(July 20, 2010, Colombo - Lanka Polity) The second phase of the Presidential initiative on English as a Life Skill programme was launched yesterday at a ceremony held in the President’s official residence Temple Trees.
The programme promotes English Language Skills, especially speaking and communication skills across the country with the guidance and support of the Presidential Task Force on English and IT headed by Sunimal Fernando. The Ministry of Education and the Provincial Ministries of Education facilitate the task force to conduct the programme.
On July 19, 2009, the President launched the National Road Map to promote Spoken/ Communicative English skills in Sri Lanka. Under the first phase of the programme, a cadre of 80 master trainers and 320 assistant trainers in Spoken English from all nine Provinces were trained at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad. Sixty percent of the 22,500 English teachers of the country were trained to teach spoken English through an accelerated programme says the Presidential Task Force.
The training was given in 10-day workshops that are being held regionally in which the participants are paid Rs. 200 per day. The teachers are taught many language games and they are provided with opportunity to speak English through numerous activities such as debates and presentations. It can be considered a rare opportunity for many teachers of the schools in remote areas to brush up their knowledge and skills.
A teacher guide for spoken English was produced, used and revised by the Master Trainers during the 1st phase,says the Presidential Task Force. Actually, the teachers' guide, a collection of materials from many other sources needed thorough revision.
The preparation of a Teacher Guide on ‘Sri Lankan English Standards’ is also underway by an Academic Committee and their work will be completed in August 2010, says the Presidential Task Force.
The President's initiative appears to base on an assumption that the long lasted mechanisms of the country have failed to achieve the objectives in regard of teaching English. This is quite true. But the same problem remains in teaching vernaculars as well. Has the education system of Sri Lanka been able to maintain good standards in communication in Sinhala and Tamil languages? What about mathematics in the context more than half of the students fail the subject at the G.C.E. Ordinary Level? Are we going to have Presidential Task Forces for all these essential subjects as well?
Anyway, we have one for English and IT. So what can it do? Definitely, the President can use his powers to provide guidance to the existing mechanisms of teaching English which are massive in extent and deep rooted compared to the miniature Presidential Task Force on English.
Presidential Task Force on English should not be a body that try to outsmart the existing state institutes of teaching English. It should be a leader providing guidance to them enabling them to raise their productivity.
But, we are sorry to say that the present Presidential Task Force on English has failed even to define its role. It is a powerful, but small and incapable body that is trying to rise above all the other institutes taking control everything from teaching speech to school students to preparing a corpus for Sri Lankan English.
Already, the Presidential Task Force on English has created too many divisions in the education structure. One example is that the existing master teachers or the In-service Advisers of English of the Education Departments were neglected and a new breed of 'speech masters' were trained under this programme. The intelligent readers may understand the situation in school education environs with such a move.
The propaganda that surrounds the Presidential Task Force on English and the silence of the 'wait and see' professionals that are in fear of the Presidential powers set the scene of the fiesta of some newly-bred 'miraculous' personalities.
We have no any kind of grudge with the Presidential initiative on English as a Life Skill programme. But we think we need to have a bottom line evaluation on this since we as citizen have a right for the best outcome of public spending. It is a good point to start a dialogue on English education of Sri Lanka.
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