Volume 18 Number 4
Those Who Can, Teach
01 August 2005

The Centre is an English language school for low-income students, which began life in a garage and now boasts over 500 students.

LANGUAGE, so often a divisive element in Sri Lanka’s history, could be a unifying factor, believes Dr Antony Fernando, founder of the Intercultural Research Centre in Eldeniya, Sri Lanka.

The Centre is an English language school for low-income students, which began life in a garage and now boasts over 500 students. Its success lies in part in the translation method it employs—designed by Fernando himself, specifically for Singhalese speakers.

Fernando’s career has included teaching Buddhist studies in a Christian seminary, Christianity in a state (Buddhist) university, and heading Kelaniya University’s Department of Western Classical Civilization. He sees English language training as the conduit for students to realize their potential; opening up the possibility of better jobs and university education and setting them on a path to become the leaders of tomorrow.

For Sri Lanka to assume an active role in the international community, Fernando feels English has to be widely used and understood: not to the detriment of other languages, but alongside them. Education is, for him, an essential factor in Sri Lanka’s continued development and the basis for building individual value systems.

Training teachers is central to this vision. In 2003, the government closed many teacher-training colleges due to funding shortages. ‘We felt that we should do something because a country can’t grow without teachers,’ explains Fernando, ‘and we have the technique and the staff needed to shoulder the task.’

But, he adds, there are ‘small hurdles’ to clear, including the lack of a library, and the need for more scholarships to extend access to the poorest students. ‘Our plan over the next two years is to produce 50 qualified teachers, who can then go out to the rest of the country and teach.’

The Centre’s sustainability also depends on these teachers, and several of the faculty themselves began by learning basic literacy at the school. Their continued involvement with the school testifies to the dedication with which it is run by Fernando and his wife Sumana (herself a member of the teaching staff).

It also reveals the emphasis placed on empowering students with more than just language skills. Students enrolled on the advanced diploma course, for example, benefit from leadership training, and are given the opportunity to act as teaching assistants.

Moreover, with students encouraged to take responsibility for the maintenance of school facilities, a genuine sense of community is achieved, which contributes to the atmosphere of inclusiveness, encouragement, and, above all, empowerment. Indeed, as the words on the school’s front wall urge: ‘Enter saying: I can because I believe I can.’
Mark Perera