Bilingual Education

In Sri Lanka there are around 600 bilingual schools.  All children study English as a subject from 1st grade but in bilingual schools children can opt to study 3 or 4 subjects in the medium of English from grade 5 onwards.  The number of bilingual schools is set to double by 2011.  What’s the situation in India?

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11 thoughts on “Bilingual Education

  1. Susan Hillyard

    Hi Seamus,
    I can’t answer your question but I would like to ask one if I may?
    Can you tell me the Sri Lankan definition of “bilingual education”?

    We have hundreds of private bilingual schools here in Argentina which essentially work on the additive model. That is, most of them follow the Argentine National Curriculum of all subjects in the mother tongue and also teach the Cambridge IGCSE (some do the 7 subjects for ICE) or the IB or the Trinity ISE/GESE in English.

    The state system has not adopted this form although there are a number of “plurilingual” schools in the city of Buenos Aires.

    I have been teaching CLIL methodology at NILE for a number of summers with the Community of Madrid, Spain, Bilingual Programme and just the city itself now has 187 bilingual schools and more being developed. They, however, use the subtractive model where the Social Sciences and Science, PE, Art and Music are taught through English a la CLIL.

    I am not saying one model is better than the other as much more research needs to be done but I’m interested to know how other countries define this term.

    Thanks for your time.
    Susan H

    1. Seamus Post author

      Hi Susan
      In Sri Lankan state schools the model is subtractive as the children study 3 or 4 subjects in English using broadly CLIL methodoogy. There are a relatively smal number of schools in which children have this option (though it is set to increase) and they are called bilingual schools by the Ministry of Education.
      In private schools on the other hand, many students do additional subjects in English and sit non Sri Lanka board exams – so an additive model. I am using your terms which I haven’t come across before so correct me I am misuing them.
      There have problems with the (relatively recent) implemtation of bilingual education – primarrily a lack of trained teachers and subject teachers who lack proficiency in English. There is also little support for the schools and teachers at local level as most ISAs (in service advisors) have no experience or knowledge or CLIL.

  2. G.H.Asoka

    Dear Mr. Seamus and Ms. Susan

    The reply forwarded to Ms. Susan from Mr. Seamus needs a very strong correction regarding the bilingual education (BE) implemented by the government sector in govenrnment schools in Sri Lanka.

    Ministry of Education, Sri Lanka under academic guidance of the National Institute of Education, Sri Lanka has implemented BE since 2001 in its recent histry of education. Prior to that also it has been in Pirivena education and consequently ‘Shad Basha Parameshwara’ (Experts of using six languages) were produced and then under Kannagara Commission in mid1940s, this was a key aspect practised in Cetral schools.

    Currently the interpretation that can be formed on BE in Sri Lanka is that ‘education of which the curriculum (of which the subjects which are to be studied in L1 and English as an additional language are recommended through circulars issued by the Ministry of Education) is available to be studied in two languages (Sinhala/ Tamil + English) using them as the media of instruction and as languages of different political recognition (Sinhala and Tamil as national languages and official languages, and English as a second language) from Grade 6 onwards, after completing primary education totally either in Sinhala or Tamil, ensuring additive aspects (not subtractive aspects) of bilingualism with biliteracy.

    Private schools are available in two types: government assisted private schools in which national curriculum is offfered in addition to the curriculum for London Examinations and international schools where only the latter type of examinations are possible. Some of the government assisted private schools use the same procedure that the government schools use: primary education in national lamguages and secondary education education in bilingual stream. They have both streams: those who study the national curriculum from the very beginning in English (L2, monolingual education in an L2 which is not recommended by any wise educationist who respects survival of diversity of muman civilization and bio diversity) and in bilingual stream. Those students have sat for the same examination conducted by the Dept. of Examinations, Sri Lanka, and the bilingual learners’ results are much better than that of those who have studied from the very beginning only in English (monolingual education available in L2 ensuring subtractive aspects of bilingual education)..

    Therefore bilingual education which targets additive aspects of bilingualism and biliteracy has been identified and proved in Sri Lankan context also as better than education available only in an L2 from the beginning. Sri Lankan education does not want to replace its Sinhala and Tamil (national and official languages by any variety of English) and thus needs additive bilingualism and biliteracy, not subtractive aspects.


    The other language aspect within governent school curriculum is that it targets its linguistic achievements in its minimum is bilingualism and bilitercy. The curriculum allows learners to be multilinguals by providing them the opportunity to their national languages as first languages,
    national languages as second national languages, English as a link language and some languages as foreign languages and classical languages.

    Yet the need for learning English as a link and a second language has been felt more than studying and using the other foreign and classical
    languages. Therefore bilingual education has been introduced aiming to lead citizens to think globally and act locally.

    1. seamus

      Hello Asoka

      Thank you very much for clarifying.

      I wonder if you could say more about the difference between bilingualism and biliteracy?

  3. Susan Hillyard

    Dear Mr Asoka,
    Thank you for your detailed reply.

    I see, if I am not wrong, that you have the same concerns as me.

    You stress the aspects of bilaiteracy which I believe are vital to the development of balanced bilinguals/multilinguals in the long run, since bilingualism is by no means enough now as is evidenced in your citizenship in Sri Lanka

    You conclude with

    Therefore bilingual education has been introduced aiming to lead citizens to think globally and act locally.

    This is exactly how I feel a good BE should work but it is not always implemented effectively as many teachers ( in the world) are untrained and do not understand the implications.

    That’s why I keep nagging about the necessity to define what we mean.

    Thank you for your enlightening comments and some direct info.
    Susan H

  4. G.H.Asoka

    Dear Shemas

    Thank you for the reponse. When linguists talk about communication and langugaes they mainly refer to the primary skilss and aspects of communication: listening and speaking. Those are primary to human communication and even without the secondary skills, people can survive with their primary skills of communication. Bilingualism basically refers to the competence of these two primary skills in two target languages or more than that under multilingual education. that means to verbal literacy in more than one language, either in two or more.

    Biliteracy refers to competence of secondary skills (reading and writing) in both lagauges or more than two as it has been structured under policies of multilingual education in various countries. You know literacy and the difference between literate person and non- or lessliterate person, don’t you?

    When we only talk about bilingualism without biliteracy, the hidden agenda behind that is linguistically political: that indicates mainly final achievement throgh subtractive bilingualism. Consequently ultimate result is people become bilinguals verbally and monoliterate in second language due to decline of the secondary skills of the first language (mostly the mother tongue).

    This badly affects development of an individual in every facet becasue s/he loses his her spirit of sole in this life within his or her own community and then it negatively affects social, political, economical and other developmental aspects of a society as a unique nation strengthening and protecting its cutuaral and national identity.

    Individually second language competence alone in the absence of biliteracy harms an individuals’ cognition and metacognition: s/he may not be able to link their immediate experience with the new for learning the new. Conceptual understanding is attacked because forward transfer in the brain is not well facilitated. There are other disadvantages ,too.

    The biggest harm which occurs socially is we pave the way for killing langugaes: linguistic genocide. When biliteracy is not highlighted and promoted, the more powerful language acts as a lingua tyrannosaura using its linguistic canibalism. Apart from that, we harm the diversity of society and diversity of nature as well. Bio diversity is lost in the world when languages and related cultures are weakended and lost.

    Therefore bilingual/ multiligual education with its additive aspects ensuring bilingualism and biliteracy is the need and the must as peace-friendy, diversity-friendy, harmnious human beings. We should allow other nations to live with their languages while letting them facilitate themselves with possible support through other languages and language development for overall development of communities in the world.

    Asoka, Sri Lanka

  5. G.H.Asoka

    Dear organizers of the twitter,

    ‘In Sri Lanka there are around 600 bilingual schools. All children study English as a subject from 1st grade but in bilingual schools children can opt to study 3 or 4 subjects in the medium of English from grade 5 onwards. The number of bilingual schools is set to double by 2011. What’s the situation in India?’

    Thia is what I ‘va extratced from the introductory paragraph under this discussion. It also needs corrections: there are 601 bilingualschools in the country now. English is not taught as a subject from grade 1 onwards in sri Lanka. Students in Grades 1-2, are given the opportunity to be familiar with their genral English through ABOE (Activity Based Oral English). From Grade 3 onwards, English is taught as a second language in the national curriculum.

    Students are allowed to enter to learn any number out of the five recommended subjects in L2 from grade 6 onwards only.The recommended subjects are mathematics, science, health & physicak education, Life competencies & Civic Education and Geography. Previously, history was also possible to be learnt in L2, but the circular 2008/12 issued by the Ministry of Education, Sri Lanka prohibited to teach history in L2 having understood through research that teaching history in an L2 harms learners’ learning and national identity.

    In future even there would be chnages regarding these subjects because it has been understaood through research that mathematics and mathematical concepts are difficult for students to understand when the subject is totally instructed in L2.

    Anyhow it is vividly evedent that multilingual capacities of bilingual learners have made them more brilliant and flexible in thinking and learning. Their thinking is broad because they find knowledge through different sources written in at least two languages: their local language and international language, English. Thier communication is wide and therefore they have become more creative. Without understanding this, some say that these students are the brightest set selected for the bilingual stream.

    Asoka, Sri Lanka

  6. G.H.Asoka

    Dear Mr. Ariyadasa

    It is a pleasure to see that you and others in your panel will debate issues on medium of instruction, the role of the mother tongue, multilingualism and related policies.

    In the world today, multilingualism and path for that as multilingual education is becoming quite popular as a multifaceted approach to achieve many benefits throgh language in education and education in languages.

    What is your idea regarding the use of L1 alnoe, L2 alnoe and mixture of L1 and L2 (+ L3) as the medium/ media of instruction in intra curriculum &/or inter curricula ?

    Asoka, NIE, Sri Lanka

  7. G.H.Asoka

    Dear Graddol

    I have refered to your books and still using them whenever necessary. They indicate lots of hints for curriculum developers, linguists and educationists to look into the use of labguage and educational aspects for development.

    I would like to forward you two questions: how have you experienced the role of mother tongue in education and learning an L2 and learing in L2 in a curriculum?

    What are the aspects to be concerned in developing a policy on multilingual education in a country?

    Asoka, Sri Lanka

  8. G.H.Asoka

    Dear Dr.Mohandhi

    I am happy to see your photo on the web within this conference. I have several times exchanged ideas with you on multilingual education.

    I think multilingual education in its mode trilingual education would be appropriate for India rather than using monolingual education in English because the former supports to maintain your country’s sociological value in the world through maintaining diversity through langugaes and different cultures. That is my idea. May be not so wise or accurate within your understanding!

    I would like to know how you interpret multiligualism in Indian context refering to national curriculum of education and how you have planned to achieve it if that is the target through language education in the curriculum.

    Asoka, National Institute of Education, Sri Lanka

  9. Shirley Whitney

    We’re interested in bilingual education from a family perspective. Many of the kids we volunteer with have parents who cannot read in their native language, let alone English. Working on learning English together as a family can build both the family relationships and educational opportunities. Some of the materials we have developed are here:


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