Promoting English teaching to enhance jobs - a Presidential
A presentation by Sunimal Fernando, Advisor to the President and Co-ordinator,
Presidential Task Force on ‘English as a Life Skill’ at The Ceylon
Chamber of Commerce - 2008 Economic Summit - session IV - A: Enhancing
The President recently launched a National Initiative to disseminate
spoken or communicative English skills across the country. A Special
Presidential Task Force steadfastly supported and guided by Lalith
Weeratunga, Secretary to the President, has been mandated to ensure that
English is progressively made available as a Life Skill to our people.
The short term objective of the Presidential Initiative called
‘English as a Life Skill’ is the enhancement within three years of
50,000 persons with job - oriented spoken English skills for employment
in services such as the IT related BPO industry.
Such sectors presently do not source investment opportunities in Sri
Lanka largely, though not exclusively, because of the absence of
adequate and appropriate spoken English language skills in our country.
Employment can also be sourced by those acquiring communicative
English skills in already existing businesses that are desperately
searching for persons with spoken English skills for employment.
Ground Reality A paradox
This being the objective, what then is the ground reality? It is in
fact a paradox. On the one side there is in our country a tragic paucity
of job oriented spoken English skills.
On the other side in a small country like ours there are as many as
21,850 English teachers in Government schools and more than 2,100
private tutoring institutes teaching English among other subjects.
Thus while the English language is being delivered so widely and so
extensively in all parts of the country, the sad experience of the
private sector is that they cannot find persons with adequate spoken
English skills for employment.
England centric teaching methods
It is the contention of the Presidential Initiative on ‘English as a
Life Skill’ that the root of the paradox lies in the way in which
English has been and continues to be perceived and delivered by the
English teaching mainstream in the country.
It still continues to perceive English as a ‘language’ rather than as
a ‘communication tool’; and it still continues to deliver English to
students by using teaching methods that were developed in English
speaking countries such as England, Canada, USA and Australia, to
deliver the structure and rules of the language to students who have
already learnt to communicate in English in their English speaking homes
India - a role model of a new approach
But when the language is delivered through a structure, grammar and
translation approach to learners from non English speaking homes and
environments such as those from Sinhala and Tamil speaking rural homes,
what is generated in the learner is a fear of English - a dreadful fear
to speak in English.
This is why we have the paradox of nearly 21,000 teachers and over
2,100 tutoring institutes producing but a dreadfully small talent pool
of employable English speakers in our country.
The overriding strategy of the Presidential initiative, therefore, is
to bring about a radical if not revolutionary transformation of English
teaching methods in the country.
The transformation will hopefully replace the teaching of English
through structure, grammar and translation with the teaching of English
through listening, speaking, reading and writing (the LSRW method) - a
teaching methodology developed in India, more or less in the course of
the past 10 years.
India and particularly her Southern States provide the role model of
a developing country where the new IT-related service sector employment
opportunities of the last 10 years, especially in the BPO sector, have
resulted in the radical transformation of English teaching methods and
Concomitantly it has seen the growth of a vibrant and dynamic spoken
English teaching enterprise in both the Government and private sectors
The Presidential Initiative has already launched two processes
through which an English teaching methodology transfer, - the transfer
of a soft technology, - from India to Sri Lanka will hopefully be
Sri Lanka receives the unstinted cooperation and support of the
Government of India in this activity. While one process targets the
private tutoring sector, the other has as its focus the 21,000 strong
Government English school teacher base in the country.
To introduce the new job-oriented spoken English teaching methods to
the private tutoring sector, the Presidential Secretariat together with
the Board of Investment (BOI) organised a three day Business Mela where
11 Indian English teaching institutes displayed their state-of-the-art
teaching methods and course content to around 325 Sri Lankan tutoring
institutes in the last week of April this year.
Around 10 Sri Lankan teaching institutes are presently in the process
of developing joint English teaching business enterprises with Indian
partners. Another 125 tutoring institutes located all around the country
have expressed their readiness to function as either sub-franchisees or
sub-agents of one or other of the bigger joint teaching ventures.
The private tutoring sector
The first two joint enterprises are gearing for take-off in September
this year. One with the brand name ‘Easy English’, a joint investment
between E-Square English of Chennai and Serendib Ventures of Sri Lanka
whose director is Kishan Karunaratne, plans to have five outlets by
September and another five by December 2008.
The other, VETA of Chennai through their major franchises - ILDP
Academy whose director is P. Surendran, plans to have six outlets for
the VETA brand by September and another 30 by December this year.
Both enterprises hope to expand much more aggressively in 2009.
Several other joint enterprises will hopefully be launched but at a
slower pace. Both enterprises plan to retail their courses at a price of
between Rs. 100 and 140 per hour per student.
The Indian model and the cost of learning English
Individual classes will not exceed 25 students at the most.
In the Indian model by and large, with around 60 hours of learning, a
student can reach the proficiency level of what is called ‘Survival
English’, or just enough English to speak a few sentences though not
continuously, but totally inadequate for employment. (Cost: Rs.
With another 50 hours of learning a student can reach the proficiency
level of ‘Business English’ or ‘Basic English’ - a level of competence
that qualifies for employment in an office, having the ability to speak
Basic English, compose an E-mail, attend to letters, answer telephone
calls, speak to visitors. (Cost: Another Rs. 5,000-7,000).
From here, a student can branch out to reach still higher levels of
proficiency. For example, ‘Executive Level English’ with capacity to
write reports, conduct negotiations etc. in English will require another
50 learning hours (Cost: Another Rs. 5000-7000); or language proficiency
for employment in a Call Centre which requires advanced diction, accent
neutralisation etc. will require another 70 learning hours (Cost:
Another Rs. 7000-9800); while industry specific language training will
require another 20 learning hours (Cost: Another Rs. 2000-2800).
The cost of acquiring job-oriented communicative English skills will
therefore be relatively high, especially for a learner from a rural
The Cabinet of Ministers has therefore approved a proposal for
setting up a Grant Scheme for assisting persons between the ages of 18
and 25 to acquire job-oriented spoken English skills by following any
accredited course of his/her choice.
The Government will invite the private sector who will be the main
beneficiary of the Presidential Initiative to contribute Rs. 200 million
to a fund in support of this scheme with tax concessions granted.
The Government will contribute an equal amount - namely, another Rs.
200 million to the fund which will be launched only when several of the
new job-oriented teaching courses in the private educational sector
Re-training Govt. English teachers
For re-training the 21,000 strong Government English teacher base,
India and Sri Lanka will establish, in October this year, a Sri Lanka -
India Centre for English Language Training (SLICELT) in Peradeniya. The
official opening of the Centre will be on October 2nd the birth
anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Government of India will provide two permanent professors and
short term specialists when required from the English and Foreign
Languages University (EFLU) of Hyderabad - India’s Centre of Excellence
for English Language Training.
India will also gift a state-of-the-art 40 unit Digital Language
Laboratory to the new Centre. Sri Lanka will provide the infrastructure.
The advisory committee of the Centre will have strong private sector
participation to concretise the symbiotic link between English training
Master trainers for all provinces
The Indian Government has also provided scholarships for 41
experienced English teachers from Sri Lanka to be trained as master
trainers at EFLU Hyderabad from September to December this year.
To ensure an equitable distribution of the awards among all
provinces, four teachers from each province were selected for training
in Hyderabad with two additional teachers each for the Western, Central
and Southern provinces from where the vast majority of applications were
On their return they will be located in their respective provinces
and provided the first level of training in the new job-oriented English
teaching methods to the Government English teachers, who will then be
sent to SLICELT at Peradeniya for advanced training.
The need for regulation
SLICELT will also be tasked with the responsibility of working in
cooperation with the English Language Unit of the Education Ministry and
the Department of Examinations, to design a multi-tiered certification
process for both English teachers and English learners. No norms and
standards exist today for English teachers or learners.
SLICELT will be tasked with the responsibility of establishing them.
Some form of regulation is necessary to steer the job-oriented spoken
English drive in the proper direction.
Today anyone can pass off as an English teacher and teach anything
that claims to pass off as English. For example, what is delivered as
‘Spoken English’ in Sri Lanka’s private education market is even lower
in quality than what is classified in India as ‘Survival English’. The
vast majority of those who have followed spoken English courses in our
private education sector are therefore far from being employable.
The role of the private sector
In conclusion, let us recognize the fact that success in the
implementation of the Presidential Initiative will require passion and
commitment. It is naive to assume that this motive force will be
generated by public official involved in its implementation, because
many factors have dulled the enthusiasm of public servants as a whole.
It therefore falls on the Private Sector, as the main beneficiary of
the Presidential Drive, to progressively take ownership of the
Initiative through its organisations such as the Chambers of Commerce
Therefore as the Initiative which is still in its infancy takes more
shape and form, the President plans to invite the private sector to come
forward as a major stake-holder and take the leadership in coordinating
and driving it in all the districts and provinces. The Presidential
Initiative, ‘English as a Life Skill’, will thus evolve, hopefully, into
a Public-Private Enterprise.