Trilingualism and languages policy in education in Sri Lanka

Authored by: Indika Liyanage

Routledge International Handbook of Schools and Schooling in Asia

Print publication date:  May  2018
Online publication date:  May  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138908499
eBook ISBN: 9781315694382
Adobe ISBN:


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The peoples of Sri Lanka are proud of their long tradition of rich linguistic diversity and their contemporary high levels of education and literacy. Yet the history of language in school education during the period since European colonization and subsequent independence has been a troubled one, marked by friction over the place of indigenous languages and dissension over the role and socio-economic significance of English, language of the final colonizers and now global lingua franca. The current ten-year plan to achieve a trilingual Sri Lanka is a language policy fraught with structural and social challenges that could prove to be fatal weaknesses. While the state endorses local languages as media of instruction, English or bilingual medium of instruction (MOI) is officially sanctioned and supported, and independent international schools offer English MOI for those with the requisite private means. The politically-driven “re-badging” of English as a “culturally neutral life skill” (Fernando, 2011a, p. 4) points to the ongoing tensions bound up with English language education and the demand for English medium of instruction schooling in the context of trilingual language policy in a small nation grappling with the forces of globalization and the intervention of global aid agencies and institutions.

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