Sri Lanka: Inter-cultural English Education Centre

Sri Lanka: Inter-cultural English Education Centre

I am very happy to have the opportunity to express, however briefly it be, my sincere thanks to the Peter Bachmann Foundation for the great contribution it has made in establishing our Inter-cultural English Education Centre. If not for the financial assistance given by the PBF our institute would not have been able to render to society the service it renders today.

The Inter-cultural English Education Centre with which the PBF is directly connected is not a solitary independent institute but part of a larger organization, currently registered as a Voluntary Trust under the name “Inter-cultural Research and Education Foundation”. The Foundation consists of two branches, one dealing with religion and the other with language. The aim of the first on religion is to make people who follow any given religion acquire a knowledge of the religions of others so that they could respect equally the followers of all religions. Such a trend would contribute to inter-religious harmony and inter-human amity.

Language, which is the subject the second branch, is in application limited to the small island of Sri Lanka. What that branch tries to do is to make the Sinhala and the Tamil speaking factions of the country learn English well so that they could together use it as their common second language. Such a development would prevent cultural conflicts arising between the two groups as has happened in the past.

My interest in evolving an organization endowed with two such distinct goals comes from the background of my professional carrier. My interest in religion comes from the fact that I was for a number of years a teacher of Buddhism in a Christian Major Seminary and subsequently for nearly 20 years Head of a department of Religion in the Kelaniya University of Sri Lanka. My interest in English came from what I noticed while teaching at the university. There I was taken aback when I discovered that of a student body of nearly 3000 only a handful could speak English. The majority could not compose correctly a sentence in English.

It was then that I realized that there was something wrong in the way English was taught in schools. English was taught through English as was done in the British colonial era. Teaching English through English is workable in countries like England, America or Australia where the students speak English. In countries where students have a separate mother tongue, English can be taught effectively only if it is presented in comparison with the mother tongue of the student.

Of the two branches, the second on language was the more difficult to organize. Before everything the proper method for teaching had to be evolved. Books had to be prepared and classrooms found, –all of which demanded a large sum of money.
After lengthy research and experimentation, I succeeded in developing what I considered the method best suited to teach English to Sinhala speaking students. I composed a complete course of grammar in comparison with Sinhala sentence-structure andput it into a manuscript. But I had no way of getting it printed. I did not have the money and publishers were hesitant to put their hand into a book with such an untraditional method. It was then that a Canadian friend of mine directed me to a Dutch Catholic priest working in Sri Lanka called Harry Haas. He undertook to bear the cost of getting it printed. It was printed in 1984. Thereafter he asked me to use the money from its sales for further editions of the book.

With that book in hand and with the assistance of my wife a qualified teacher of English I started teaching English to school leavers first in an unused garage in the property and later in a newly built classroom. It was at this time that Fr Harry Haas introduced to me Dr. Peter Bachmann a close friend of his. Dr. Peter Bachmann had come to Sri Lanka to fulfill a humanitarian desire of his which was to build some houses for the houseless. When I spoke of my plan he gave me a generous grant of US$ 10,000/=. With that we started building a spacious and well-furnished school. The money was sufficient for the first stage of the building. But the building that my supporters wanted to see erected was a three storied one with an auditorium and residential staff quarters.

I did not have the heart to ask Dr. Bachmann for another grant. I asked for a loan instead to be paid back in installments after the completion of the building. To put a long story short what happened after that is this. In five stages starting in July 1997 andending in November 2001 he gave me a loan that came to a total of US $ 27,000/=.(Please note that figures are approximate since we keep our accounts in Sri Lankan rupees.) I started repaying the loan and by May 2004 I had paid back US $ 14500/=. I had still a balance of US $ 12,500/= to pay. Realizing the effort I had to make in repaying the loan, Dr. Bachmann waved off the loan and on 5-8-2004 transferred the balance I had to pay to a donation to be called “Peter Bachmann Scholarship Fund”.

That is how the school called today Inter-cultural English Education Centre was materially established. But as time went on we discovered that the school was capable of serving only students living within a range of 10-15 kilometers. We had to find a way to get the new method of teaching English to reach students throughout the island. It was in answer to that need that a publishing company was established as a sister organization of the school. It was called “Inter-cultural Book Promoters”. That too became a possibility because of the money Dr. Bachmann had donated earlier.

To bring out the impact of the aid given by the PBF I can mention just five valuable tasks that the school in conjunction with the publishing company has accomplished up to now.

1. Publication of English books for Sinhala speakers: The English grammar called “Foundation to English” first printed in 1984 was printed for the 12th time in 2015 after having sold over 250,000 copies. The companion to this Grammar book is called “We Sri Lankans”. It illustrates through brief stories the application of the grammar points in day- to- day conversation. The book which also gives guidelines as to how Sri Lankans could keep united has been printed four times. To answer to practical needs andlevels of the Sinhala speaking students of English four more books have been printed.

2. Books for Tamil speaking students of English: This is an extra-ordinary achievement for an organization that operates in Sinhala. Originally such a step appeared to be an unrealizable dream. Today with the help of experts in the Tamil language two valuable books have been produced. One is the Tamil version of the earlier mentioned “We Sri Lankans”. The other called the “Easy Way to English through Sinhala and Tamil” is one that helps Sinhala and Tamil speakers to learn along with English also the other’s mother tongue.

3. Audio and Video courses in English: For those who want to study English by themselves without attending classes Audio and Video courses are a great help. Many even prefer disks to books. The Audio and Video courses produced by the Education Centre and published by Book promoters are very popular and have been reproduced several times.

4. All books and disks on Website: To enable people anywhere in the country and even outside to benefit from our work a Website has now been created. It contains all the books and disks both in the field of religion and language. All of them are further available for free reading. The website is called : <>.

5. Management now in the hands of a Voluntary Trust: To ensure the continuity of the work of the organization during the lifetime of the founders as also after their lifetime, its management has now been entrusted to a legally valid Trust called the “Inter-cultural Research and Education Foundation”. It was registered in October 2010. The Trust currently consists of six Volunteer Members who meet regularly and take decisions on its activities and its future.
One final word I can add in gratitude to the PBF is that in the way the organization now operates, it is financially self-supporting. As long as expenses are kept under control normally it will not have to depend on donations in the future.

Antony Fernando