Sunimal Fernando tells LLRC:
Trilingual Sri Lanka necessary for better reconciliation
Coordinator to the Presidential
Task Force on English and
IT, Sunimal Fernando
The need to convert Sri Lanka into a trilingual country to promote
better reconciliation was stressed by Coordinator to the Presidential
Task Force on English and IT, Sunimal Fernando when he testifying before
the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
Citing the findings of a survey titled ‘Socio-linguistic Survey of
Sri Lanka’ conducted for the Public Survey and Research Unit of the
Presidential Secretariat by an Independent Research Institute in August
2010, he said within the next 10 years Sri Lanka needs to be a
According to the finding, 76 percent of Sinhala people living in
majority Sinhala-speaking provinces, 88 percent of Sinhala people living
in majority Tamil-speaking provinces, 89 percent of Tamil people living
in majority Sinhala speaking provinces, 94 percent of Tamil people
living in majority Tamil-speaking provinces, 92 percent of Muslim people
living in majority Sinhala speaking provinces and 96 percent of Muslim
people living in majority Tamil-speaking provinces were strongly of the
view that their children should be proficient in the other national
languages as well.
As for the reasons for wanting their children to be proficient in the
other national language, 88 - 92 percent of all respondents said it was
to facilitate national integration, 75 - 93 percent said it was to
enable the exchange of ideas across linguistic communities, and 73 - 96
percent said it was to enhance access to job opportunities.
As for the reasons for wanting their children to be proficient in
English, 91 - 97 percent of all respondents said it was to enhance
access to job opportunities, 96 - 98 percent said it was to enable
better access to higher education, and 75 - 86 percent said it was for
social status and prestige.
It is therefore an empirical fact supported by recent survey data
contained in a comprehensive report containing 224 tables (submitted to
the Commission) that a majority of people living in both majority
Sinhala- speaking and majority Tamil-speaking areas and belonging to the
Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities are strongly urging for a
trilingual Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, according to the same report, people cross ethnic and
linguistic divides have stated emphatically that in addition to other
benefits a trilingual Sri Lanka will promote national harmony and
communication across the borders of language and ethnicity.
Against this depressing background of the failure of the State to
respond to the language aspirations of the people as they find
expression in the Socio-linguistic Survey of 2010, the only policy
statement on a trilingual Sri Lanka in recent years was made by
President Mahinda Rajapaksa on February 14, 2009 when he launched the
Year of English and IT. He stated as follows:
“When marching forward into the future as a single people, it is my
view that the Sinhala and Tamil speaking people should engage with one
another in each other’s language.
I therefore visualise for the future a bilingual Sri Lankan society.
Individual programs in this direction are already being implemented
in the Ministries of Public Administration and Education with the
facilitation of the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and National
Though the President referred on that occasion to programs being
implemented by the Ministries of Constitutional Affairs and National
Integration (now known as the Ministry of National Languages and Social
Integration), Public Administration and Education, a closer look at
these programs shows they have been largely inefficient, ineffective,
lacking in drive and hence grossly disappointing in their impact on the
country and the people. However, in pursuance of the undertaking he gave
on that occasion, the President has directed the preparation of a
10-Year National Master Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka which he hopes
to launch during the course of ten year.
The vision for a trilingual Sri Lanka
Within the next 10 years, Sri Lanka should progress into a trilingual
nation, with the State consistently providing its citizens the
education, infrastructure and resources to acquire skills in Sinhala,
Tamil and English languages to foster a society where a profound sense
of assimilation and belongingness will take shape in people’s
consciousness while experiencing a spirit of camaraderie and acceptance
in the company of linguistically different groups in the entirety of the
country with Sinhala, Tamil and English languages tearing down the
fences of seclusion and remoteness, restored by solidarity and shared
aims through a process of mass mobilisation, together with an expansion
in prevailing knowledge in Sinhala, Tamil and English; infuse efficiency
in employment and administration through the institution of a trilingual
workforce in all sectors of the country to provide services effectively
to the public, with emphasis on the development of Sinhala and Tamil as
languages of intellectual discourse, debate, perception and discussion
within the country on all subjects and the promotion of the English
language as a life skill to access knowledge developed outside the
country and increase employment opportunities among people of all ages,
gender and social categories in the country, with the long-term
objective of steering Sri Lanka towards economic development.
The Ten Year National Master Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka should
provide equal opportunity to all Sri Lankans to acquire skills in
Sinhala and Tamil as languages of discourse, debate and discussion with
English as a life skill at levels appropriate for individual needs and
aspirations by progressively developing state-of-the-art institutions
and teaching methodologies and user-friendly learning material and
curricula through partnerships, innovation and creativity with competent
and trained resource persons and adequate wherewithal to realise the
objectives of the national initiative, the success of which, will be
evaluated against a set of indicators in order that sustainability could
be ensured by means of modification, adoption and official sanctioning
with the intention that the program will remain resilient and
uninterrupted under consecutive administrations.
Among the goals of a 10-Year Master Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka
are:The master plan should envisage developing Sinhala and Tamil as
languages of discourse, debate and discussion along with English as a
life skill and as an instrument of communication within and outside the
country while serving broader aspirations of the people of Sri Lanka.
Develop Sinhala and Tamil languages for discourse on all aspects of
modern knowledge and technology so as to enable the vast majority of
people to participate in national discourse thereby help grow a vibrant,
practising democracy. Facilitate the development of relevant knowledge
in all subjects, accessible in all forms of modern methods such as
textbooks and other printed material, through the means of radio,
television, CDs, DVDs and IT-based systems that will ultimately be
useful in achieving social and economic mobility and empowerment.
The main thrust of the Master Plan should be to steer the program in
a spirit of equity and neutrality, an absolute deviation from earlier
divisive policies and strategies that did not yield anything substantive
to be effectively and profitably utilised by successive generations, so
that Sinhala, Tamil and English will be common languages used widely in
all fora of intellectual discourse, debate and discussion and
unreservedly and commonly used in speech and writing in the service and
business sectors of the country’s public and private enterprises.
The National Master Plan primed with a broad vision for every citizen
of the country, should focus intensely on the school system and the
growing generation of children to make a discernible change as adults
through proficiency and skill in all three languages, so that they will
be the dynamic and influential forces to drive out the exclusiveness
that has been erroneously built around different languages, which has
trickled down to the very people that speak the particular language,
thereby impeding the process of fostering shared values and aspirations
as one people for the good of the country.
Current methods of teaching second languages in schools should be
systematically altered to usher in a culture of language learning that
will be considered in the light of knowledge and accomplishment and not
as an onerous task.
The master plan should be implemented in three phases
Phase I: Inception/Pilot (1-3 years)
Phase II: Expansion (4-7 years)
Phase III: Consolidation (8-10 years)
Generate a national momentum in the country to encourage the
acquisition of trilingual skills and competences by all sections of the
country as a major step towards national integration and harmony,
accompanied by a drive to dispel language prejudices to establish a
culture of language learning.
Revisit all Sinhala, Tamil and English language courses designed and
conducted for non-native speakers in all ministries and institutions,
including syllabi, curricula, textbooks and teacher guides with a view
to restructure them in keeping with cutting edge developments in second
language teaching in the South Asian region, especially in neighbouring
India, while placing emphasis on the generation of listening and
speaking skills, and the progressive incorporation of IT tools and
online e-learning tools where appropriate.
The reorganisation and modernisation of language courses will be
accompanied by reforms in the system of assessment and examination in
the school system and all other institutions established to teach
languages to special categories of learners.
Integrate the language training courses conducted by the different
Ministries, departments and institutions to warrant coordination and
collaboration, prevent duplication and ensure teaching strategies,
curricula, syllabi and material used by Government institutions follow a
single uniform pattern. All language training courses spearheaded by
non-State sector institutions will be streamlined in accordance with the
requirements of the trilingual initiative, so that relevant skills and
infrastructure developed by the Government will be made available to the
non-state sector, enabling trilingual skills to be passed on to the
private sector, professional and technical groups and the public.
Modernise the process of language acquisition by accessing expertise
from South Asia, especially from neighbouring India to introduce
state-of-the-art language teaching techniques, tools and materials
including e-learning and IT-based tools and distance learning to teach
Sinhala, Tamil and English languages to non-native speakers in the Sri
Lankan school system, universities, vocational training institutes, the
public service, the private sector and the public at levels appropriate
to each of the categories of learners as would be determined through
teaching and learning experiences.
Decentralise the implementation of the trilingual initiative to the
provinces and regions through provincial and regional language training
centres with state-of-the-art language teaching equipment, technology
and resource persons.
Build up required infrastructure to develop and produce material that
will allow the expansion of the corpus of languages pertaining to varied
subjects ranging from the natural sciences to the social sciences and
more, in an effort to contribute to the attainment of knowledge in any
of the three languages.
Develop an institutional structure, so that there is national
momentum for a trilingual Sri Lanka on the one hand, complemented by
programs and activities of the different ministries and government
institutions to achieve the objectives of the Presidential initiative,
which will be implemented, further developed and sustained overtime in a
manner in which, the country would not only be self-reliant in the
development of second language teaching strategies, methods and tools,
but will also be able, hopefully, to make a contribution in such fields
to the global fund of knowledge and experience by developing the
following institutional structures such as : Language Authority of Sri
Lanka, National Authority for Language Research and Training, National
Centre for Language Training, Sri Lanka-India Centre for English
Language Training, Provincial Centres for Language Training.