Solving the language problem
Sri Lanka is known as a
multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. However, only a minor
percentage of the population is proficient in all three
languages - Sinhala, Tamil and English. Most others are
proficient only in their mother tongue, sometimes with a working
knowledge of another.
This has aggravated the vexed North-East issue. If a Tamil
speaking person walking into a Government Department cannot
correspond in Tamil, that could be described as a denial of a
basic human right.
The lack of Tamil speaking personnel has become a great
impediment to the quest for ethnic harmony and equality.
On another front, if a majority of Security Forces personnel
had a good knowledge of Tamil, there would be a greater rapport
between them and the civilians.
It is indeed sad that there are only a few Government
servants who can handle both Sinhala and Tamil with equal ease.
According to available statistics of the nearly 900,000 strong
public service only around nine per cent are proficient in
This problem is compounded when there is a need for exact
translation or interpretation services. Urgent measures are thus
called for to address this grave problem.
The Official Languages Commission has now recommended the
recruitment to the public service of a sufficient number of
persons competent in Sinhala and Tamil. This is a step in the
right direction that will go a long way towards peace and ethnic
Language training programmes for public servants certainly
help, but adults cannot grasp languages as easily as children
do. As the saying goes, we should ‘catch them young’.
Teaching Tamil to Sinhala children and vice versa from an
early age will help solve the ‘language problem’ in the long
term. In this context, the plan to make Sinhala and Tamil
compulsory subjects in students upto the GCE O/L Examination
stage is highly commendable.
The media can also play a more vibrant role in this regard.
Television stations and newspapers can present Sinhala and Tamil
language lessons, on the lines of the famous ‘Follow Me’ series
of English lessons aired on TV around two decades ago. Online
media too can join this exercise as most public servants now
have access to the Internet.
English should be given its due place as a link langauge that
brings all communities together. English opens doors to the
wider world and one cannot really forego it in this globalised
In fact, public servants and others should strive to learn
other international languages as well to widen their horizons.
Boost for inventors
All big things begin with a small idea. Many of the things
that we take for granted today - vehicles, electricity,
television, radio, telephone, computers and aircraft are just a
few - were only ‘seeds of an idea’ in someone’s mind. These
pioneers had the courage to turn their ideas into reality.
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. As economies
expanded in the West following the Industrial Revolution, the
need arose for better communication and faster travel.
This resulted in the invention of the railway, the motor car,
the telegraph and the telephone. But one need not invent
something from the ground up - it is also possible to perfect an
existing device. Such innovations can also make our lives
Such an innovation by a young Sri Lankan student has brought
global fame to the country. Nayana Sumangala of Ananda College,
Colombo has won the best annual New Youth Invention Award from
the New Inventions Development Institute of Japan, for his
‘Efficient Funnel’, an advanced version of the humble kitchen
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has lauded the creativity of
Nayana and Sri Lankan students who brought fame to the country
at the International New Inventions Exhibition. This is a firm
assurance that the Government is fully backing local inventors.
Such backing is essential for Nayana and the other young
inventors to actually market their products on a bigger scale.
An invention is useless if it does not reach the masses. This is
where the Government and the private sector should come in, to
help the young achievers to commercialise products.
This should especially be so if the invention is low-cost and
locally sourced, such as the clay water filter which we featured
Herath Nawaratne, a youth from Nikaweratiya, has perfected a
clay water filter capable of absorbing fluoride and filtering
water leaving aside all impurities and organisms. Powered by
gravity, it has a zero maintenance cost. These are just the type
of products that developing economies need.
Local inventors - and investors who commercialise their
products - must thus be given due recognition for their efforts.
It will also be an incentive to many others who have a knack for
inventions to present their creations to the world.