|Wednesday, 21 July 2004|
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Taking a leaf from Germany
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's visit to Sri Lanka could be considered a high-point in German-Lanka relations. It helps cement the warm, fraternal ties which have existed between the countries from time immemorial and underscores the mutual regard which has been the bedrock of this enduring relationship.
At the time of this visit by the German Foreign Minister, Germany is soaring ahead as a predominant state of the West. So great is Germany's renown, power and influence that she is considering it fit to seek membership of the pivotal UN Security Council - virtually the UN's number one organ. Backing this claim are the vast strides Germany has made in the economic, scientific, industrial and military fields.
What is remarkable about Germany's progress is that she has registered it mainly over the past 50 years or so, having suffered overwhelming reversals of fortune and power during World War II. Germany is, therefore, a Western state to be admired and emulated. It is her industriousness and dynamism which has enabled Germany to rise from the ashes of war and it is the same spirit that we in Sri Lanka need to foster, if we are to rise from the quagmire which is the ethnic conflict.
From those bygone days when German Oriental scholars of the calibre of Max Mueller and Wilhelm Geiger helped to carve a niche for Sri Lanka in the study of ancient civilizations, our ties with Germany have been vibrant in a number of fields. The German Cultural Centre in Colombo and the German-Sri Lanka Technical Cooperation Programme, to take just two examples, testify to these enduring links. Our hope is that these links would expand and ramify.
The timeliness of Minister Fischer's visit could be gauged from the fact that Sri Lanka is at an important crossroads in relation to the country's ethnic problem. Besides being briefed by President Kumaratunga herself on the Lankan Government's readiness to relaunch the peace effort, the German Minister could ascertain for himself the cordiality with which the Tamil community is being treated in this country. There is certainly no reason why persons from this country should flee to Germany, claiming persecution and marginalization.
The German Foreign Minister could perhaps take the message back home that the LTTE should take up the challenge of re-engaging the Lankan Government in the negotiatory effort aimed at resolving our conflict. The record needs to be put straight with the Tamil diaspora in Germany which is usually exposed to misleading propaganda about Sri Lanka.
There is no doubt that we have a good ally in Germany in our social reconstruction effort. It is our hope that German-Lanka ties would go from strength to strength.
Strengthening English education
English has become the language of the world. It is understood almost anywhere and spoken by billions. English books and newspapers are printed in many countries where it is not even a spoken language.
Most of the World Wide Web's content in English. Thus, a knowledge of English is vital to get ahead in today's society.
This is why English has been given priority in the current education reforms. The Education Department aims to develop and expand the teaching and learning of English in schools throughout the country.
English is taught as a second language from Grade Three onwards. English medium teaching is an option for Advanced Level Science Students. Environmental studies, Mathematics, Health and Physical Education, Science & Technology and Social Studies will be introduced in English to Grades 6-8.
But the best way to learn a foreign language is listening to words being spoken naturally and absorbing them - just the manner in which children pick up their mother tongue. We hope the new activity-based Oral English teaching which was introduced with the primary reforms to Grades 1-5 would stimulate such conditions, enabling students to achieve English proficiency fairly early. The holding of reading camps is another commendable move, for books help students to learn faster and write better. School libraries should receive more English books, especially world famous classic novels and other works of literature.
All these efforts will be in vain if there is a dearth of qualified teachers. It has been observed that some schools in the cities have an excess of English teachers whereas many rural schools face a shortage. The Secretary, Ministry of Education has now requested all Provincial Secretaries and Provincial Education Directors to address the shortage and excess of English teachers in all National Schools, Navodya schools and Kannangara Central Colleges. Schools which have more English than they really need must allow their transfer to other schools.
The training of English teachers should be accelerated so that more teachers could be sent to schools islandwide. In this context, we welcome the proposal to develop the Teachers' College at Peradeniya into a dedicated facility for training teachers to teach in English starting with grades 6-8, which is due to commence in September.
These steps will lead to a generation which is fully proficient in English, fulfilling one of the main requirements of the private sector job market here and overseas. After all, competency in English opens a new window to the whole world.
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