Thursday, May 29, 2008

English stream in rural schools-think through the ramifications

I was not aware until last week that Ananda Balika Maha Vidyalaya, the most prestigious girls high school in Hingurakgoda, has an English stream where all subjects bar Buddhism and Sinhala are taught in English medium.

There is one class of approximately 40 students at each grade up to 11th in the school, and next year the 11th grade will do their A levels in the English medium. The criteria for entrance is getting the minimum required marks in the exam taken in 5th grade (shishyathwaya) which is a universal exam nationwide. I presume students from other schools who also get this mark are entitled to enter the English stream in this school.

Of course they have teachers who have been selected to teach in the English medium many of whose children are also here, and due to the qualification to enter, attract the brightest and best. It is optional, so one can only assume that it is the parents who make the decision to send their children to the English stream as they consider it a better opportunity for their offspring, giving them a head start over the others in most fields of study.

What struck me as peculiar and now seems not unreasonable is that those students are all segregated in a different classroom complex in the school and rarely interact with the Sinhala stream students who are the bulk of the school, the English stream being about 15% of the total student intake.

It is not unreasonable to assume an element of envy, by the Sinhala stream as these students are both gifted and also probably get a higher quality education, with proof being that students who drop out and rejoin the Sinhala stream for whatever reason, perform better than those in the Sinhala stream. This is no surprise bearing in mind the selection criteria.

It will interesting to do a study of the first batch to graduate out of high school to see where they go and what they do, and compare them with the rest of the student body to get an idea of both the success of the project as well as the lessons one can learn from it, in an environment where the knowledge of English of the rest of the student body is extremely week and the need to know English to get ahead is a known fact even in the rural area however much this aspect is disliked in principle. In terms of computer access it is located in the block that houses the computer lab, and the irony is not lost on me, as they could also get privileged access.

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