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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Is multilingualism in the classroom the way forward?

Will multilingualism in the classroom provide a more conducive learning opportunity for students?

Home to several hundreds of languages and dialects, South Asia is linguistically diverse. Yet in the post-colonial era, many South Asian countries continue to use English as the medium of instruction.

Does that practice then, somehow, curtail the powers of expression and cognitive learning among students?

Educationists who participated in a panel discussion on Multilingualism in School Education in South Asia organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) and the Centre for Civil Society, India on October 30th, believe a change of practice would allow more students to better express themselves and understand scientific concepts while cutting across class divisions.

The panel moderated by Rohan Joshi an Education Policy Consultant from India included Prof Anjbeen Soomro, Faculty of Mathematics and Related Studies, Sukkur University, Pakistan, Dr Prasad Rao, Founder Chairman, Paramita Schools, Telangana, India, Prof Thakur S Powdyel, Former Minister of Education, Royal Government of Bhutan, and Shalini Wickremasuriya, Educationist, and Academic and Governing Council member of the Bandaranaike Academy for Leadership and Public Policy, Sri Lanka.

Multilingualism, says Professor Soomro, allows students to express themselves in the language they are most comfortable with. It empowers them and also ensures inclusivity.

At the Agriculture College she once taught, students wanted the terminology in local dialects, so they could better share their knowledge with farmers.

Though Pakistan’s constitution identifies English as the medium of instruction in schools, Soomro says, students are taught in Urdu in the primary grades. Inadequate knowledge of English brings about a sense of shame and segregation, with students from elite schools and those fluent in English developing a superiority complex.

As well, fluency in English is mandatory for employment in the Military, the Civil Service and the private sector.

India’s new national policy on education introduced in 2020 recognises the importance of multilingualism says Dr Rao.

By thinking and expressing themselves in multiple languages from an early age, students will be better at solving complex problems, he adds.

The challenge, he says, is in getting teachers to accept and implement multilingualism in the classroom. He notes, however, that introducing multilingualism does not mean replacing one language with another.

Dr Powdyel agrees that while youth have immense potential they are often curtailed in their intellectual growth by “the established expectations around communication and behaviour.”

Societies will be that much better and more progressive if diversity is allowed to flourish, he says.

Education should not be tailored with one goal, employment, in mind, but as a means that liberates the student while preserving the “integrity of the learner.”

Sri Lanka which took a different route in the early 1960s, switching from English as the medium of instruction to the mother tongue (Sinhala or Tamil) has a different tale to tell.

As Wickremasuriya explains, division along language lines was an underlying factor in the country’s 30-year ethnic conflict.

When the conflict ended the conversation turned to whether trilingualism (English, Sinhala and Tamil) should be promoted for “peacebuilding and social cohesion,” or whether the country should continue with education in the mother tongue along with exposure to a global language.

Eight years ago, she says the government of the day introduced the two-language policy, allowing students the choice of studying a subject in English from Grade 6 upwards.

Unfortunately, only 2.9 per cent of the entire student population between the Grades of 6 to 9 have shown an interest.

That, she says, is because Sri Lanka lacks teachers who are competent in English.

That drawback has also deprived teachers of the “skill set to draw on critical thinking and deep learning.”

An inadequate knowledge of English resulting in university-level students struggling to grasp complex ideas presented in that language has led to many dropping out, or even taking their lives.

She also points out that if faced with a need, students will find a way to learn a language; those seeking employment in Korea, learn that language within six to eight months and even pass the exam.

She adds that it is important to expose children to multiple languages early.

If linguistic justice is to be achieved says Soomro, younger teachers must be included in policy-level planning.

Teachers must also be exposed to the concept of translanguaging and must be open to students making mistakes when communicating.

Rao, meanwhile, points out that exposing students to the basics is far more important than insisting on proficiency.

There is much to be said for multilingualism and the importance of being able to express oneself in the language of choice.

However, proponents of the concept must keep in mind the Sri Lanka experiment; the complete switch to instruction in the mother tongue, with limited or no exposure to a global language resulted in generations of well-educated individuals stymied by their lack of English in accessing employment in coveted sectors.

It also further accentuated class divisions in society. (Colombo/Nov7/2023)

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Sri Lanka president appoints Supreme Court-faulted official as police chief after CC clearance

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest.

President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake presented the official appointment letter to Tennakoon on Monday (26) at the Presidential Secretariat.

When Tennakoon was asked over if the Supreme Court decision would have an impact on his appointment as the IGP last week, he declined to comment, saying that it was a Supreme Court matter and he does not want to say anything about it.

Tennakoon was also criticized by Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when he was appointed as the Acting IGP citing allegations against him related to security lapses leading up to the Easter Sunday attacks which killed at least 269 in April 2019.

However, Tennakoon rejected the allegations. (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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No water tariff hike in Sri Lanka this year: Minister

Millennium Challenge Corporation Photo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s planned water tariff formula is ready, and the government will implement it this year only if the formula’s tariff is lower than the current price, Water Supply Minister Jeevan Thondaman said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has been implementing IMF-led pricing policies on utilities and the Water Supply Ministry has already come up with a formula.

“There is a water tariff formula in place right now and we are waiting for it to be drafted and seek approval from the cabinet,” Thondaman told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Monday.

“Once this water tariff formula is in place, there will be an annual revision with an option of biannual review.

The formula has been developed with the help of the Asian Development Bank. The formula includes electricity and exchange rate among many others as components like the fuel formula.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) increased the water tariff in August 2023, claiming that the operating cost had been increased owing to high interest payment for bank loans and increased electricity prices.

The last year revision saw the consumers paying 30-50 percent increase from the existing water bill.

Minister Thondaman said he will implement the new formula this year only if there is a reduction.


“We will have to wait to see what the formula is. If the formula shows us there needs to be a reduction in the water tariff, we can implement it. But if there is an increase, why should we burden the people when we are on a road to recovery?” he said.

He said a group of experts including University Professors are working on the formula and the numbers.

“Once they come with the number, we will have to take a decision on whether we are going to impose on the people or not,” he said.

“We have already spoken to the Asian Development Bank and informed them we have established the formula. But according to the ADB requirement of this policy-based loan, the implementation period is only in 2025.”

“But right now, you want to take the approval for the formula for sustainability.”

The Energy Ministry is considering a drastic slash in electricity tariff soon. Thondaman said the exact numbers will be decided on after the finalized electricity tariff.

However, he said that as per the formula, there has to be a up to 10 percent increase in the water tariff as of now.

“Given the current formula set up, there must be around a 9-10 percent increase. It was actually at 14 percent. What we have done is since it is at 14 percent, we also did a calculation to see how we can do a cost cutting,” he said.

“So, despite our cost cutting measures, there will be an increase of 9 or 10 percent. But we will not be imposing it as of now because this year is meant to be policy sector reforms. Next year is meant to be the implementation.”

“As per August 2023 water tariff hike, we are able to come close to sustainable. So right now, there is no issue in the water sector. But a formula eventually needs to be established.” (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar Monday, from 310.95/311.05 on Thursday, dealers said.

Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed stable at 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.80/90 percent down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed at 12.00/12.15 percent down from 12.10/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/70 percent from 12.20/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.30/70 percent down from 12.40/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.60/80 percent from 12.45/13.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent from 12.50/13.30 percent. (Colombo/Feb26/2024)

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