Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Liberal tradition at Jaffna College

     The Liberal tradition at Jaffna College

Celebrating 185 Years of Education

Silan Kadirgamar

The Freedom to think and discuss

The Youth Congress, Jaffna, originally named the Students’ Congress. Jaffna, was born in the mid 1920s and had a great impact on Jaffna politics in the early 1930s. By 1920 under Gandhi’s leadership the Indian struggle for independence entered its militant phase. Students in India played an important role in the struggle. The political stirrings in India had their impact on Jaffna. The Gandhian movement in India captured the imagination of Jaffna’s youth. To many of these young men who were pioneers of the Youth Congress, "bliss it was in that dawn to be alive."

The impact of western ideas on the youth of Jaffna was another factor. Schools and colleges founded by American and other missionaries followed later by schools founded by Hindu patriots had a major influence in transmitting western liberal values, and democratic and nationalist ideas. The major centre for the flowering of these was of course Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai.

Jaffna College (1872) and its precursor the Batticotta Seminary (1823), unlike many a missionary institution and state school in Ceylon, had stressed the study of Tamil literature. Students from this college were amongst the first graduates of the Madras University in the 1850s. The products of this institution were not culturally divorced from the people of the Peninsula, in contrast to the English educated elite that emerged in the Western Province, and in Colombo in particular. The very ‘Indianness’ of the Gandhian movement struck responsive chords amongst the English educated in Jaffna both young and old.

At this time in the 1920s the Principal of Jaffna College was the American missionary the Rev. John Bicknell known for his liberal views of freedom of thought, speech and action. "In the 1920s," said Handy Perinbanayagam, "the movement in India had a tremendous effect upon the youth of Jaffna. Probably because of the comparative freedom that prevailed at Vaddukoddai, this impact was more acute at Jaffna College." In fact Handy Perinbanayagam specifically traces the remote beginnings of the Students Congress to the debating and literary societies at Jaffna College, especially the ‘Brotherhood’, which was the Senior Literary Association in 1918—1919 when Handy was a student.
The freedom to think and discuss at Jaffna College is illustrated by the kind of subjects debated at the meetings of the literary societies. Beginning with subjects like "Home rule should be granted to Ireland," and "Labouring men have a right to strike," the students of Jaffna College went on to debate as early as 1920 subjects like "Territorial representation is better than racial"; "The headman system should be abolished ", and "The Ceylonese should not send their representatives to the Legislative Council according to the new reform scheme". By 1921-22 they were debating such radical subjects bordering on the treasonable, such as: "Gandhi was justified in burning foreign clothes ". "Self-government should be granted to Ceylon": "The Principal should be a native", and "Students should wear the national costume ". In 1923 the students had debated, "Mahatma Gandhi in prison is more dangerous than Mahatma Gandhi out of prison." In these school-boy debates, as Handy was to comment later, no subject except sex and probably denial of God was taboo. Abolition of corporal punishment, co-education, national independence, the dowry system, the caste system were debated not only with the callow cocksureness of adolescence but with the seriousness of philosophers who believed that vital consequences would follow from their debates and decisions.
Teacher patrons who exercised influence and authority had the right to attend meetings.

The principal was the patron of the senior society, the Brotherhood. But the student chairman had the right to order and ask him to sit down. On one occasion the principal John Bicknell was indeed asked to sit down and he did so with a blushing face. The Jaffna College ethos at that time was one of freedom.

In 1919 a symposium was held on "An Up-To-Date Literature in Tamil". The Hon. Mr. K. Balasingam, the Rev. S. Gnanaprakasar, and Rev. G. G. Brown participated amongst others. Mr. Balasingam expressed the view that if Tamil was to become a progressive language it must become the language of government, and Fr. Gnanaprakasar stressed the need to educate our people to appreciate their own language. But the most radical proposal came from Rev. Brown who said, "Do not allow any boy to be promoted who fails to pass a worthy test in Tamil reading, grammar and composition. Create a sentiment in the country which will make a student feel ashamed to be able to speak and to write in English, while he cannot do equally well in Tamil." In the school curriculum in the teaching of history where European and British history enjoyed a monopoly changes were made whereby Ceylon history and Indian history were introduced in the lower forms in the early twenties.

There was among the teachers and students a growing commitment to certain specific aims such as national independence, the abolition of caste and the removal of social disabilities. In 1922 some of these young men at Jaffna College, formed themselves into the Servants of Lanka Society. It was more of a study group. in which, papers were read and discussed on the country’s problems and the remedies for its ills.
From Jaffna College, Handy Perinbanayagam went to the University College in Colombo."While we were at the Union Hostel", he later reminisced, " Our warden Mr. C. Suntheralingam’s dictum was that within the four walls of the hostel we could talk the most rabid treason with impunity. Something similar was the atmosphere at Jaffna College also in the Bicknell days. In our debating societies and the classroom we were free to give unbridled expression to our convictions. The radicalism that spread at Vaddukoddai grew in strength at Guildford Crescent under Suntheralingam’s patronage. His name at that time was one to conjure with.

The Founding of the Jaffna Youth Congress

In June 1924 Handy Perinbanayagam sat the B. A. examination and thereafter returned to teach at Jaffna College. He began work for the setting up of an organisation for national independence." During holidays and weekends Handy would meet like-minded friends. These included S. Kulandran, C. Subramaniam, S. Nadesan, S. U. Somasegaram, Swami Vipulananda, M. Balasundram, S. Durai Raja Singam, P. Nagalingam, A. E. Tamber, S. Subramaniam, V. Thillainathan, S. Rajanayagam, K Navaratnam, V. Muthucumaru, J. C. Amerasingham, S. S. Sivapragasam, J. W. A. Kadirgamar, A. M. K. Cumaraswamy, V. K. Nathan, S. J. Gunasagaram, K. Nesiah, Sam Sabapathy, S. C. Chithamparanathan and several others. Some of them were senior students in the colleges in Jaffna. An exploratory meeting was held at the then Y. M. C. A. Jaffna on first November 1924. From its very beginnings the Students’ Congress had an all-island perspective and was committed to national unity and independence for Ceylon.

Handy Perinbanayagam set out the aims of the proposed Congress in a lengthy letter to the Daily News. He wrote of a new venture marshalling the forces of the students of this country, for solving the social, political, cultural, economic and political problems they faced and for the betterment of this land. He gave expression to the vision of a new Ceylon. Youth at this time, particularly in Jaffna were known for their docile acquiescence without question to the actions of their elders. This invitation to youth to form an organization for concerted action was by itself a radical venture in Jaffna in the 1920s. The movement was to embrace young people of all races, creeds and castes. This was a period when divisive forces were at work creating religious and racial animosity.
The first sessions of the Students Congress was held at the Ridgeway Hall, Jaffna in December 1924. About three hundred students together with recent graduates and undergraduates attended these inaugural sessions. The Morning Star reported that seating was in ‘national’ style on carpets and all present were in ‘national costume’.

Mr. J. V. Chelliah of Jaffna College was elected President of the Congress. In his presidential address he said that "all the greatest reforms effected in society were the work of young men. Jesus Christ when he started his mission had only just completed his twenties. Buddha’s renunciation took place when he was a very young man." He deplored the existence of communal jealousy between different communities in the island and appealed to them to make national unity one of their main planks of activity. He referred to the curse of untouchability and the evil effects of the dowry system and called on the youth to translate ideals into practical action. He emphasised the role of the youth in eradicating the social evils prevalent in the country."

Handy recalling J. V. Chelliah’s speech later said, " I remember the simile he had used to portray the unity he had in mind. It was the rainy season. The landscape from Vaddukoddai to Jaffna was for long stretches covered with paddy fields. To the passenger in the car the fields were like a spreading sea of emerald green but there were ridges marking boundaries. National unity was obvious. The differences however real should be played down".

Handy Perinbanayagam once related a memorable event in his life. He and Lyman Kulathungam were the first two students to pass the London Inter-Arts examination at Jaffna College. This was in 1922 when Jaffna College was celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Batticotta Seminary. The two successful students were to deliver orations at the Prize Day function, an honour that no student would forego. But Handy had made it known that he would go to the function in national dress. Principal Bicknell having heard about this, called young Handy and insisted that he should wear trousers and coat. The young idealist politely refused to do so. Bicknell then ruled that he would not have the honour of delivering the Prize Day oration. The honour went to Lyman Kulathungam. Handy later recalled that it was a painful incident to him. Bicknell had been like a foster father to him. Lyman Kulathungam, later vice-principal of the college, adopted  the national dress and wore it for the rest of his life.

Boycott of the King’s birthday celebrations

Developments in India continued to have their impact on the students in Jaffna. It was the practice every year to celebrate the King’s birthday. In Jaffna the main event was an inter-school sports meet. The students of Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai, made a sudden decision not to participate in the sports meet and celebrations in June 1930.
The idea of a boycott of the celebrations occurred to some of the younger teachers at the college. Bonney Kanagathungam, A. S. Kanagaratnam and C. J. Eliyathamby were among those who canvassed support for a boycott among the athletes who responded favourably. In a country where there was hardly any kind of action against British rule, the students of Jaffna College at that time took legitimate pride in an action of this nature that had political overtones. There is no doubt that the students had been influenced by the activities of the Students’ Congress. The students spontaneously decided that so long as Mahatma Gandhi was in gaol and the ‘ mother country’’ was in travail for her Independence it was not possible for the people of Jaffna to partake of the festivities in honour of the King.


Published in:

The Souvenir of the Jaffna College Alumni Association (Colombo Branch), 2007, commemorating the 185th Anniversary of the Batticotta Seminary (1823) and its successor Jaffna College (1872).

The extract is from HANDY PERINBANAYAGAM: A  MEMORIAL VOLUME: first published in Jaffna in 1980, The Thirumakal Press, Chunnakam. Revised edition March 2012, Kumaran Printers, Colombo.

Published in the Sunday Island 7 September 2008



25 June 2002


I am happy to be here again. I wish to thank Mr. Hayashi for this kind invitation. He has been a good friend and has given me a great deal of encouragement and support in my work both in the field of education and in my involvement in human rights, peace and justice issues. This is my third lecture here. It is a pleasure to be able to visit your schools, meet the teachers and other people in this city.

The theme for my first lecture here in 1999 was “Education.”.  The second lecture was titled “Human Security - An International Perspective.” This was in the year 2000. Today I have been requested to speak on “Human Security and Education.”

As some of you may know I have been a University teacher for 41 years. During this period I have had a very special interest in Human Rights and Peace. Now having retired from a regular job my wife and I have started a “Center for Continuing Education” for adults in Colombo, Sri Lanka. One of the purposes of this Center is to teach English. The content of texts used is issues oriented. Students are encouraged to read about and discuss contemporary issues that confront us in the world we live in. One of these is Human Security. I will have more to say on this Center at the end of this lecture.

Three well known names are today associated with the discussion on Human Security. The names are Keizo Obuchi, the late Prime Minister of Japan, Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Lamont University Professor Emeritus, Harvard University and Prof. Sadao Ogata formerly of Sophia University and later United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I had the privilege of being a student of Prof.Ogata when she was a professor at the International Christian University, in Mitaka, Tokyo is the early 1970s.

When Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi died “The Nation” - the well-known daily of Thailand published an editorial which praised him for his commitment to Human Security. In a major speech in Tokyo he had addressed the many-sided problems of human security.

Prof. Sadao Ogata’s commitment to and work for refugees in the world is well-known. She had to deal with the vast refugee problems that are associated with many of the wars both external and internal that have been taking place and continue to take place in the world.

National Security and Human Security

Security is generally understood in relation to the means that states use for the maintenance of national sovereignty, territorial integrity, financial stability, law and order. It is associated with stable government whether democratic, authoritarian or even naked dictatorships. Substantial amounts of funds (in some states three to four percent of GNP) are spent on the security forces including the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Police. Nation states give primary importance to what they perceive as national interest, which is always interpreted to mean the interests of its citizens. In practice this may or may not be true.

We live in a world in which international relations are managed on this principle of national interest. It is often proclaimed that national interest requires the preservation of national sovereignty and hence national security. States form alliances (NATO) sign security treaties (USA and Japan) to preserve their security. These alliances or treaties often supersede national sovereignty but are interpreted domestically as necessary to preserve national security against perceived threats from other states. States are primarily concerned with their national security and spend much of their time and budgets to enhance this.

But conflicts have not decreased in the world. The nature and range of conflicts have actually increased; the number of civilian casualties keeps increasing. In the 20th Century alone over 100 million (100,000,000) people have been killed in wars both international and internal. This number continues to increase and individuals, communities and groups actually feel more insecure today. The twentieth century has been described as “The Century of Total War.” The twenty-first century it is feared may turn out to be “The Century of Total Destruction.”

The fundamental task facing people is to find ways of resolving conflicts without recourse to violence. This requires first and foremost education. We have to ask ourselves the simple question “Why people fight.” The answers however are not simple. That is why we study history, politics, international relations and many other disciplines at various levels of education.

But human suffering is caused by other reasons as well. In fact some of these causes are hidden and not easily visible like wars and other acts of violence. There are social, economic and now increasingly environmental causes that bring suffering and death. There are acts of discrimination and violence against women and children that we have to be aware of.

What is Human Security

At an International Symposium in Tokyo in July, 2000 Prof Amartya Sen raised the questions “What is human security? And why is it important?” In doing so he referred to an observation that Prime Minister Obuchi made in a keynote address to another conference, the first "Intellectual Dialogue on Building Asia's Tomorrow," which was held sometime earlier. Mr.Obuchi had said "It is my deepest belief that human beings should be able to lead lives of creativity, without having their survival threatened or their dignity impaired." It is in this context that he invoked the idea of "human security," describing it as "the keyword to comprehensively seizing all of the menaces that threaten the survival, daily life, and dignity of human beings and to strengthening the efforts to confront these threats."

Prof. Sen discusses Human Security under the following headings: (1) Security of Survival, (2) Daily Life and the Quality of Living and the (3) Dignity of Human beings. I have summarized below in a simplified form certain points made by Prof. Sen. I have added some of my own comments.

The Security of Survival

This requires Health, Peace and Tolerance. Problems relating to health include the emergence and spread of particular diseases, such as AIDS, new types of malaria and drug-resistant diseases. Relating to peace and tolerance, he says, we have an increase in civil wars with the use of powerful and destructive weapons resulting in the killings of innocent people trapped or caught in the crossfire and in some cases deliberate persecution of minorities - racial, linguistic and religious. 

Daily Life and the Quality of Living

When the Asian economic crisis came it deeply affected the daily lives of people who had earlier felt falsely secure. Even here in Japan the economic crisis of the last five years in particular has in many ways affected the life styles of people and has broken the self-confidence and complacency of the 1980s.  There was at that time a kind of “I don’t care what happens elsewhere” attitude especially among young people. The days when admissions to universities assured a comfortable life time job are over in Japan. The market economy and globalization do not assure security. There are times of growth and periods of “downturn”. State and society have to provide Human Security when periods of downturn occur.

As Professor Sen. asserts we need not only social and economic provisions such as basic education and health care but also political participation, especially by the weak and the vulnerable, since their voice is vitally important. This requires the establishment and efficient working of democracies with regular elections and the tolerance of opposition, but also the cultivation of a culture of open public discussion. Democratic participation can directly enhance security through supporting human dignity.”

Schools and hospitals must be developed. The role of information technology in the context of the communicational revolution is important. The preservation of the global environment especially the pollution of our air, water, and global warming are all vital elements in the search for human security. The richer countries have a special responsibility to make a major contribution they being largest consumers of the worlds resources and consequently the biggest polluters of the earth.

Dignity, Equity and Solidarity

Human dignity based on Equity is a major objective in the pursuit of Human Security. Extremely poor peoples’ lives lack dignity. The way out is greater equality both economic and social. Political freedoms and power can come only through the realization of the former. In recent years great advances have been made by women's movements in gaining more rights for women and for the achievement of gender equity. Where rights have still to be achieved awareness has been created. Inequalities and indignities of other kinds - related to class, caste, ethnicity, social opportunity, and economic resources remain in many societies.

As it has been repeatedly stated by advocates of Human Security, development is not only about the growth of GNP per head, but also about the expansion of human freedom and dignity.

Globalization and a Global Commitment

There are signs that can be seen which point to a growing commitment across the world to confront inequality and insecurity with greater global solidarity. The global problems and even protests against globalization themselves now take a globalised form. We repeatedly see protesters gathering in the major cities of the world. They come from many different corners of the world.

According to Prof.Sen globalization is not an entirely new phenomenon. Over thousands of years, globalization has shaped the progress of the world, through trade, travel, migration, and dissemination of knowledge.

He refers to old Sanskrit texts in India from about two and a half thousand years ago. This is the story of what is called "kupamanduka" (in Sanskrit) or the well-frog - a frog that lives its entire life within a well and is suspicious of everything outside it. The scientific, cultural and economic history of the world would have been very limited had we lived like well-frogs.

Today many NGOs - Medecins sans Frontieres, OXFAM, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others - have been able to draw the world's attention on issues of poverty and insecurity in a way that hardly any NGO could fifty years ago.

On the positive side there is an increasing coordinated resistance to the forces that make human survival so insecure. As Professor Sen remarks “We live in a world that is not only full of dangers and threats, but also one where the nature of the adversities are better understood, the scientific advances are more firm, and economic and social assets that can counter these menaces are more extensive. Not only do we have more problems to face, we also have more opportunities to deal with them.”

In this the second part of my lecture I will focus on education. We have to educate ourselves first. I mean education in its broadest sense. The popular meaning of education is often understood to mean educating children from childhood until they are young (university going) adults. Today we need education at all levels. Some people who need to be educated most are parents, teachers, university professors, business men and women, community leaders, politicians - in fact people from all walks of life. All these people must be educated on what Human Security means.

In educating people, especially young people I recommend two annual publications that are easily and freely available. I refer to (1) The Human Development Report published by the United Nations and (2) The State of the World’s Children published by UNICEF. Both are available here in Japan in English and Japanese. The UNICEF report with several interesting pictures and charts is easier to read and understand. Junior High and Senior High school students may begin with this. Teachers and University students should read both reports in which a wealth of information is available. I need not say that many other publications are available. But the above two should be essential reading.

The State of the World’s Children

I give below some facts and comments from the State of the World’s Children - report of 2002.

“Ensuring the rights and well-being of children is the key to sustained development in a country and to peace and security in the world.

“Investing in children is, quite simply, the best investment a government can make. No country has made the leap into meaningful and sustained development without investing significantly in its children.”

“Say Yes for children” campaign proclaims that “all children should be free to grow in health, peace and dignity.” Kofi Annan

In the last ten years …three million (3,000,000) fewer children under five die each year, due in large part to immunization programs and the dedicated efforts of families and communities. In developing countries 28 million (28,000,000) fewer children under five suffer the debilitating effects of malnutrition. More than 175 countries are polio-free, and 104 have eliminated neonatal tetanus. Yet despite these gains, more than 10 million children (10,000,000) still die from mostly preventable diseases, some 600 million children still live in poverty; and more than 100 million – the majority of them – girls are not in school.

Some targets to be achieved:

Reduce infant and under-5 mortality rate (U5MR) by 33%.
Most occur in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.

Reduce maternal mortality ratio by 50%

Reduce severe and moderate under-5 malnutrition by 50%

Provide universal access to safe drinking water and
Universal access to sanitary means of excreta disposal

Provide universal access to basic education and completion of primary education by 80% of children

Reduce adult illiteracy rate to 50% of the 1990 level

Improve protection of children in especially difficult circumstances

On changing the world with children

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes: “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” that childhood is “entitled to special care and assistance.”

Half of all new cases of HIV occur in young people 15 to 24 years old. There are an estimated 1.4 million children (1,400,000) under the age of 15 living with HIV worldwide. 80 per cent of children under the age of 15 living with HIV are children living in Africa.
4.3 million children (4,300,000) under the age of 15 have died from AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic.
More than 13 million children (13,000,000) aged 14 or younger have been orphaned by AIDS

On Conflict:

Of the 35 million refugees (35,000,000) and displaced people in the world, 80 per cent are women and children.
Between 1990 and 2000, 2 million children (2,000,000) were slaughtered, 6 million (6,000,000) injured or permanently disabled and 12 million (12,000,000) left homeless because of conflict.
Between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of those who die or are injured in conflict are civilians – mostly children and their mothers
Conflict has orphaned or separated more than 1 million children from their families in the last decade of the 20th century.

On Discrimination

Of the more than 100 million (100,000,000) out-of-school youth, that is children who do not go to school, 60 million (60,000,000) are girls.
Between 60 million (60,000,000) and 100 million (100,000,000) women are “missing” from the world’s population – victims of gender-based infanticide (killing of babies after birth), feticide killing of unborn babies), malnutrition and neglect. 90 per cent of domestic workers, the largest group of child workers in the world, are girls between 12 and 17 years old.
In some areas, HIV infection rates are five times higher for girls than for boys.

Summing-up - Poverty and Education

Children are the hardest hit by poverty: It causes lifelong damage to their minds and bodies. More than half a billion children (500,000,000) live on less than $1 a day. Education is the key to ending poverty. As mentioned above more than 100 million children are out of school because of poverty, discrimination or lack of resources.

The first United Nations Summit on Children opened in New York on 8 May 2002. There was a World Summit on Children in 1990 but it was not an official UN Conference. Nearly fifty five years after the founding of the United Nations children in several countries especially among the poorer countries face a variety of problems as we have noted above.

Children constitute almost one-third (that is 2,000,000,000) of the world’s total population of 6.1 billion (6,100,000,000) Everyday 129 million (129,000,000) children are born. Of these one in 12 dies before the age of five years from preventable diseases. Seventeen out of every one hundred children (9 girls and 8 boys) do not go to school at all. In addition it is estimated that 100 million children (100,000,000) are forced to work in semi-slave conditions. 300,000 children are conscripted to fight in wars – usually within countries such as civil or ethno-nationalist wars. Sixty per cent of the world’s refugees are children.

When we discuss Human Security we have to give top priority to the welfare of children, especially their right to live and grow-up in a safe and healthy environment with adequate facilities for a proper education.

What is to be done?

The theme of today’s lecture is Human Security and Education. As I have mentioned above we must first educate ourselves. Then we should educate others. Instructing and tutoring students to pass examinations (important as it is) is inadequate. Exposure to knowledge and accumulating facts alone is not enough. That is not true education. Education must be values oriented and should create consciousness. Theory must lead to practice, and practice in turn must help us to refine theory.

We have to be action oriented. Each person can do something to create a better world. This can be done as individuals, as families, students and teachers in schools and universities, in the community in which we live, at our places of work and as nations and states. We can give some of our money however small the sum. Those who cannot afford to give cash can give their time in voluntary work. As the saying goes time is money. My suggestion is give two to four hours of your time a week or the equivalent in money. The time given need not be given every week. Four hours a week equals 208 hours a year or 26 working days. Time can be set apart when you have your holidays or during week-ends. Some people may want to give more time or money. The important thing is that we all participate voluntarily according to our ability and the time we have.

I have indicated above the numerous problems we face in the world today. Each person must make a choice about particular issue he or she wishes to engage in. There are voluntary organizations or NGOs engaged in a wide range of issues. Make a choice after study and evaluation.

I have given importance to volunteerism. That is easily done. But equally important are our duties and responsibilities as citizens of the state. The state uses your tax money for various purposes. Official Development Assistance (ODA) given by the Developed countries to the Developing countries is from the taxes people pay. It is therefore our duty as citizens to see that these funds are properly budgeted and spent with transparency and accountability. As suggested by Prof.Sen this means taking an interest in government, politics and international affairs. This we must do to the best of our ability. Young people today have become apolitical. They cannot afford to be so in a world that is full of problems. This is a challenge that you have to face. I wish you well in meeting these challenges.  

HUMAN SECURITY An International Perspective

An International Perspective

Ashikaga Shimane Kaikan
Ashikaga, Tochigi, Japan
11 April, 2000

The concept of Human Security evolved in the 1990s and is now widely accepted as a theme under which numerous issues are discussed. It is a concept under which various groups including the United Nations, Universities and NGOs discuss contemporary problems. The Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) has in the 1990s provided us with a broad approach to human well-being and the study of the social and economic problems facing the world.  As the 1999 report states:
"Getting income is one of the options people would like to have. It is an important but not an all-important option. Human development includes the expansion of income and wealth, but it includes many other valued and valuable things as well.

“For example, in investigating the priorities of poor people, one discovers that what matters most to them often differs from what outsiders assume. More income is only one of the things poor people desire. Adequate nutrition, safe water at hand, better medical services, more and better schooling for their children, cheap transport, adequate shelter, continuing employment and secure livelihoods and productive, remunerating, satisfying jobs do not show up in higher income per head, at least not for some time."

Human Security and National Security

Human Security is an expression that offers an alternative approach to the more widely used national security concept. National security is concerned with defense, militarization, manufacture and trade in weapons including nuclear weapons and research, pacts and alliances among states - all these apparently for defense but often in reality used for aggression and domination.

There are numerous examples that can be cited. In the second half of the 20th century the best known example was the Vietnam War. The United States fought this war claiming that it was vital for its national interests and security. This is now regarded as a major failure and defeat for the US. The Gulf War against Iraq is another notable example. Whatever Saddam Hussein's faults including the annexation of Kuwait, the Western Powers supported by several other states used the United Nations to attack Iraq, primarily to retain control over oil fields in the Middle-East. Here again the war was fought to promote the national interests of the powerful industrialized nations. The main victims of both wars were children and the poor.

In the second half of the 20th century we have in addition seen the growth of the national security-state. In such a state, the security forces are used by authoritarian and dictatorial regimes to control their own citizens in order to preserve power in the hands of a few wealthy people - the upper class of land owners, owners of industries and business tycoons. Political freedoms are curtailed, trade union activity is prohibited and the press controlled. A kind of crony capitalism is prevalent. Corruption including kickbacks from foreign aid and investment is extensive.

Examples in Asia in recent years were the Philippines under Marcos and Indonesia under Suharto. Both were over-thrown by people's power. Such regimes were and are common in Latin America and Africa. Another form of the national security-state is one in which economic and political power is concentrated in a ruling class within one ethnic group. The minorities are oppressed and discriminated against. Attempts to assert their rights lead to repression. The classic example was South Africa during the period of apartheid where a minority of whites oppressed the black majority. In such a state power gradually shifts to the police and the army and grave violations of human rights take place.

Peoples' Security

Prof. Mushakoji says that by Human Security we mean peoples’ security. “Peoples’ security is different from “National Security” for all peoples who do not exclusively identify with the “nation-state”. The modern “nation-state” is ready to protect its citizens provided they do not question its legitimacy and its national project … The “minorities” may receive protection from the state if their integration is advantageous to it and is accepted by the “majority.” … the (i.e. majority identity group) as well as the state constitutes often a threat against which they have to protect themselves. How the United Nations can guarantee the security of such peoples is a question which increases in importance everyday.” (Mushakoji Kinhide, PRIME, Meiji Gakuin University, Nov.1994). This is one dimension of the crisis in several states.

“The post-cold war era is increasingly witnessing a phenomenon of what some have called “failed states” the implosion of countries like Rwanda, Somalia, Yugoslavia, and others … several countries are among the ranks of what Professor James Rosenau of George Washington University calls “adrift nation-states” … the media and many other observers now almost habitually ascribe the outbreak of civil wars and the collapse of entire societies to just one factor: the resurfacing of “ancient ethnic hatreds” revolving around seemingly irreconcilable religious and cultural differences.” In reality the causes are far more complex.

    “Roughly half of the world’s countries have experienced some kind of interethnic strife in recent years.” There are “233 minority groups at risk from political or economic discrimination. These groups encompassed 915 million people in 1990, about 17 percent of the world’s population. “One of the continuing legacies of colonial and imperial rule is that boundaries are often arbitrary – drawn not to reflect local realities, but to serve the purposes of the imperial masters… following independence, civic life in many of these states continued to be split along ethnic lines, with one group ruling at the direct expense of the other.” (State of the World 1997: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society, Lester R. Brown et al, Worldwatch Institute, 1997.
p. 117-118.)

United Nations as a Human Security Institution

The alternative approach that of Human Security, while recognizing the need for legitimate national security, asserts that there is a vital link between development and peoples' security. The problems that emerge with development, modernization and urbanization are numerous. These include human rights, the right to work and earn a decent living, basic needs like food, clean water, shelter, health care, education, and welfare - especially for children and old people, the environment and gender issues. Human security is an umbrella term that includes all the major problems we have in modern society.

This concept favors transforming the United Nations into a Human Security Institution. The perception that people have of the UN and the Security Council in particular is that of an organization primarily concerned with war and peace. The use of military force and peace-keeping at the point of the gun receive excessive importance. There are often deep differences among the world's peoples regarding the UN's role in these matters. Human security as defined above is increasingly being recognized as an important role of the UN. Member states and especially citizens should press for a greater role by the UN in giving top priority to Human Security concerns.

This is an insecure world for the majority of the people. It is impossible to discuss all these issues in today's lecture. I have chosen some major issues that are relevant to teachers and educators. This does not mean that these are more important than the others. All the issues are interrelated. For example literacy, infant mortality and life expectancy are connected. These again are dependent on the availability of schools and adequate medical facilities. Expansion of the educational and health care systems require infrastructure that facilitates transportation and communication. These include roads, railways, electricity and telephone facilities. Access to information through newspapers, radio and television is important especially in poorer countries. All these in turn require economic development.

A Message for Teachers and Educators

But before I take up some of these issues I have one comment to make. I have often heard Japanese people say that they do not know about the problems in several Asian countries because they do no have enough information. This is not quite correct. It is true that both print and electronic media in Japanese do not give enough information. The situation is now much better than ten years ago. However, even now, the media tends to focus on the curious and the exotic, on what is trivial and entertaining - infotainment rather than relevant knowledge. This is one of the major failures in post-war Japanese society. In Europe there is greater awareness.

Japanese post-war society has been influenced too much by the consumer oriented American way of life. In the Meiji period and early Showa years Japan was highly influenced by Europe. But in America consumerism and ignorance is constantly challenged by sections of the media, distinguished journalists, writers, eminent intellectuals, activists, and numerous organizations such as NGOs and some churches with a strong commitment to justice, human rights and welfare of peoples in the poorer countries of the world.

In the USA the main stream media like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post give wide coverage to the problems mentioned above. These papers are now freely available in Japan, especially the supplements carried by the Daily Yomiuri and the Asahi Evening News without extra charge. CNN, CBS and BBC bilingual news broadcasts and documentaries available in Japan also give valuable information.

In addition it is possible to down load from the Internet tons of information within a few minutes. In fact there is too much information. But this is of course in English. By reading the newspapers and listening to the news you can gather a lot of information and at the same time improve your English. There is therefore no longer any excuse for Japanese people to say that we do not have enough information. If people are ignorant it simply means that they are not interested or do not care about the sufferings of people denied human security. It is a question of commitment and whether you are prepared to give a little bit of your time to create a better world.

Today numerous publications on the issues mentioned above are easily available in several languages including Japanese. I recommend in particular the Human Development Report and UNICEF reports published by the UN annually. These should be read by teachers and educators. When you first read them they may appear to be difficult. Data (facts and figures) on many problems are provided country by country in these reports.

To begin with you should choose two or three problems and study them. Gradually you can broaden the scope. You can form your own study circles, either in your place of work or within the community in which you reside. Or you can form a group among your friends. It is important that school libraries equip themselves with books, newspapers, periodicals and audio-visual aids and encourage clubs to focus on these issues. Curriculum and syllabus of courses provided in schools should give high priority to Human Security concerns.

A Quick Look at some Socio-Economic Facts and Indicators

I have selected a few topics for discussion today. We have made copies of tables and charts (in English and Japanese) taken from (1) The State of the World's Children 2000 - UNICEF  (2) The Human Development Report 1999 and (3) Associated Press Document on the High Human Cost in All Wars.

Using these I intend to focus on (1) The Growing Gap between the Rich and the Poor. (2) Children and Education. (3) Social and Economic Indicators relating to Literacy, Infant Mortality, Life Expectancy, GNP per capita and Military Expenditures in selected countries.

A World Without Borders

We live in a world that is being rapidly transformed into a totally integrated global society where troubles in one part soon affect other parts of the world. Global warming and environmental issues are a good example. Rapid population growth, urbanization, poverty and wars including ethnic conflict make people take risks. Refugees by the millions cross nation-state borders in search of security.

Human Security is global. Borders cannot totally restrict the movement of people. Poverty, diseases, and pollution that poverty breeds cannot be confined within national boundaries. Illegal trafficking in arms and drugs are universal. The big gap in incomes between rich and poor countries attracts migration. People in the rich countries must realize that helping poorer countries to develop is an essential investment in their own security. Human security has to be understood as preventive action. It is better to prevent rather than wait until the problems become too big to cure.

As Johan Galtung states, "human security can be seen as an umbrella concept … and relates the concept to peace in general via four other concepts: human rights, social development, women and human settlements." (International Symposium on Human Security in Asia Pacific Region, December 1997, PRIME, Meiji Gakuin University, Tokyo.)

The above symposium focussed on a broad range of issues relevant to human security by both scholar-activists and activist-scholars. Academics in Universities in particular have a responsibility to relate their study to practice. Activists in turn should make an effort to sharpen their intellectual understanding of the problems that they confront in practice.  

Efforts are being made by several groups in Asia and other parts of the world. These are signs of hope. One such group with which I have been associated is the Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives based in Hong Kong. It is a fellowship of concerned Asian scholars. Founded in 1980 conferences have been held in Thailand 1982, Indonesia 1985, India 1988, Philippines 1992, South Korea 1996 and in Sri Lanka March 2000. The leadership and activities of ARENA has now passed on to a younger generation with women playing a major role. In Colombo, Sri Lanka, 24-29 March this year the theme was "Re-Imagining Asia: Towards Alternative Concepts of Human Security, Movements and Alliances in the Twenty First Century." ARENA's programs and publications constantly seek Alternatives.

As ARENA Coordinator Jeannie Nacpil-Manipon states in "locating the possibilities and locating the possible … the word impossible doesn't seem to exist anymore." Returning from that meeting in Colombo I bring this message to you - especially to those of you who are young teachers. You face a world burdened with many problems. But it is also a time of great challenges and opportunities. We must look for the signs of hope and seize the opportunities that come our way...

As Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan states,

"There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children… The State of the World's Children 2000 begins and ends with the premise that the wellspring of human progress is found in the realization of children's rights. It spells out a vision in which the rights of all children, without exception, are realized. The challenge, as so often, lies in the implementation of good intentions. Let us summon all our courage and commitment to make it so. Because a child in danger is a child who cannot wait."

We must believe that Human Security is an attainable target if each and every one of us makes a small contribution. It must begin with power that comes from knowledge, and through participation in movements and alliances of people with people. It calls for "creative daydreaming" study and action. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


The Question is not Why but How

Santasilan Kadirgamar

               “Let the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible, though I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” Gandhi

There was a time when the quality of English, written and spoken, was of a high order in this country. Jaffna is known to have had the second highest literacy rate in the country second only to that of Colombo and well above the national average. Schools and the quality of education imparted within the approximately 1000 sq. km. that constituted the Jaffna peninsula was comparable to the best in the world and without doubt well ahead of several countries in Asia. The products of the Jaffna schools manned the public services in Malaysia and Singapore beginning late in the nineteenth century right into the mid-decades of the twentieth century. These achievements are well documented in S.Durai Rajah Singam’s “A Hundred Years of Ceylonese in Malaya and Singapore.” In the 1960s and 70s several of the graduates produced by the Undergraduate Department of Jaffna College took up teaching positions in Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and several other African countries. They were able to do so because they had sat for the external exams of the University of London in the English language. Within three decades we have lost this tremendous advantage we had – a legacy of a hundred and twenty five years of English education beginning with the founding of the Batticotta Seminary in 1823.

This article is being written on the assumption that the readership addressed is convinced of the importance of English in our educational system. As the title suggests I am not engaging in a discussion as to why we should teach and study English. I focus below on how it should be done.

A Word of Caution

I may however add one word of caution. Here I enter controversial ground. There is one school of thought in this country that believes in restoring English as the medium of instruction. I have strong reservations on this policy. At any rate we do not have the teachers to do this and will never have in the foreseeable future the required number of teachers to do so on an island wide scale. If we do this in just a few schools we would create an elitist class – a class that is already coming into existence with the proliferation of the so-called international schools with their exorbitant fees. In some of these schools Sinhalese or Tamil is not even taught as a second language. This class will be culturally alienated from the large masses of people calling for another 1956 – echoes of which are once again audible in this country.

The decision to change the medium of instruction from English to the national languages was taken when free education was introduced in 1944, long before 1956 came around unleashing the forces of extreme nationalism. Any attempt to change this policy must be approached with caution and a national consensus. Some subjects may be taught in English if adequately qualified teachers or foreign teachers are available. But basically the medium should be the national languages. The leaders of the Jaffna Youth Congress many of whom later became eminent teachers and principals of schools in Jaffna adopted this policy as early as in the 1920s. In the 1940s and 50s the Northern Province Teachers’ Association composed of eminent educationists was committed to this vital change in the firm conviction that the child learns best in his or her mother tongue. This is a policy that was not imposed by the state and should not be confused with the Sinhala Only policy of 1956, which the Tamils rightly resisted.

Two Fundamental errors

What then happened to the place occupied by English in our educational system? Two fundamental errors were committed. Adequate planning and effort was not put into developing a curriculum and the training of teachers to teach English as a second language. Graduates who had passed the B.A. exam in the English medium were called upon to teach English.  By the 1980s this stream dried up. Ad hoc policies were adopted and the schools drifted into a state in which anyone who had some command of the language was called upon to teach English. We are now in the sad predicament where some teachers of English do not speak English. We have a whole generation of young people who have never heard English being spoken either at home or even in the school.

We have to ask ourselves why we allowed this to happen. Was it a lack of commitment or the result of a people adrift having lost their moorings? A parallel development has taken within the Tamil Diaspora settled in the west. The first valued heritage to go out of the window has been the Tamil language and the Tamilness that went with it. The speed with which this has happened abroad exceeds the pace at which we gave up on the English language here at home. The Tamil language with its long and rich literary heritage is a difficult language to learn. One does not give up such a heritage with ease. The Chinese, the Japanese, most Indians, the Thais, and many other Asian communities do not give up their language and culture with the callousness and never mind attitude we have displayed. And let us remember this happened in the heat and strident assertion of Tamil nationalism. We have a great deal of heart searching to do.

Secondly we accepted without protest the soft option of accepting the national languages as the medium of instruction in the field of tertiary education, especially in the Universities. The latter was a blunder of Himalayan proportions. While English through a painful process has been retained as the medium of instruction in the Medical, Engineering and Science faculties; in the faculties of Arts, Business Studies and numerous other faculties the national languages have been used. We now have an army of unemployed and unemployable graduates. The Indian experience has been entirely different. At the International Association for Tamil Research (IATR) sessions held at the Madurai Kamraj University in 1981 Nedunchelian, the Minister of Education in the AIADMK government led by M.G.Ramachandran, made an eloquent and powerful plea defending the policy of his government to continue with English in the field of higher education.

In Partnership with the Community

For failures in the educational system both the state and society at large must share the blame. Most secondary schools in Jaffna until 1961 were denominational schools - Christian, Catholic and Hindu. These were assisted schools, that is, the state paid the teachers. The overall all development of the school including buildings for class rooms and dormitories, laboratories, libraries and sports facilities were the result of the planning and work initiated by dynamic principals backed by dedicated teachers with the support of the alumni and the community. The Christian schools may have had some access to foreign funding but not much with the exception of Jaffna College. Three Hindu schools in particular developed rapidly and became outstanding within a space of two decades (1940-60). These are Kokuvil Hindu College, Skantha Varodaya College and Mahajana College. The development took place under distinguished principals, namely, Handy Perinbanayagam, Orator Subramaniam and T.T, Jayaratnam, all three held in deep reverence by the alumni of these schools to this day.

But something snapped from the 1960s onward. The rapid political changes that took place from 1956, the rise of Sinhalese nationalism, the nationalization of schools in 1961, the termination of the holding of the external examination of the University of London in 1965 and the eventual escalation of political violence, instability and the consequent migrations have all contributed to the crisis. I do not wish to go into the details. It may be noted that the valuable place given to English succumbed to the forces of Tamil nationalism as well. This was unfortunate. Today we have to go back to that tradition more than ever to solicit all the resources and talent available in the community. 

A Place of Honour to the Tamil language

While making every effort to restore English in our schools we must take care to retain the pre-eminent place given to the Tamil language in our part of the country. I may repeat here what I have stated elsewhere.

National resurgence among the English educated class, with a few exceptions, in its social, cultural and linguistic dimensions happened in the south in 1956 and thereafter. Even then it happened for public consumption, several members of this class having a dual life style, one for political purposes and the other for their domestic life aping the west. In Jaffna and among most Tamils there was no need for a 1956 type upsurge with it’s donning of the national dress, kiributh breakfasts and high profile visits to temples. A genuine national and cultural revival free of hypocrisy had taken place in Jaffna in the 1920s. Some of these men had discarded their western attire, as students, in the Gandhi led bonfire of western clothes in 1921. (see The Jaffna Youth Congress and its Legacy, Handy Perinbanayagam 100th Birth Anniversary Commemoration Lecture, The Kokuvil Hindu College Old Students’ Association, Ramakrishna Mission Hall, Colombo, March 28, 1999.)

Tamil had always been given an honoured place in our society, including our churches and Christian schools. The prospectus of the Batticotta Seminary (1823) gave equal importance to Tamil and English. In 1919 a symposium was held at Jaffna College on “An Up-To-Date Literature in Tamil.” Participants included the Hon.Mr.K.Balasingam, distinguished Alumni and member of the Legislative Council, and the Rev.G.G.Brown (one time Principal of Jaffna College) and the Rev.S.Gnanaprakasar. Mr. Brown made a proposal that can be considered radical coming as it did from an American missionary.

Do not allow any boy to be promoted who fails to pass a worthy test in Tamil reading, grammar and composition. Create a sentiment in the country which will make a student feel ashamed to be able to speak and to write in English while he cannot do equally well in Tamil. (Jaffna College Miscellany December 1919).  

Some Suggestions on what can be done

I am drawing from my experiences both as a student and later a teacher for forty-one years in a variety of institutions. I must admit that I have not had any training or qualification in the specific discipline in the teaching of English as a second language. While working professionally as a lecturer in Modern History and International Relations, I have spent a great deal of time teaching English especially in my nearly twenty years in Tokyo. The comments I make come out of these years of teaching experience. I focus on three practical suggestions.

Reading and Discussion

Without doubt importance should be given to the total method - reading, writing, conversation and listening. Among these my preferred choice is reading and discussion. I enjoy these classes most. This does not require specialized skills. The method is simple. Get the students to read a short passage and then discuss the contents. This can be practiced at elementary, intermediate and advanced levels. At the most elementary level the teacher selects a very short passage or story. Having explained difficult and unfamiliar words and expressions the teacher asks as many questions as possible based on the passage. Pair practice can follow. The use of the five Ws and H is the commonest approach. The questions begin with what, when, where, who, why and how. Incidentally these are basic questions journalists ask and answer when reporting news. It is amazing how many questions and answers are possible based on a passage of about a hundred and fifty words. The use of English to English dictionary should be obligatory. I have observed that many students today have not seen, leave alone used, English to English dictionary.

The reading and discussion method was very successful in all my classes in several universities in Tokyo. Most challenging were the classes at the Sophia University Community College where enrolment was limited to not more than twenty-five students. Participants ranged from high school kids to undergraduates, office workers, businessmen, doctors, engineers and university professors. On one occasion I had a grandmother in her seventies who told me that she selected my class on the advice of her grand-daughter! The title of the course was “Contemporary Issues in International Relations.” But the purpose was to improve communication skills in English among the participants. 

International issues that dominated newspaper headlines that particular week were selected. Students were expected to read the news both in Japanese and English. TV stations in Japan provided bilingual-news programmes. That is one could listen in either Japanese or English. With the nearly state-of–the-art audio-video laboratory facilities available all I had to do was to instruct the lab assistants to record the news and give me a videotape. In the classroom having introduced the topic the tape was played in English and if absolutely necessary was repeated in Japanese as well. I used recordings of BBC, CNN and CBS Evening news. Thus students had an exposure to American and British English. The presentation of the news was followed by group discussions. Every week a different student was required to lead the discussion in his or her group and would submit an oral report of the group’s views on the given topic. The students were reading the news, listening to the same news on videotape, and later talking about it. This method excluded writing skills. Students were anyway attending other classes devoted to developing writing skills. The course had the added advantage that while learning to communicate in English they were being exposed to the great events and issues that shaped the contemporary world. Often the students forgot that they were learning English, as they got absorbed in the issues. Though my specific interest was in International Affairs, topics can be selected from the sports, business and entertainment pages of newspapers as suited the interests of the students. At times English movies with Japanese subtitles were used. Unfortunately we have not reached that stage of having movies with Tamil subtitles though it is increasingly becoming common in the Sinhalese channels of TV stations here. In Japan today several Tamil movies are available with Japanese subtitles.

Reading Aloud

On my return to Lanka and when I founded my own small Center to teach English a Professor of English, told me that it is increasingly being recognized that one method that demonstrates tangible results is reading aloud. I remember that when I entered the University of Ceylon in 1955 in the English Literature class of just forty students (incidentally I was the only student from Jaffna in this class that particular year – we were already giving up on English as early as in the fifties) the eminent Prof. Ludowyk insisted that we read the text aloud. He told us that we had been conditioned to read in silence, and that literature is best understood and enjoyed reading aloud. I believe he was also trying to break inhibitions and shyness prevalent among some students. I belonged to this category. In our school days we read aloud in the lower forms but not in the higher classes.

During our student days at Jaffna College a well-known chemistry teacher who was admired for his excellent English used to read the Bible aloud in his home every morning. His voice could be heard in the neighbourhood. Too often teachers opt for the trouble-free technique of silent reading simply to keep the students quiet.

Literary Associations and English Speaking Societies

The second proposal I make is to revive the literary associations. In our time students learnt the art of public speaking, techniques of debate and how to conduct meetings in a proper away including the writing and reading of minutes of previous meetings in the literary associations, namely the Lyceum, Forum, Brotherhood and culminating with the Academy. Weekly meetings were obligatory, lively and mostly held in English. Every third meeting was in Tamil. I presume these are still functioning in some form. In addition we had the hostel unions where it was more fun than business but it was all in English and the less articulate students opened up free of inhibitions since no girls were present. Added activities that should be encouraged are elocution or speech contests. These contests were tough in our time, especially extemporaneous speech. These were held on Alumni day. The Alumni could take an interest in reviving these activities.

Inter-school debates could follow. In 1982 I presided at a mock sessions of the U.N.Security Council organized by the Rotary Club of Jaffna at the Chundikuli Girls’ College. Twelve schools participated debating the “Right of the Palestinians to Self-Determination.” I must admit that the quality of the debate was of a high standard. In Japan most schools and universities have English Speaking Societies that organize a variety of activities including speech contests. I was for a period staff advisor to the Meiji Gakuin University English Speaking Association (MESA) and have functioned as a judge at several of the inter-university contests in Tokyo. The quality and content of the speeches delivered were impressive, the result of hard work and preparation. These societies organized camps for their members when about fifty students would spend three days at a holiday resort. A self-imposed discipline was that participants were obliged to speak only English throughout this period day and night on the pain of a fine. The proceeds were donated towards the expenses for the concluding party.  

In some fifty countries there are nation-wide English Speaking Societies affiliated to the main one in the United Kingdom. The English Speaking Society of Japan organized an    annual debate contest culminating with an exhibition debate by the Oxford and Cambridge University debating teams. About twenty universities participated. (I was invited to act as one of the judges and this gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of young people in the country.) Some such society is supposed to have existed in this country but is now defunct. This could be revived catering to both universities and schools. There is some international support available for such activities.

A College or Institute for the Teaching of English

Thirdly and finally I suggest the establishment of special Colleges for the teaching of English and the training of English teachers. This will have to be a major project with substantial funding, equipment and trained personnel. Ideally this should be undertaken by the state and a section of the Peradeniya University should have been allocated for this task. But politics and planning being what they are in this country I do not see the state making any progress in this direction. Over dependence on the state is undesirable. This is a challenge facing the community. A well-equipped institution with a highly qualified staff composed of competent nationals and foreigners, catering to hundreds of students and teacher trainees is possible only in Colombo or Peradeniya at this juncture. Given a continuation of the peace process an institute on a smaller scale should be possible in Jaffna. The initiative could come from one institution or ideally a Federation of Alumni Associations could initiate such a project. Funding is not the major problem here. Credible and dynamic leadership, with transparency free of sectarianism is called for. Funds and expertise will flow.

Such an institute should provide intensive or semi-intensive courses in English. Today most students begin the study of English at grade three and continue to do so until grade ten. That is a student has eight years of English instruction. There are five periods of forty minutes duration a week in a year of 180 school days. In other words a student gets 120 hours of English instruction a year leading to a total of 960 hours of instruction in the eight years he or she learns English. At the end of all this effort the average student is functionally illiterate in the language and can hardly utter two sentences. One way out is to compress these 960 hours into one year of instruction. I am not suggesting that we abandon teaching English in schools under the present system. While that goes on and efforts are made to improve the quality we introduce in the proposed institute mentioned above an intensive course in English as is available in several countries abroad. This would cater primarily to those who have completed a minimum of ten years of schooling.

Intensive Course

In explaining the content of such a course I once again go back to my own experience in Japan. It is a requirement in the International Christian University in Tokyo that all foreign students have one year of intensive Japanese. All Japanese students study nothing but English in their first year. I followed the Japanese language course in 1973 when I was close upon forty years of age. Today English levels in Japan have gone up so that twenty per cent of the Japanese students at ICU are exempted from the above requirement. The graduates of this university are bilingual and most work in Japan or abroad for international companies, banks, the United Nations etc. 

The Intensive Course in Japanese is very demanding. The day begins at 8-30 in the morning with a twenty minutes test on the previous day’s work, usually dictation. The rest of the day is divided into four seventy-minute periods. The first period is conversation time. The total class not exceeding 40 students is divided into groups of eight for conversation practice. A conversation piece introduced the previous day has to be memorized and the students have pair practice. The whole exercise is taped and the instructor will play back the tape and correct pronunciation and other errors. The second period is devoted to reading and writing. This class would consist of twenty students. After the much looked forward to lunch break the whole class moves to the language laboratory where the next day’s lesson is introduced. Students record the lesson in tapes and take them home to listen and practice the repetition exercises. In the fourth period repetition exercises are introduced, structure and grammar explained. Time was given for questions and clarifications. This totaled five hours of instruction a day, which in turn required four to five hours of preparation. Miss four or five days and you are out of the course.

At the end of every ten days there was a test lasting 70 minutes and at the end of the term of ten weeks there was a final examination. Students who failed had to repeat the course. It was a very demanding and strenuous. But at the end of the first term students had a working knowledge of elementary Japanese having covered a textbook of 425 pages containing forty comprehensive lessons including a basic vocabulary of 1250 words and 400 Chinese characters. It was a comprehensive and carefully organized program based on research covering a period of two years and grew out of ten years of teaching experience at ICU. The vocabulary was selected from one month’s issues of the Asahi newspaper, the favoured newspaper among the intelligentsia in Japan. Some ten to twenty percent of the students dropped out at the end of the first semester and opted for the less strenuous semi-intensive course which consisted of about two and a half hours of instruction a day.  At the end of three terms of this intensive course or six terms of the semi-intensive course students were able to move into regular classes in the Japanese medium. Some students continued for another year with advanced Japanese.

As an aside I may add this little piece. As though five hours of instruction a day was not enough the three or four weakest students were called by the head of department for an additional hour every Monday, which was with a tinge of humour called the “clinic.” The writer was one of the victims and it was not fun for me. Tired and frustrated I complained that I simply could not memorize all the stuff introduced in one day. In addition I was experiencing my first winter in life without adequate heating. The head, an elderly lady professor respected and feared for her tough reputation told me something that I later realised was absolutely true. Students who memorize quickly forget soon. Those who are slow in memorizing retain what they have learnt in the long run. Some twenty years later by some chance I met her niece at a symposium in Tokyo and related this little episode and requested her to convey to this veteran teacher my regards and thanks. I never forgot what I learnt in those ten weeks. This laid the foundations for a working knowledge of what has become my third language. 

Techniques and methods may have changed over the years. But the fundamental point I make is that the only way out is to provide intensive or semi-intensive courses in English. We could begin with a crash programme for about a hundred students and gradually expand the scope of the program. A full-fledged program will call for a great deal of planning, expertise and resources with the establishment of a college or institute as advocated above. Those concerned may as well begin to address such a project as early as possible.

What I have written above are the experiences and thoughts of one teacher. These are open to debate and discussion. There are others who have spent a life lifetime teaching English. In addition we have several products of Jaffna schools now in Universities here and abroad attached to Faculties of English and Linguistics in prestigious Universities involved in research and teaching. It is time to bring together all the resources that are available to once again regain something valuable we have lost – a high degree of proficiency in the English language.  Japan has been my reference point in this article. When I first went there in 1973 the competency in the English language was higher in Lanka than in Japan in ratio to the population in both countries. Today Japan is way ahead. While preserving their culture and the Japanese ways of doing things they realised that in order to be competitive in the contemporary world they have to give English the utmost importance and have pursued this objective with relentless determination and perseverance. In our case English came without our asking for it. When the debate raged in India on replacing English with Hindi, Rajaji who had been the first Governor-General of India resisting the imposition of Hindi declared, “English is a gift of the Gods.” It was indeed a valuable gift that has to be treasured and preserved.

Published in:

The Jaffna College Alumni Association Colombo Branch, Souvenir 2003,  Commemorating the 180th Anniversary of the Batticotta Seminary (1823), and its successor Jaffna College (1872).