Launching Phase III of The Presidential Initiative:
‘English as a Life Skill’
Sunimal Fernando - Presidential Advisor and Coordinator of the
Presidential Initiative on English as a Life Skill
The third phase of the Presidential Initiative ‘English as a Life
Skill’ through which the President takes English Language Skills across
the country with a special focus on Spoken English, is being launched by
the President from Temple Trees in the morning of Tuesday February 19,
Releasing the creativity latent within the State Education System
For the first time in the history of language teaching and learning
in our schools, a set of 50 English language learning DVDs for grades 10
and 11 will be launched together with a Toolbox of Activities for Spoken
English, grades 6 – 11, to be used in the public school system.
Prepared on a directive of the President, these innovative new
language teaching tools have been produced by mobilizing the skills and
talents available in the State Education System within the Ministry of
This demonstrates most clearly that all the necessary skills and
competences – both technological and pedagogical – for English language
teaching are available within the country’s State Education System in
the Ministry of Education, if only these talents are mobilized
creatively and imaginatively by a catalytic agency which is ready to
place its faith and confidence in the innate ability and creative
potential of our own language teachers, especially are rural English
It should be a catalyst who is also ready to place their trust in the
competence and efficiency of our own State institutions to deliver
successfully provided they are given the freedom to think and act
creatively without being harshly dictated from above and tied down with
too many pointless administrative rules and strictures.
The Presidential Task Force did exactly this – namely, create and
jealously protect an environment of freedom and innovation in the State
Education System of the Ministry of Education especially at the school
level where English teaching and learning are practical concerns.
A template of 9,730 schools
Working on a template of 9,730 schools spread across nine provinces
and 90 educational zones, progress cannot be but slow. But what has been
achieved by the Presidential Initiative within a short span of 3 ½ years
remains far in excess of what could have been expected when the
President launched this particular language planning activity – English
as a Life Skill – from Temple Trees not so long ago in July 2009.
Moving in measured steps towards Testing Listening and Speaking
Skills at GCE (O/Level)
The measured steps through which the Initiative grew from almost a
non-entity in 2009 into being a household word in every family with a
school-going child – ‘the President’s Life Skill programme’ or
‘Janadhipathithumage Life Skill Veda Satahana’ – by 2013, are
interesting to recall as we enter the third phase of the programme which
has as its overall goal the preparing of the English teacher community
and the country’s children for the testing of Listening and Speaking
Skills at the GCE (O/L) examination, commencing in 2015 with an initial
allocation of 10 marks going up to 30 marks in stages in the years to
Sri Lanka will then be the first country in the whole of Asia and
most other parts of the world as well with the intellectual tools and
institutional capacity to test Speaking and Listening Skills in English
in a public examination on a mass scale at national level on a single
We move towards this goal with total confidence in ourselves, our
institutions, our teachers and our students.
Phase I: June 22, 2009 to July 19, 2010 – laying a solid foundation
Learning a language at young age important
The Presidential Initiative to take spoken/communicative English
skills across the country and especially across our villages was
launched by the President from Temple Trees on June 22, 2009.
* Within the thirteen months of its implementation (June 2009 – July
2010) the image of the English language as a weapon of social oppression
and a statement of elitism was substantially – though not totally -
transformed into that of an essential life skill for communication,
employment and access to the external world of knowledge and technology.
* While Sri Lankan English is being received as the informal, spoken
variety of English in the country, International Standard English is
being accepted as the formal or written form of the language.
* During the thirteen months that comprised the first phase of the
Presidential Initiative on ‘English as a Life Skill’, 60 percent of the
22,500 English teachers of the country were trained by the Ministry of
Education and the nine Provincial Ministries to teach
Spoken/Communicative English to our students with support from the
Education for Knowledge Society Project (EKSP) whose Director came
forward courageously to provide the critical initial support for what
was seen at that time as ‘a very ambitious programme fraught with risk
* During this phase a strong new national cadre of 80 Master Trainers
of Spoken English from all nine provinces trained at the English and
Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in Hyderabad was established with
Indian government assistance with 320 Assistant Trainers to help them.
* Also during this phase the country’s first comprehensive Teacher
Guide for Spoken English was produced, used and revised after one year
by the new cadre of Master Trainers in English representing all 9
provinces in the country for use by all English language teachers in the
public school system.
* As increasing numbers of teachers received training from the EFLU
trained Master Trainers and their Assistants in the teaching of Spoken
English, all schools were instructed by circular to devote one period
per week (20 percent of teaching time) for Spoken English.
* Also during this initial phase, a massive national campaign was
conducted with great success by the Presidential Initiative in all
schools and through the print and electronic media to dispel the fear of
English from the Sri Lankan mindset and break through the major obstacle
that stood in the way of the child acquiring the ability to speak in
English, – a partly socio-cultural partly psychological one – sustained
by the way that English was till then being delivered as the language of
a privileged social class from which the vast majority of our children
found themselves excluded.
* And finally a special Presidential Programme Unit (PPU) was
established at the Ministry of Education at ‘Isurupaya’ to work in
harmony with the Presidential Task Force and the Presidential
Phase II: July 19, 2010 to February 19, 2013 – The New Order gets
firmly rooted in the school system
With the successful completion of the Phase I of the Presidential
Initiative, the launching of its Phase II by the President took place on
Monday July 19, 2010 from Temple Trees. During the Phase II which
continued for two and half years the following achievements of the
Presidential Initiative are noted.
* The training of the remaining 40 percent of the English teachers of
the country to teach spoken/communicative English to our students was
successfully completed. All English teachers in the public school system
without exception have thus received 80 hours of immersion in the
teaching of spoken English.
* All English lecturers in the National Colleges of Education (NCoEs)
were trained by the national cadre of Master Trainers to transfer the
techniques of teaching spoken English to English teachers awaiting
recruitment and currently studying in these institutions.
* The new techniques of communicating listening and speaking skills
to students through teachers as contained in the ‘Teacher Guide on
English as a Life Skill’ were integrated into the NCoE curriculum. The
Teacher Guide for the teaching of Spoken English now used in the public
school system was made available through the NCoEs to all new English
teachers awaiting recruitment.
* A 100 hour Course in English with a strong emphasis on Spoken
English was developed during this phase and a programme was launched
through which all Principals and Deputy Principals of schools will
receive English language training for 100 hours.
* By the end of this phase nearly 5,000 Principals and Deputy
Principals across the country successfully completed this course which
will continue till all Principals and Deputy Principals receive
* Meanwhile, a 60 hour Advanced Course in English was partially
developed during this phase and will be administered when completed to
all Principals and Deputy Principals who successfully complete the 100
hour Course in English.
* The strengthening of the capacity of English teachers, all of whom
have now acquired the skills of teaching Spoken English was undertaken
through a number of interrelated activities.
* While School Based Assessment (SBA) Tools for the evaluation of the
language skills of the students in Grades 10 and 11 at classroom level
were developed in Phase 1 and included in the Teacher Guide, SBA tools
were likewise developed by the National Institute of Education (NIE) in
respect of all other Grades and printed and are in the process of being
distributed to all teachers of English in our schools.
* Examination and Assessment Guidelines in respect of English in
Grades 10 and 11, developed by the Department of Examinations were
reviewed and reprinted and are in the process of being distributed to
all English teachers in Grades 10 and 11 in our schools.
* As a further aid to the teacher and learner communities, English
Activity Rooms equipped with state-of-the-art technology including
multi-media facilities were constructed in 308 schools across the
* During this phase, the English Language Master Trainer cadre was
further strengthened through the training of 42 more Master Trainers
recruited from all Provinces at the English and Foreign Languages
University (EFLU), Hyderabad, India through scholarships granted by the
* Also during this phase, a programme was developed for monitoring
the impact of the Presidential Initiative in all the schools in the
country, giving priority to schools teaching English at G.C.E. (O/L).
* Implementation of the Monitoring Programme commenced in all nine
provinces with the participation of Assistant Directors of
Education/English, In Service Advisors (ISAs) and Master Trainers and of
other Resource Persons where necessary, all of whom received the
necessary training for implementing the programme.
* In order to make the teaching and learning of English exciting and
enjoyable, a Toolbox of Activities for Spoken English, 30 for each Grade
6 -11, was developed through a participatory effort of the English
teacher community in the public school system, to be launched at the
inauguration of Phase III of the initiative.
* This Toolbox of Activities is intended to draw the child away from
the classroom which is a very dull and uninteresting place in a formal
setting where the teachers struggle to cover the syllabus more than to
teach and where there is no way of exploring the hidden talents of the
students and the creative skills of the teachers, to a new exciting
learning environment of activities outside the classroom.
* Also during this phase, the Presidential Initiative successfully
mobilized the necessary talent and expertise from within the State
Education System to plan and produce 50 DVDs for the teaching of English
to students in Grades 10 and 11 through a distance education mode, with
a focus on Spoken English.
* This marks the first serious attempt to teach any school subject
comprehensively to students through a distance education mode and is
thus a proud achievement of Phase II of the Presidential Initiative.
This set of DVDs will be released to the school system by the President
at the launch of Phase III of the Presidential Initiative – ‘English as
a Life Skill’ where sets of DVDs will be given to 2,000 schools from all
* At one level, the DVDs will provide an ICT based teaching aid to
our teachers of English while at another level they will provide a
partial substitute for the teacher in those unfortunate schools which
may have no English teacher in Grades 10 and 11.
Launch of Phase III by the President – February 19, 2013: The
breakthrough into ICT Assisted Distance Learning of English
The commencement of Phase III of the Presidential Initiative takes
place on February 19, 2013 with the launch by the President of an
English Language Teaching Software Series of 50 DVDs for the teaching of
English in Grades 10 and 11 together with a Toolbox of Activities for
Spoken English, the announcement of the testing of Spoken English at the
GCE (O/L) examination from 2015 with an allocation of 10 marks for a
start, and the announcement by the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation of
the telecasting of the 50 DVDs over National Television every Saturday
at 7.00 p.m., commencing Saturday February 23, 2013.
Preparing the students on the one side and the English teacher
community on the other for the testing of Speaking and Listening skills
in English at the G.C.E. (O/L) examination is the overall goal of the
new phase of the Presidential Initiative.
Organized jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Presidential
Secretariat, the launch of the third phase of the Presidential Programme
marks yet another landmark in the initiative taken by the the President
to generate a next generation of Sri Lankan youth empowered with English
as a Life Skill.
Taking English as a Life Skill across the 9,731 schools where our
children study has been and continues to be no easy task with the human
and other resources presently available in the school community.
It is to assist those schools that may not have English teachers or
where English teaching is weak that the President suggested to us that
we mobilize the talent within the system to produce an English Language
Teaching Software Series geared to the syllabi to be used as a teaching
aid in our schools.
The first software series in the form of 50 DVDs has been produced
for Grades 10 and 11 and will be distributed for a start to 2,000 of the
6,788 schools having GCE (O/L) classes. Designed and produced by our own
rural English Teachers, Education Officers and the National Institute of
Education (NIE), this new teaching aid will help strengthen the English
teacher and learner communities of our country for the challenge that
The depth of talent in the State Education System
The production of both the DVDs and the Toolbox of Activities for
Spoken English proudly demonstrates the depth of talent available in the
State Education System. And we of the Presidential Secretariat
congratulate the Ministry of Education and in particular the National
Institute of Education (NIE) and the Presidential Programme Unit (PPU)
of the ministry who together with the Special Initiatives Unit (SIU) of
the Presidential Secretariat mobilized the appropriate talent from
within the State Education System to produce the first ever English
Language Teaching Software Series for our schools.
While the Presidential Task Force congratulates the Minister of
Education, the Provincial Ministers of Education and their respective
staff for the success achieved in the Presidential Initiative – ‘English
as a Life Skill’, it recognizes with deep gratitude and affection the
unqualified guidance, support and leadership provided to its work by the
Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga who steers the initiative
skillfully along the President’s Vision.