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Importance of mother tongue in learning



Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera has discussed the relevance of the mother tongue in early learning and also in the preservation of the culture of a nation in an excellent article which appeared in “Irida Divaina” on 20th June 2021. He was responding to the government’s hare brained decision to introduce English as a medium of instruction in primary schools from year one. He sounded very disappointed probably because he did not expect such a thing from a government which he thought was nationalist in all critical policies. Dr. Amarasekera is the doyen of Sinhala literature and also in nationalist critical thinking. No wonder he thinks such a move would be the death knell of the Sinhalese language and its development. Everybody would think the government has taken this step for it would ensure employment. Everybody would want to study in the English medium.

While it may be correct that a knowledge of English is useful not only from the point of view of employment but more importantly from the point of being learned, it should not be done at the expense of the mother tongue. Mother tongue is the cornerstone of our civilizational consciousness. We could exist as a nation in the face of great peril for more than 2500 years due to the binding nature of our language which held us together in the face of adversary. Our heritage is so rich in culture, literature, religion and art mainly due to the pervasive language that we developed on this land. Its further development would be greatly hampered if it does not continue as the medium of instruction in the formative learning period of our children.

Great cultures of the world ancient and modern such as the Greek, Indian, Chinese, English and Russian have blossomed and made this world beautiful due to the fabric of their languages. If Leo Tolstoy’s medium of instruction in early school had been French he would not have thought as a Russian and wrote those great novels like “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace”. Same could be said of Euripides and Shakespeare and also Martin Wickramasinghe and Gunadasa Amarasekera. Their Greekness, Englishness and Sinhaleseness respectively would have been stunted and we would not have “Macbeth”, “Viragaya”, “Rathu Rosa Mala” or “Gandappa Apadanaya”. Fortunately they were not educated for the purpose of employment.

From the point of view of effective learning, the essentiality of the mother tongue as a medium of instruction in early formative years cannot be overemphasized. There is enough research done on this subject and the findings are overwhelmingly in favour of mother tongue to be the medium of instruction. Mainly these research models have been designed in relation to multilingual educational institutes, some with well developed mother tongue teaching programmes and others that had no such programmes (Ball J, 2011, Kosonen K, 2009). There had been multicentre research featuring schools where the medium of instruction had been the mother tongue and other schools where it had been a foreign language (Bluson M, 2004, May S, 2003). Noteworthy findings have been that language of instruction was a factor for low and high achievements.

These researchers conclude that when children develop their mother tongue at home under the influence of the family they are simultaneously fostering a whole host of other essential skills such as critical thinking and literacy skills. It is these skills that children take with them into formal education in schools. To change over to another language for learning would deny the child of this initial advantage they have developed at home. These abstract skills are difficult to teach through a second language. Children with a strong foundation in their first language often display a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in society along with an increased sense of well-being and confidence. Naturally this flows down into every aspect of their lives including their academic achievement.

In the modern world knowledge of an international language like English could be considered essential not only from the point of view of employment but for improving the intellectual capacity and the ability to access global literature and science and technology as well. But this knowledge of English could be imparted in the same way that any other subject is taught and not at the expense of learning via the mother tongue. If English is made the medium of instruction for all subjects in early years of student life achievement in all these subjects would be adversely affected as shown by good research cited above. Further, the mother tongue in its important role as the fabric that binds us together and enriches our culture could get eroded and totally displaced. A generation of uprooted people who do not belong in their culture and who do not know their place in society would be produced.

English should be taught in all schools from year one as a subject by good English teachers. Learning English should be popularized and made accessible to rural children. A good foundation of the mother tongue obtained in the homes would immensely facilitate the learning of English and this has been substantiated by research as mentioned earlier. It must also be said that a wide spread teaching of English would not create jobs. It is a growing economy that would create jobs. A person who has a knowledge in English may have a better chance of fitting into a job than one who hasn’t.

However the Government is in no mood to take note of good research. This may not be the correct attitude. No government which had disregarded science or scientists has been successful.


N. A. de S. Amaratunga

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When Susanthika did Lanka proud



As in certain offices, in banks too there are restricted areas for outsiders and staff members who are not attached to the relevant divisions. The Treasury Department of any bank consists of three different sections; the front office, middle office and back office. The front office is commonly known as the Dealing (Trading) Room, with strict limitations to those present. It can also be used as a television viewing place, with the availability of all channels, both local and foreign.

The day, September 28, 2000, was an exceptional day as a few breathtaking moments were witnessed within our dealing room at HNB, as history was made by a courageous and determined, petite Lankan damsel in a faraway country. That was the day our Athletic Heroin, Susanthika Jayasinghe, competed in the Sydney Olympics in the 200 meters finals. Knowing the enthusiasm and fervour, that other staff members too share, to witness the event live, with the consent of my boss, Senior DGM Treasury, Gamini Karunaratne, I kept the doors of the Dealing Room wide open for others too to watch the event. As the ‘auspicious’ time approached the dealing room started getting packed. Finally, it was not only ‘house full’ but ‘overflowing’.

Maintaining the tradition, the ‘visitors’ were silent except for a slight murmur. Gradually, the murmuring diminished as the time approached. The track was quite visible to all of us. For the women’s 200 meters sprint event, there were eight competitors with Marion Jones of the USA as the hot favourite, and Cathy Freeman of Australia, the two athletes many of us knew.

As the much-anticipated event commenced, there was dead silence for about 20+ seconds and then the uproar of ecstasy erupted, along with tears of joy in all gathered, as our Golden Girl became the bronze medal winner, just a mere 0.01 seconds behind the second-placed Pauline Davis of Bahamas.

That was a monumental day for all sports loving Sri Lankans, after Duncan White’s 400 meters silver medal in the 1948 London Olympics, M. J. M. Lafir becoming the World Amateur Billiards Champion in 1973, and Arjuna’s golden boys bringing home the Cricket World Cup in 1996, beating the much-fancied Aussies.

As treasury dealers, while at work, we have witnessed all-important local and world events as and when they happened, thanks to the advanced media paraphernalia in dealing rooms of the banks.

Coming back to Olympics, for seven years everything was rosy for Marian Jones (MJ), but when she pleaded guilty to using steroids, she received international opprobrium and was stripped of all five Olympic medals she won in Sydney, Australia. After the belated disqualification of MJ, our heroine Susanthika was adjudged the Olympic silver medallist of the 200 meters event in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with Pauline Davis as the gold medallist.

So it is after 52 years that Sri Lanka was lucky enough to have won another Olympic medal. Thanks to the sheer determination of our golden girl Susanthika and her numerous supporters, she was able to achieve this spectacular honour, amidst many obstacles. She was the first Asian to have won an Olympic or a world championship medal in a sprint event. The 21st anniversary of her tremendous feat falls on September 28.

Thank you, Madam Susie, for bringing honour to the country, and being an inspiration to the younger generations of budding athletes.



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Give teachers and principals their due



Why didn’t the Education Minister and the Secretary pay due attention to the fair voices of the most vulnerable and largest service sector of this country, at the initial stage, making the alliance of teacher-principal trade unions proceed to street protests, which started in the absence of any positive gesture from the Ministry of Education? That is how the present state of chaos originated.

The prolonged online teaching strike has kept the younger generation of all school-going children in darkness, and their right to learn has been deprived of. Blaming the teachers is not the solution. What is required is the right solution at the time of need. The unions are demanding the implementation of the Subodhini Committee report, plus the Cabinet subcommittee proposals, in a gazette notification. It is more sensible for the government to respond to this final flexible stance of the unions, rather than prolonging the issue with temporary solutions.

The strikers of the teacher-principal unions are not ready to give in to the temporary sugar candy sachet which is a pretty ridiculous joke, a consolation allowance to dodge the crux of the problem. Plastering or patching up the situation by offering an allowance of Rs. 5000 for three months is a shame to the teacher community. Such an allowance should be allocated for COVID-19 affected people of low-income or refugees in flood-affected regions.

What could have been broken with the nail was allowed to grow to the extent that it couldn’t be crushed even with an axe. Successive governments disregarded the demands of teachers and principals, treating them as nonentities; although the ungrateful present-day politicians rose to their present high positions because their bright lives were designed, brain powers sharpened and heads enlightened by teachers.

Although all teachers are not saints, the majority of our teachers are worthy of veneration. They are the architects of nation-building. They must have sufficient pay for a decent living, commensurate with the commitments and their toil. With an ungratified mentality, they may be unenthusiastic to discharge duties. Under such circumstances, the process of nation-building will collapse. So far, they have been doing yeoman’s service but they can’t continue to do so amidst the rising cost of living and unfavourable living conditions. When the salaries of all other employee categories have been brought to a satisfactory level, why does the government not heed to their demand?

In response to the mounting pressure from the teacher-principal trade union strike, the government appointed a cabinet subcommittee to produce another report to solve the problem; but it turned out to be a futile attempt, akin to changing the pillow as a treatment to the headache, wasting the valuable time of both parties. Such a committee should comprise experts from the education field, not from the lobby with the loquacious MPs who are in the habit of suspending and postponing everything until the next budget. On the other hand, what is the need for piling up further committee reports, when there is already a much-quoted and assumed fairly balanced Subodhini Committee report, which has been formulated by a panel of members comprising a former minister, four additional secretaries, and the accountant of the Ministry of Education.

True that the government is in dire straits with financial difficulties, but that is not a sound reason to postpone this issue. If so, why should the government introduce new megaprojects, such as 200 city beautification programmes, import of luxury vehicles for MPs and walking tracks, which are not critical requirements. The problem of teacher salary anomalies could be solved by holding such long term, not so urgent schemes.

The proposed four-phased payment of the salary increments is a nice way of circumventing serious demands of trade unions and yet another fairy tale. It is a way of escaping the main responsibility.

To illustrate this point, let us take the case of the state employees who retired between January 2016 and December 2020. All government employees including judges, ministry secretaries, directors, doctors, nurses, police and armed forces personnel, and mind you, a former director-general of the Pensions Department, was entitled to a revised salary increment system in five stages starting in 2016, and final amalgamation of all increments, due to be paid with effect from January 2020. The salary increment rates are clearly stated in the pension award letter issued by the Director-General of the Department of Pensions, which is a legal document to confirm the claim.

The present government unreasonably cancelled the (2016-2019) pensioners amalgamated salary increment of five stages, by the circular 35/2019(1) dated 20.01.2020 following a cabinet decision. More than 100,000 pensioners have been victimised and deprived of their fundamental right of the salary and sad to say, nearly 1819 pensioners have already died without getting their increments. But the government so adamantly refused to pay up and adopted a slippery policy with various cock and bull stories.

The basis for the development of a country is the education system, spearheaded by the formidable workforce of teachers hailing from Aristotle and Disapamok. All of the so-called thriving politicians; garrulous speakers who look down upon teacher communities; professionals, academics, philosophers, entrepreneurs, scholars, scientists, inventors, artists, all of these are the intellectual outputs of the dedicated energies of humble teachers who never gave priority to building highrise palaces for their self-indulgence and luxurious lives. Not to let it happen again and again, they deserve to be freed from this muddle of salary anomalies at this critical moment.

Finally, a word about the mediation of the Prelates of Malwatta and Asgiriya Chapters, who are urging the alliance of the teacher-principal trade unions to give the strike up , and restart online teaching. May I appeal to the venerable prelates to be fair to all. Could you, in your respected designations, kindly convey the same message to the government, asking why it is not taking an initiative to resolve this burning issue, by issuing a circular or gazette notification, without postponing it off further, for the sake of the innocent school children?


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Ivermectin for COVID-19 management



Prof Saroj Jayasinghe’s candid view, published in The Island of September 17, 2021, on Ivermectin use, both in treatment and prevention of COVID-19, has been based on scientific analysis of multiple meta-analyses on the subject. Therefore, his educated opinion must be viewed with great positivity.

Quite correctly, a doctor has to make decisions in good faith in an emergency situation, where any delay in the commencement of treatment could be disastrous. In a life-threatening condition, the treating doctor has no time to wait and waste until the evidence is available scientifically. Instead, the doctor has to make a decision using his clinical acumen and experience in order to save the life of the patient under his or her care.

Another example is: In an instance where an unconscious patient is brought to the accident and emergency department with life-threatening bleeding after an accident, the treating surgeon has no time to obtain the patient’s informed consent (usually a requirement before any surgical procedure), but to attend to (perform surgery on) the patient in all-good faith, in order to save the life. It may require even the amputation of a leg or hand.

Hence, treating a critically ill patient with Ivermectin is more than justified, particularly in the backdrop of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19 as a public health emergency. Further, under this context, the usage of Ivermectin in the prevention of COVID-19 is quite justified. Since no antiviral drug is available hitherto, its usage is further warranted.

As mentioned, Ivermectin is a time-tested and safe drug with no known serious side effects. The call for its usage in the management of and prevention of COVID-19 is time appropriate.

A veterinary surgeon, Prof Asoka Dangolle of the University of Peradeniya, has also expressed his opinion based on his experience with Ivermectin in mammals. In the current context, the world’s attitude is much in favour of the ‘One Health’ concept.

Therefore, in a helpless situation or pandemic of this nature, the consideration of the use of Ivermectin in all good faith is justifiable.


Professor in Community Medicine

University of Peradeniya.

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