Written by Harindrini Corea
21 Sep, 2019 | 10:40 am
COLOMBO (News 1st):- A key policy of successive governments of Sri Lanka since the 1950s has been the teaching of English as a second language in schools. In the current context of globalisation, technological advancement and the development of a modern and diversified labour market, the use of English language skills is recognised as essential. The necessity for the English language can also be seen particularly in emerging entrepreneurial and innovative businesses. Despite the necessity for English language skills, particularly in the private sector, the lack of English proficiency remains a problem for graduates entering the labour market and for those already working and looking for development of their careers. Furthermore, for students considering higher education options overseas, the knowledge of the English language is essential.
Unequal access to English education
English language education must be a focus at the primary level, junior secondary level and senior secondary level of all schools. In all schools, students must be given the opportunity, regardless of socio-economic and /or regional differences, to acquire a level of English proficiency that aids them in higher education and career advancement.
One of the main problems with the focus on the provision of English education for students, in general, is that this approach fails to consider how there is unequal access to English education across the country. It is the access to English education that supplements the provision of English education and so it cannot be neglected whilst developing the provision of English language skills of students.
Access to English education across the country is partly determined by the availability of teachers who are well trained in teaching English to students. The allocation of teachers to different schools determines access to English learning skills for students across the country. Disadvantaged schools or schools in extremely rural areas of the country require good English teachers and this must be taken into account during the transfers of teachers.
The failure of the English medium policy as a method of teaching English to students
Over several years the Ministry of Education adopted the English medium policy as the manner in which English was taught to students. This approach was where English was taught as a subject confined to one period a day. The reading and writing skills of students were tested based on artificial situations where English was used as a second language. However, this approach did not equip students with the English language skills necessary for effective communication in English as they were not trained to listen to English and speak in English in real-world situations.
The reliance on the bilingual system of teaching English to students
The introduction of the bilingual system of education in some schools as the means of teaching English to students meant that students learnt certain subjects in English and were thus motivated to talk about those subjects in English themselves. Furthermore, where learning the English language is not merely the target but is also the medium of instruction then students are learning English and learning about other matters through English as well which provides them with a more sophisticated understanding and use of the English language.
With the bilingual system, subjects closely linked to Sri Lanka, such as religion and history are taught in Sinhala or Tamil. However, certain other subjects are taught in English. This allows students to be able to be fluent in their mother tongue as well as English and converse in both or even all three languages.
The reliance on the bilingual system reduces the social gap that the English medium system created between English speakers and those who do not speak in English. In the Bilingual system there is no restricted access to English. Therefore, there is more access to all students to learn the English language.
A comprehensive national policy for bilingual education has yet to be introduced in Sri Lanka. Bilingual teaching techniques have yet to be implemented all over the country with a lack of bilingual teachers and lack of textbooks.
Expansion of English education for students
Improving the English language skills of students is not only based on the system of education that is in place but also depends on other factors such as age. It has been suggested that it is easier for children to excel in learning a language if they start learning that language at a younger age, such as in the preschool years. Therefore, in addition to learning in their mother tongue it would be proficient for English to be taught to younger students as well.
Furthermore, improving the English language skills of students must also be focused on the different requirements of students as they progress in school. English language skills for students leaving secondary school, starting higher education programs or entering areas of employment such as in hospitality and tourism, require a high level of knowledge and ability particularly in speaking English and listening to English.
The formulation and implementation of a national policy on English language education and the training of bilingual teachers is essential for students to be provided an international level English education and the appropriate skills.
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