Bogus English tuition classes | Sunday Observer

Bogus English tuition classes

20 November, 2022

Sri Lanka had been a colony of the British Empire since 1815 up to 1948, for nearly thirteen decades. During this long period vast strides were made in all spheres of the administrative mechanism of the country of which the introduction of English education was of paramount importance.

British rulers introduced the missionary schools in many parts of the country through which they propagated their religion as well. Thus, the English language was deep rooted in the country especially among the elite society at the beginning and gradually with the passage of time it drained down to most areas of the country since all schools started imparting bilingual education to the children.

With the introduction of the free education policy by C.W.W. Kannangara there was a boom in the education sector followed by the introduction of the central school concept adopted in the country which subsequently produced thorough educationists and academics even from the rural areas, hitherto produced only by the prestigious schools in Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna.

However, in 1956 when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became the Prime Minister, he made Sinhala the official language amid various objections from some of his Cabinet colleagues and other party leaders. There onwards the recognition and the status given to English was dwindled gradually and the English Language was not made a compulsory subject in the school curriculum which resulted in the loss of enthusiasm of the students far and wide in the country.

This system continued for over three decades and about two generations of students were deprived of the privilege of mastering the language. And the general standard of English even among the so-called educated people were not found to be adequate or satisfactory.

From the late seventies onwards all the subsequent governments headed by different leaders realised the necessity of the language and took various steps to promote English Language skills for the students making it a compulsory subject and also introducing the English language stream in the education.

English is not only a premier world language but also the most accessible one for Sri Lankans. Its use and utility has increased with the spread of the internet and development of mobile electronic communication technology.

Globalisation with its drive for hegemony has also helped to ensure the dominance of the English Language. The rapid increase of migration across borders with increased employment opportunities in foreign countries, especially for the citizens of the Third World has also increased the thirst for English Language competency in developing countries.

Sri Lanka, no exception

Sri Lanka is no exception to this global trend. The rapid expansion of the service industries, especially those in the tourism and financial sector has created many opportunities for those proficient in English.

Accordingly, young people today find it a necessary means of finding employment and enhancing their upward social mobility. Today school leavers have many opportunities that were unheard of a couple of decades ago.

There is a wide range of choice from medicine, engineering to marketing and even dress designing that demand competency in the English Language.

At least a rudimentary knowledge of English language has become part of functional literacy too. In the olden days the yardstick for such functional literacy was the ability to read a telegram message since they were done only in English. Now a little bit of English would become handy even to read the instructions manual of a domestic appliance in the market.

All this explains why there is a craze for English. Most parents want their offspring to be well versed in the English Language.

Unfortunately many fraudsters have made use of this popular yearning and have opened up tuition classes to cater to the growing demand. Since there is no regulatory system to monitor and ascertain the quality of education imparted, many have fallen prey to people with bogus qualifications. Some of these tuition masters have not even a pass in English language at the G.C.E. (O/L) Examination. But they swindle thousands and thousands of rupees of hard earned money from innocent and ignorant parents.

Though there are hundreds of institutions and individuals teaching throughout the length and breadth of the country there is no discernible improvement in the English Language literacy among the population. One reason for this situation is that those who follow these classes hardly use the language for communication. No one could retain one’s language skills if they are not practiced in daily life. It is true of any subject.

The Education Department or at least the Provincial Educational Offices should intervene with these mushroom tuition classes of their areas and take necessary steps to save the young learners.

Present day tuition masters and so-called teaching institutes never refer the books such as High School English Grammar written by world famous writers such as Wren and Martin or even the “Practical English” written by local author W. S. Samaranayake the Principal of St. Bernadette’s College, Polgahawela from which the students can derive a complete and comprehensive knowledge of the language specially in respect of the English grammar, comprehension, idioms, proverbs and vocabulary.

System of language teaching in schools

The system of English Language teaching in Government schools especially in the outstations also leaves much to be desired. Even after eleven years of schooling, the performance of students in the English Language at the G.C.E (O/L) Examination is quite poor. Therefore, one may safely conclude that there must be a grave fault in the teaching of the language. Lack of resources including qualified teachers, lack of enthusiasm among the students and many other factors could be the reasons for this poor performance.

This situation has led the authorities to try various experiments. In fact English Language teaching had been an experiment forever with changing governments, changing the curricula and priorities.

Some years ago they introduced the National Certificate in English (NCE) with much fanfare. Now it is not even heard of. It is believed there was no sufficient response from the public and no recognition by employers.

Various experts were brought down for curriculum development and text books were revised. Yet for all, the status quo remained with no significant change.

Another method thought by them was the introduction of English as the medium of instruction. It was introduced without proper planning. The result of the adventure was witnessed subsequently. In a considerable number of school students who qualified to study in the Advanced Level had no classes or teachers in their schools or in the schools close proximity to theirs.

In fact they were stranded. Isn’t that bad planning? Even today after number of years there are no teachers to teach in the English medium. Even some of those who do so are not sufficiently fluent in the language. There has been no proper training, a woeful inadequacy of resources and bad mix up of priorities.

It is a pity that our educationists do not learn by experience. A change in the medium of instruction should be introduced gradually, step by step so as to guarantee the success.

Calibre of teachers

During our time (mid sixties) our English teachers were not only masters of the language and subjects they taught but also extremely dedicated. Nor they were driven by mercenary interests. They also did not have the luxury of using multimedia facilities or modern teaching aids in teaching. They improvised and compensated any loss of facilities.

Students were not passive learners, they had to communicate in English both with teacher and fellow students. Besides the schools were equipped with good libraries and every student is expected to borrow supplementary reading material from the library.

Teachers used to check whether the books were read by questioning the students on their contents. These are the bygone days.

It is admirable and appreciable to see the present Minister of Education is concerned about the situation and working tirelessly with the officials and experts to provide a satisfactory English education to students while engaged in a whole lot of urgent issues in the education sector.