity to interact and acquire linguistic competencies.

Suneetha P. Pathirana, Maliyadeva Vidyalaya, Kurunegala.

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