qrcode.26140115Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

In the Votes on the Ministries of National Languages and Social Integration, of National Heritage and of Cultural Affairs, considered in the Select Committee

During the Committee Stage of the Budget Debate, November 19th 2014

Mr Speaker I would like during this Committee Stage of the budget debate, as we consider the work of several Ministries which have been brought together, to register appreciation of the work of a few of these Ministries, whilst expressing the hope that they will be able to do more in the future. It is a pity that we have so many Ministries that some many have to be considered in a job lot as it were, but I shall take advantage of this to suggest the coordination that might make the work of some of these Ministries more effective.

I would like to concentrate most on the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration, which has so important a role to play. I must commend the dedication of the Minister and the Secretary, and I am sure he must be delighted that the work he is doing has been recognized by the Ministry now also having the services of a Deputy Minister. I am happy that the new Deputy Minister comes from the Central Province, because with regard to social integration it is perhaps the Tamil community there that needs the most effort to be deployed by the State.

I should note too that in that area it would be useful if government moved swiftly on an excellent idea that had been mooted by the Ministry of Education, namely the establishment of multi-lingual schools in all areas, so that children of different communities could study together. I believe this should be promoted in each Division, and such schools made Centres of Excellence, with children not only being able to go to the same school, but also being able to study in the same class. For this purpose it would of course be necessary to ensure that English medium education was available in all these schools, but this would not be a difficult matter if the Ministry of Education followed the example of the training programmes we set in place when English medium was first introduced, way back in 2001.

In this regard the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration should take the initiative, and encourage the Ministry of Education to move swiftly. In the past few months the Ministry has put forward several suggestions to the Ministry of Education, and this is perhaps one of the best uses of the system of Consultative Committees we have, which are otherwise not very productive. But given the vast responsibilities of the larger Ministry, I believe the Ministry of National Languages must push more effectively, and also develop programmes for the better delivery of language courses throughout the country. Setting in place Language Centres in every Division, using voluntary labour where possible but also providing facilities for paid classes, would be a step in the right direction.

In particular in the North and East, and in the Central Province, such Centres could also prepare students for the teaching of languages. The great complaint of the Ministry of Education, when we ask why the teaching of Second and Third Languages is so bad in rural schools, is that there is an absence of teachers. In particular this is true of Primary Teachers, but of course if there is no foundation, it is impossible for students to catch up, given the way our syllabuses are constructed. But unfortunately there has been no attempt to think outside the box to ensure the production of more language teachers. Here again the Ministry of National Languages, which has such dedicated staff, should take the lead in suggesting innovative solutions. I am sure that, even if the Ministry will not receive funds for such activities through the budget, it can prepare project proposals that will receive ample funding for so laudable a purpose.

Another area in which the Ministry could do more for Social Integration is through collaboration with Ministries in charge of leisure activities. I believe much is being done now in the field of Sports, and I hope the Ministry of Education takes seriously the commitment of His Excellency the President to ensuring the sports is made compulsory for all students. At present this is a privilege enjoyed only in schools that are centres of excellence anyway, but this should be extended to all schools, especially those in rural areas.

Though I believe the Ministry of Sports is doing its best in this regard, the same is not true with regard to Cultural Activities, which should also be in place in all schools. There should be programmes to encourage creativity and to bring students together, instead of the concentration on competition that is largely about individuals. Here again the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration could work together with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and the Ministry of Education to put in place programmes that ensure that our young people grow up with greater experience of our common cultural heritage, and how it should bind us together.

In this regard Mr Speaker I should speak a few words on the work of the Ministry of National Heritage. Here again I must commend the commitment of the Minister, but unfortunately his vision is not always fulfilled. I should note there are problems in that, when what used to be a single Ministry was divided up, not enough thought was given to principles. It would make sense for the Ministry of National Heritage to be about the Past, and about how that can guide us to  peaceful and pluralistic future, while the Ministry of Cultural Affairs should be about the Present, and should work on creative activity. Unfortunately I believe there is no clarity about where the Museums and the Central Cultural Fund belong.

This is the more to be regretted, because of the contribution these could make to Social Integration. I should draw attention in this respect to the Ministry at Kataragama, which showcases how all communities and religions are associated, and I should commend the former Director, Prof Sudharshan Seneviratne for his excellent work in this regard. But it should be added that the inspiration came from His Excellency the President, who was also in the forefront of ensuring that the Northern Kovils were included when UNESCO patronage was sought for our archaeological heritage in that area. Unfortunately, without mechanisms to take that vision forward, we are in danger of letting the north become the plaything of sectarian interests, in contrast to the framework that His Excellency promoted some years back.

I hope therefore that the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration will take the lead in ensuring consultations in this regard, and the development of a programme to take things forward more effectively. In congratulating the various Ministries on what has been achieved, I believe it is also necessary to request that more be done, with greater coherence, so as to better fulfil the mandate that was conferred on this Ministry.