Sri Lanka’s official languages | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka’s official languages

30 October, 2022

As per Sri Lanka’s language policy, the Sinhala and Tamil languages are considered the official languages of the country. Accordingly, students can receive education in a language of their choice depending on the language they consider as their mother tongue. Meanwhile, English which is used as a coordinating language as well as an international language is considered a second language in the country. Likewise, students undergoing university education are also given the right to study in their mother tongue.

However, some time ago a gazette was issued declaring that English will be the sole language for the final year examinations at the Sri Lanka Law College.

Accordingly, from the year 2024, the final year examination should be conducted in English language only, as stated in the gazette as follows.

(1) All courses conducted in the Sri Lanka Law College must be conducted in the medium of English. (2) The compulsory medium of examination shall be English and shall be introduced as follows. (a) Starting from the year 2022, the first year - at least three subjects should be answered in English medium (b) starting from the year 2023, the second year - at least five subjects should be answered in English medium. (c) starting from the year 2024, Final Year - Answers should be given in English medium for all subjects.

It was reported that such a decision was taken to raise the standard of the law degree. The Law College receives about 2,000 applications a year and admits about 250 students at a time through the admissions test. While a student faces three examinations once he enters the Law College it is possible to face them to sit for exams in Sinhala, Tamil and English. But according to the gazette, by the year 2024, all students will be forced to face exams in English medium alone.

Recently, a social discourse had arisen in this regard. Most of the books on law are written in English. The proceedings of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, the highest courts in the country, are mostly conducted in English. The world’s modern legal information is also available online in English.

Studies in English commenced at the law school a long time ago. Lectures were also held in English. But students had the option to write answers in Sinhala, Tamil or English in the exams. Therefore, it can be said that conducting studies only through the English medium from the year 2024 is a suitable process at first sight. It can also be argued that it increases its quality.

The Sunday Observer spoke to several legal experts and luminaries regarding this matter.

Commenting on this, senior lawyer Kalyananda Thiranagamayan said that according to this new system, the legal profession will be limited to one social class.

“For over four decades people were allowed to sit for exams in their mother tongue. But a crisis is created when this is changed suddenly and it is made mandatory to write answers in English. We must adapt to any system or process. But that adaptation should be done in such a way that there is no problem or injustice for anyone.” he said.

According to him, this will rise to social injustice. “It is totally unacceptable. In the future, such measures should be taken gradually after creating a good English language base. Such a practical method should be followed.” he said.

Commenting on this matter, President’s Counsel Manohara de Silva said that by making it mandatory to answer the legal exams only in English medium, those well versed in the language will be given a special advantage.

“This process will give more advantage to those who study in Colombo and other urban international schools as well as schools with facilities that are considered superior. Also, the legal profession may be limited to a certain elite group of people living in Colombo who use English.” he said.

“There’s no problem in giving the question paper related to the exam in English because a lawyer should be able to read and understand a document in English. But the opportunity should be given to answer in the mother tongue,” he added.

“Court proceedings are conducted in Sinhala or Tamil, although court decisions are written in English. There is a problem there. For that, a formal system should be prepared gradually. For that, if the use of a particular language is developed gradually and this system is implemented after many more years, there is some justice there,’’ he said.

Tamil Progressive Alliance leader MP Mano Ganesan said that another crisis will be created through this issue.

“In 1956, we made Sinhala the only official language. We now know the repercussions of that mistake. Is this part two of it? It must be allowed for one to sit for the legal exams in one’s own mother tongue. If that is not done, there will be a violation of people’s human rights. If writing in English is made compulsory, those in Colombo’s elite class will benefit more. Then what will happen to the people in the village, what will happen to the people in Anuradhapura, Hambantota, Moneragala, Kilinochchi, and Mannar? People who speak English at home in Colombo can even send their children to Europe to educate them. They also have English education at home. Then what will happen to the village children who don’t even have a proper ordinary education? I spoke about this in Parliament. I explained it to the Minister. He promised that it will not be made compulsory,” the MP said.

Commenting on this, Amarapura Sri Dharma Rakshita Maha Nikaya Maha Nayaka Aggamaha Pandita Thirikunamalaye Ananda Thera said that the basic principle of free education is violated by conducting the legal examinations in the English medium.

“We have to pay close attention to why C.W.W Kannangara decided to provide free education. In the previous education system, there were experts in both Sinhala and English. But according to today’s education system, taking an exam in English only is a violation of the privileges of the middle class and the common people. Here, the exam should be conducted both in the country’s mother tongue and in English in the same way as it has been until now. And if necessary, it is advisable to give an English proficiency test to the candidates appearing for the exam in their mother tongue. Then the students somehow face the proficiency, exam. the Thera said.

“Should we use English only for this purpose? Countries like Japan, Korea, and China conduct all exams only in their mother tongue. How advanced are those countries today? Those countries have economic strength beyond our imagination. They do not have a pro-Western mentality. Those countries have not been affected negatively as there is no English education. We are still in the dark because of the illusion that English is necessary. English is important as an international communication language. We must accept it. But we don’t have to be a slave to it. Decisions should be made looking at the future of the nation. We need to look back on our culture for 2500 years,” he added.

Veteran writer Gunadasa Amarasekaran also said that social injustice is created by conducting this test only through English mediums.

“The best thing for this is to master both languages. There are people who study law in English as well as in Sinhala. Some things may be difficult to handle in the Sinhala language. Then it is important to act as needed in both languages. The mistake of our country is that we do not master the English language. In the past, we studied universal languages like Sanskrit.

But today we do not study English as a language. It’s just another school subject. Among the lawyers, there are lawyers who have an English deficiency. The best thing is to be bilingual,” he said.

While we tried to elicit a response from the Principal of the law College, Dr Athula Pathiratne, his personal assistant said the principal would not like to comment on the matter. Accordingly, the future fate of the students who have been using their mother tongue to answer examinations at the Sri Lanka Law College now hangs in the balance till the authorities make a firm decision in this regard.