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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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Mrs Paripooranam Rajasundaram- A Gracious Lady



I first came to know Mrs Pariapooranam Rajasundaram, who was born in Singapore on October 25, 1935 while serving a short stint in Jaffna with police intelligence. Her late husband who called her “Pari” was my very close friend, Mr. Vaithilingam Rajasunderam, the former principal of Victoria College, Chullipuram who was introduced to me by my friend and police batch mate, late Tissa Satharasinghe, who was the Personal Security Officer, to the late Mr T.B. Ilangaratne in 1971.

Mrs Rajasundaram was blessed with three sons and a daughter and several grandchildren and can be truly described as a very faithful spouse and dedicated mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and a great grandmother to the family of which she was matriarch.

My short spell in Jaffna in 1973 brought me closer to the Rajasunderams who celebration their 25th wedding anniversary in 1974. Theirs was an open house and my wife and sisters too came to know them well.

Mrs Rajasundram and her husband were good hosts and his assassination was a shock to all of us. It was then she became part of our family as she lived with us briefly till she obtained a UK visa to join her daughter and son-in-law there.

Many years later when she was living in England, I had joined KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and my family used to spend vacations with them in Cockfosters in North London. Mrs Rajasundaram treated us to sumptuous meals lavishing attention on us. She was very fond of my wife and two children and had a heart of gold. A devout Hindu she never failed in her religious obligations, lived within her means and was never greedy for what she could not afford. She firmly believed in being patient and willingly gave to those in need.

She was a lady who was selfless, full of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, very virtuous, and full of love and character. I can say of her: “People may forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel!”

My prayer as a Christian is that God grants you eternal rest.


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Independence celebrations for whose benefit?



Celebrating what? Bankruptcy, corruption and nepotism to name a few. Surely isn’t there one MP among 225 who feel we have nothing to celebrate. We say we cannot pay govt. servants’ salaries in time, the pensioners’ their entitlements. A thousand more failures confront us.

In our whole post-independence history such a situation has never arisen. We should be mourning our lost prestige, our lost prosperity our depleting manpower. Our youth in vast numbers are leaving the country for greener pastures. We should be conserving every cent to live, not to celebrate a non-existent independence. We should be mourning, walking the streets in sack cloth and ashes in protest at this wanton waste of money by an irresponsible government.

I can’t understand this mentality. The forces are also our young men who feel for their fellow men and women. Maybe their lot is a little better than the rest of us. But how can you order them to go parade? They cannot refuse. It is an unwritten or written code that they have to obey orders without question. I feel sorry for them. All that spit and polish – for whose benefit? Definitely not ours. We will be mourning in silence in our homes.

Padmini Nanayakkara.

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Aftermath Of Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne’s Assassination



It was on Saturday March 2, 1991 when that fateful LTTE bomb blast shattered the life out of Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne, Minister of Plantations and Deputy Minister of Defence, in front of the Havelock Road University Women’s Hostel opposite Keppetipola Mawatha.

Mr. Wijeratne used to take the same route from home to office every day. The LTTE had monitored his movements and found that it would be easy to target him on his way to office from a strategic point after receiving the information of his departure from home.

The LTTE targeted his vehicle right in front of the University of Colombo Women’s Hostel opposite Keppetipola Mawatha. The suicide bomber crashed into the Deputy Minister’s vehicle and killed the Minister instantaneously.

I had dropped our elder son at Royal College for scouting and then went to the public library to return some books and borrow new ones. After having done that, I was returning home when I saw a large cloud of black smoke going up from somewhere on Havelock Road. As I neared Thummulla junction, a university vehicle (I was Registrar of the Colombo University) was going in the opposite direction.

I stopped it and asked the driver what had happened. He said the Shanthi Vihar restaurant at the Thummulla had been set on fire. The police did not allow vehicles into Havelock Road from Thummulla. I parked the car on Reid Avenue between Thummulla and Lauries Road and walked down the Havleock Road to see what exactly had happened.

As I got onto Havelock Road, a policeman accosted me and told me that I cannot be allowed to proceed. Fortunately, at that moment the OIC of the Bamabalapitiya Police station, Mr. Angunawela, came to that spot and recognizing me told the police constable to allow me to proceed.

As I walked down I saw the damage caused. But there were no signs of any vehicle or any dead bodies as the police had got everything removed. There was a large gaping hole on the road where the blast had occurred. But immediately this was filled up and that section of the road carpeted.

I do not know who had ordered it and why it was done in such a hurry. There were pieces of human flesh hanging from the overhead telephone wires. The blast had also affected the house in front where there was a P& S outlet and a lady who had come to buy something had got her eyes blinded by the shrapnel thrown by the blast.

The parapet wall and the Temple flower (araliya) trees that had been grown just behind the wall were all gone. As I went into the hostel, I saw that the front wall of the hostel building badly damaged. When I went in the girls in the hostel were looking terrified and shivering with fright.

Two of the undergraduates who had gone out of the hostel as they had to sit an examination in the university had got very badly injured and they been rushed to the national hospital. Later one girl who was from Kobeigane, a remote village in the Kurunegala area, succumbed to her injuries. The university paid for her funeral. The security guard who had been close to the gate was thrown up and landed back on the ground. Fortunately, he had no injuries other than feeling groggy.

The next job was to evacuate the hostelers from the building. I telephoned the university office and found the Senior Assistant Registrar in charge of examinations was in office. I told her what had happened and to come to the hostel in a van. Thereafter both she and I packed all the hostelers in the van and sent them to the Bullers Lane Women’s hostel. This was done in three trips.

On inspecting the damage done to the hostel I thought the building would have to be demolished and a new building constructed to replace it. However, I contacted an Engineer, Mr. Upasena, at the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB,) who came, inspected the damage to the building and stated that he will get it repaired to be stronger than what it was.

He stated that it might cost around Rs, 20,000/- to get the repair done. I contacted NORAD and they agreed to give the funds required for the repair and renovation. Mr. Manickam from NORAD came and inspected the building and agreed to get much more done than what we wanted repaired and renovated. The repair and renovation were done very quickly and the hostelers were able to move in again.

The reopening ceremony was attended by the then Ambassador to Norway, Mr. Manickam and the Vice-Chancellor. The Vice- Chancellor thanked the Ambassador, Mr. Manickam and the CECB for getting the hostel repaired and renovated to be used again. He never mentioned what I had done to get this hostel repaired and habitable again. That is gratitude!


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