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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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Simple rituals replaced at Buddhist temple



The other day I had gone to our temple to do a Bodhipooja for my granddaughter who was ill. This is is an age-old Buddhist practice to invoke the blessings of the triple gem and pray to the gods for the speedy recovery of the sick.

As I was walking from the Vihare to the Buduge, I saw this fantastic sight of a handful of beautifully dressed women in silk, satin and lace walking into the temple. They were not carrying the usual malwatti of homepicked flowers but ornate arrangements straight from a florist.

I was taken aback. I had not seen such a sight before, certainly not in a temple. I paused to see what was happening and found they too were doing a Bodhipooja, whether for a sick relative or not I did not find out. But it was done in grand style.

In retrospect, I wonder, what has happened to the simplicity of Buddhist religious practices of going to temple in simple white clothes, carrying a malwatti to worship at the main shrines, lighting oil lamps and saying our prayers softly or in silence. It seems that at most Buddhist events, this simplicity has been replaced by unseemly ostentation.

Padmini Nanayakkara

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Apparently there has been a proposal that our country’s plans for future energy requirements, has, among its options, included nuclear generation also as an alternative to fossil fuels (coal and petroleum).In an open letter to the President0 as published in the The Island of Mar. 30 Emeritus Prof. Dharmadasa (Sheffield), has extensively cautioned against any precipitate action in pursuing the nuclear option for Sri Lanka. His is a voice to be heeded. He has, comprehensively supported his viewpoint. The basic points are:

It is a fallacy to regard nuclear as “green or renewable energy.”

The installation costs are beyond our means.Technically qualified and expert operators are required and we do not have them. Competence and discipline are imperative.

Nuclear accidents are difficult to handle. Corrective measure are urgent and costly. Large areas have to be abandoned after such accidents and remain so for decades (or even centuries or millennia) before they can be safe again. Major accidents have already occurred, Three Mile Island (USA), Sellafield (formerly Windscale) (UK), Chernobyl (USSR/Ukraine) and Fukushima (Japan). Damage to plants can be triggered by cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes and tsunamis.

In a telling remark, Professor Dharmadasa makes reference to the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel (a Ph.D in Physics,) decided to close down all 17 operational nuclear power plants in her country following the Fukushima accident.

Nuclear fuels are expensive and demand special safety protocols.Nuclear waste is difficult to dispose. If buried, they require heavy, concrete “Sarcophagi”. Even then, the land cannot be farmed or inhabited for a very long time.

Symptoms or illnesses (like cancer), show features suggestive of exposure to nuclear radiation.These are very valid reasons for older installations in rich countries to be abandoned as reliance on nuclear energy is no longer seen as an option; nor even long established facilities retained. No new installations would be considered by them.

India meanwhile, have operating nuclear power plants in the South (Kalpakkam and Kundalkulam). Hopefully, this would not cause problems for us. On the other hand, would they have surplus power which we could buy?.

In regard to the difficulty in handling a nuclear accident, we have an experience which may be indicative. In Seeduwa on the Negombo/Colombo Road was the Milco powdered milk factory. This caught fire sometime in the late seventies. The destruction was horrendous and he fire lasted for days.

Needing to pass this site, virtually daily, I could see it smoldering for weeks. There were many fire trucks standing by, apparently inactive. I was prompted to ask why they remained inactive and was given the shocking answer: “There is no water available for the fire hoses”.Tells us something about the suitability of nuclear plants for us, does it not?

Dr. U.Pethiyagoda.


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Winning hearts and minds of community



‘Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Community’
Author: Dr. Kingsley Wickremasuriya
Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police – (Retired)

Book Review
by Major-General (Retd) Lalin Fernando

This is an interesting memoir of a police officer who having served in the Volunteer force may have done equally well, in either the army or the police. He chose the police and was an exemplary if reserved senior. This is not an action-packed adventure book of daredevils or roller coaster recollections of the sharp end of police life but more about human relations with the public. Sadly and regrettably, he states that he was deprived of the highest command by the frailties of politicians. The choice of the politicians was a travesty, abnormal but not unusual. In this case, the chosen person, mentioned in the book had deserted the police years before and left the country when posted to Jaffna but had the audacity to claim political victimisation years later when the government changed. A silly claim, stupidly upheld. A chapter on political interference would not be out of place.

The book would have been much more interesting and relevant if it had recorded the terrible events of that time from the JVP terror and atrocities (1971 and 1988-9) to the murderous Eelam conflict.Here was a police officer whose mission appears to have been to build up public relations as practiced elsewhere in a terrorist setting as in Jaffna and later Batticaloa by setting up “Community Oriented Policing Programmes” to bring about law and order and harmony when relationships were under heavy strain.

This is pleasant, well-written, and easy to read. It shows in equal measure both the vicissitudes and skullduggery of the worst and best of humanity during his service in the police. It is an honest, moving, and personal insight into an eventful career with defining moments that affected the lives of many. It was a life of tackling not only lawbreakers but careerists among his own ilk while having to bear, not exceptionally, the burden of interference by power-mad, smooth-talking, corrupt politicians, their slights, and machinations. It finally ended his career prematurely.

It has fascinating tales that are humane, enlightening, and informative. It is a studious book by a prolific writer. It is a compelling story with a lively and not-too-subtle style of writing, with considerable research material included. It is close to real life, relaxing, entertaining and not too heavy. It should be made available in Sinhala and Tamil, not only in the Police Training School and Academy, police stations, zones, districts and divisions but in the reading lists of schools.

His was also an attempt as by many others to change the mentality of the police from a colonial to a national one. Colonial police would use firearms freely. National police should not. A Colony would use the army to buttress the police. A national army should only be used as a very last resort. The police are a country’s first line of defence. For this to be workable, SL’s police force should first be made independent of politicians by law as reasonably possible. A greater strength (presently nearly 75,000), higher pay, better equipment and facilities, imposing office buildings, good accommodation, improved communications, reliable transport including access to helicopters and high standards in recruitment are essential under knowledgeable leaders whose integrity is impregnable.

The book is also heartwarming, sad and at the end, maddening. It is opportune too as the author’s life work to keep the peace is falling to pieces thanks to the incorrigible, venal, mainly poorly educated and therefore easily misled and misleading, utterly corrupt and cowardly politicians the people have bred for their own selfish, cruel, greedy and bullying interests. They portray the police as aliens. The people must realise that the police reflect society and never the other way around. They will then accept their own faults, just as the police would wish to do whatever correct thinking people want them to do. If spectators rush onto the field of play to question the referee bringing the match to a halt, the police if in attendance do not arrest the referee. They disperse the mob.

It is only the police that prevented total anarchy in the country last year (2022) as those who promoted it well know. This book should be a clarion call to the police to lift themselves up by their jock straps. They, possibly one of the first (1866) if not finest police forces in the region have so far kept the country far safer than many others as even their worst critics must admit. This is despite carping criticism by those who are no better or worse than the police. There is no dearth of respected, tough-minded, well-disciplined, and fearless police officers as good leaders at all levels. They have proved themselves as fearless guardians of the law, especially when all others have failed. Thanks are due to the standards set by senior police officers, like the author and others he identifies in his book, who was affectionately known to older generations.

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