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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.

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presidency 21There has been much exultation in some quarters in Sri Lanka about the conviction of Jayalalitha, but I was glad to see that at least some articles also noted the need for stringent measures in Sri Lanka too, to combat corruption. One article however missed the point, in citing as an example of what needed to be dealt with firmly the Ceylinco case.

The failure to deal with that swiftly, and provide compensation to the victims of the scam, is indeed appalling. But that failure has to do with the delays, not necessarily arising from corruption, of our judicial system. Certainly we also need measures to make our courts move and it is sad that those have been forgotten. Though it is featured in the Human Rights Action Plan, as far as I can see no one has bothered about that plan following my resignation as Convenor of the Task Force to implement its recommendations.

But that is a different issue, and what we are talking about in Jayalalitha’s case is the corruption of politicians. Now this is nothing new, and it also happens all over the world. I remember the scandals in Local Government in Britain when I was a student, more recently we had the horrors of the Bush administration dishing out contracts in Iraq to agencies in which senior officials had interests.

Nearer home however aggrandizement seems to be excessive. The Jayalalitha case is about disproportionate assets, and in Sri Lanka too it is the inordinate greed of those who are plundering the state which has skewered development plans whilst also contributing to the increasing unpopularity of the government. And sadly government seems to be conniving at this corruption, given the mechanisms it has set up this year, with no transparency, to spend public money. Read the rest of this entry »

Last week the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Education met to finalize the Educational Policy reforms that have been discussed over the last nearly three years. Apart from myself, one member of the Consultative Committee and two other Members of Parliament had sent in suggestions, and a few others contributed verbally at the meeting.

I have previously described my suggestions, which were to flesh out the generally very positive approach of the final document that the Ministry team had put together. Though we had seemed to get bogged down in circling discussions, the appointment of Mohanlal Grero as Monitoring Member with responsibility for finalizing the proposals had been an inspired decision and the penultimate document and now this one will help to revitalize the education system and bring it closer to satisfying the aspirations of parents.

Perhaps the most important new suggestions were those put at the meeting by the Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, following a decision of his Consultative Committee on the previous day to encourage the Education Ministry to take on a more proactive role in pursuing the government’s Trilingual Policy as well as Social Integration.

The first suggestion the Minister made was to have a requirement that students also pass in one other Language, in addition to Mother Tongue at the Ordinary Level Examination. This should be mandatory for Higher Education and also for government jobs.

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The way in which government can be careless when there are no clear systems in place became clear to me last week, at a Reconciliation meeting at the Weli Oya Divisional Secretariat. This Division was allocated a year or two back to the Mullaitivu District. I gathered that some parts of it had been in that District previously, but had been transferred to the Anuradhapura District when Tiger attacks had left the Sinhala population there feeling defenceless.

I am glad therefore that the transfer was made, because the idea of provinces belonging to different communities is preposterous. It should be confined to racists such as the Tigers, as when they drove Muslim populations from the North. But in making the transfer government should also have thought of the services that should go along with such units.

Education for instance still seems to be run from the Kebetigollewa Zone. At a meeting next day with Northern Province Education Ministry officials, I was told that Weli Oya had in fact been transferred to a Zone in Mullaitivu, but the people of Weli Oya were not aware of this. They had sought question papers for term tests from Kebetigollewa, and been promised these, and then the offer had been withdrawn.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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