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WEBINAR: The capability approach, linguistics, and language policy: resolving language-based social divisions in Sri Lanka
August 3 @ 2:30 pm - 4:00 pm UTC+10
Dr. Donna Vaughan
Aug 3, 2022, at 2:30 pm AEST
Presented by the Asia-Pacific Regional Network
Dr. Donna Vaughan, President – Partners in Micro-development Inc., holds a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Law, Masters in Social Science – International Development, and a PhD in Development Studies. The first part of her career was in the corporate sector, and the latter in academia. Donna has taught development studies, political economy, and public policy (post-grad) at the University of New South Wales in Australia. In 2004, she and her partner, Dr. Mahesan Kandaiya, launched Partners in Micro-development Inc. (PIMD), a 100% volunteer-based NGO working in Sri Lanka to improve the learning and teaching of English in primary grades in village schools. Donna is now dedicated full-time to the work of PIMD. Visit Donna's Linked In page.
The Zoom link for the meeting
Abstract: Language has been a divisive issue in Sri Lanka since the British colonial period. There are two official national languages representing the two main ethnic groups – Tamil and Sinhala. The national languages are referred to as 1NL and 2NL, representing the individual’s mother tongue and other national language respectively. English is positioned as a ‘link’ language intended to bridge the language divide between the different ethnic groups in the country as well as meeting other national objectives relating to a broader communicative competency. Outside the major urban areas, one or other national language is spoken but seldom both. Even though students are supposed to learn both languages during their school education, the shortage of 2NL language teachers in many parts of the country means that this is seldom achieved. Student achievement in English at the end of primary and secondary school remains poor, and inadequate to meet the national objectives and individual aspirations for higher education and participation in a 21st century national and global economy. The underlying cause of these poor educational outcomes is the politics of language in Sri Lanka pre- and post-Independence and the way in which this has shaped language policy, language education policy, pedagogy, and provision and allocation of resources in schools. As a consequence, there is significant inequity in language related capabilities throughout the country. This paper evaluates language policy, and language education policy in Sri Lanka, and proposes an approach for policy re-design using the capability approach (CA). In this particular application of the CA, the field of linguistics provides an explanatory theory that can be used to frame capabilities and valued functionings. Plurilingualism is proposed as both the benchmark for current policy evaluation and the anchor for policy re-design. The pre-colonial linguistic landscape in Sri Lanka was plurilingual (Canagarajah and Liyanage 2012, pp.49-65), and English, when introduced, became part of the mix. While plurilingualism is now a well-developed concept both in linguistic theory and increasingly in pedagogical practice, it is seldom explicitly targeted as a policy outcome (Lo Bianco 2018). This is true for both minority languages, and second or additional languages mandated for the opportunities they confer such as English in Sri Lanka. Piccardo and Galante (2018) argue the case for plurilingualism as a “social justice conceptual framework” for policy. If language policy in Sri Lanka were to explicitly re-adopt a plurilingual stance focused on 1NL, 2NL, and English, this would provide a theoretically grounded framework for language education policy, pedagogy, and teacher training. Finally, it would lay a foundation for a positive shift in attitude towards each of the three main languages.