During a debate on education budgetary allocation, Aturaliye Ratana Thero, a Bhikku and Sri Lankan Parliamentarian, has said:
“If a child is given a primary education in a language other than their mother tongue, that child would not be a citizen of that country,”
The essence of the good Thero’s argument is that pedagogically it is best to educate a child in his/her mother tongue, and if we don’t they will also not be able to participate effectively in the socio-cultural life of this country. While agreeing with the essence of Thero’s argument, I would object very much to a violation of a parent’s fundamental right to decide which language should be the mother-tongue for their children.
The Thero is falsely assuming that mother tongue of families in Sri Lanka has to be Sinhala or Tamil. Many families of mixed parentage or else, choose to use English as the language spoken at home and in school. Typically these are families with well-educated parents in leadership positions in the private or non-governmental sector. Their children indeed are less likely to participate in the socio-cultural life of mainstream Sri Lanka, and it would be a loss to the country, but we need to separate the issue of what is good for the country and the fundamental right of parents to adopt the language they feel is best for their children.
If we agree that parents should be free to choose, we can begin a discussion on how we nurture the Sinhala language and culture which is part of Sri Lanka’s unique identity. (I am not including the Tamil language because it is al language with considerable strength outside of Sri Lanka, and the identity of Sri Lankan Tamils is tied to the identity of Sri Lanka).
Previously I wrote about the cultural divide between English Speaking Elite (ESE) and the ordinary Sri Lankans and government officials who remain strongly mono-lingual
It is time to revisit the issue. More in the next column.