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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue at the Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

The ability to deal on equal terms with the world at large demands better English, which is an area we have neglected appallingly in the last few decades. In the old days I fear we had a very superior attitude to Indian English, and indeed we still find people in Sri Lanka who believe that only Colombo, apart from one or two denizens of Mayfair, now uses correctly the language of Shakespeare. Such people also look down on the Indian education system in comparison with ours, and talk loftily of our high literacy rates in comparison with the rest of the sub-continent.

Certainly we have much to be proud of with regard to basic education, but we seem since independence to have lagged further and further behind you with regard to promoting excellence. We killed diversity, we killed initiative. Contrariwise, you developed not only institutions such as the IITs, but also world class universities as well as research centres of accomplished professionalism, on a par with the best in the rest of the world.

We have begun now to understand this, and I am pleased that we are relying on India for support for the new Spoken English initiative. Ten years ago the Ministry of Education wanted to promote cooperation with the Centre in Hyderabad, but this died away with the advent of Ranil Wickremesinghe to power, and it was not revived until a couple of years ago.

But in addition to that, we should learn too from you about the promotion of English medium education for not just the privileged, about the programmes you are developing for public-private partnerships in education, about the development of educational materials suitable for and accessible by the majority of our youngsters. When your Foreign Secretary was High Commissioner in Sri Lanka we tried to work together to promote cooperation in educational publishing, but the traditionalists in our Ministry of Education killed that project, and indeed ensured that the wonderful primary English readers that alone we obtained for distribution to students were not used effectively. I have recently come across them locked up in cupboards in rural primary schools, killed stone dead.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2010
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