Dona Senara stresses that youth must possess English language proficiency

The Education First English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), which is the world’s largest ranking of countries, cities and regions by adult English language skills, has placed Sri Lanka in its low proficiency band following its 2022 survey. This country has been fluctuating between the low and very low proficiency bands since the start of EF EPI in 2013.

With an EF EPI score of 487, Sri Lanka ranks 71 out of 111 countries and 12th from among 24 nations in Asia. Colombo is placed in the moderate proficiency category for EF EPI 2022 city scores.

Indisputably, the English language is by far the most common language used in trade across nations. This makes it crucial for accessing information and skills, in addition to promoting collaboration and growth in renewed markets.

Research displays a strong and consistent correlation between English and various measures of trade, innovation, human capital progress and competitiveness. People with an active ability in English language have access to diverse opportunities, and are able to obtain ideas and material from a wide range of resources.

Individuals with English language skills are also better equipped to work with international organisations. Therefore, Sri Lanka should be greatly concerned about the country’s poor level of English language proficiency especially if it’s looking for more opportunities in the international market.

Students leaving the school system – whether to enter university or join the workforce, should have a good command of English. And it is the responsibility of the nation’s policy makers to make this happen.

However, the engagement of the Sri Lankan government in honing the level and quality of English language proficiency in students and adults, is abysmal. Furthermore, the ability of educators to tap into the innate motivation that students have shown for learning English is necessary to uplift the level of use of the language in the country particularly among children and youth.

Policy makers have acknowledged that increased expertise in English is a beneficial contribution to economic prosperity and that government policies should begin to prioritise the improvement of English proficiency according to international standards.

Even though Sri Lanka has placed an increased importance on English as a lingua franca, successive governments have not taken action to infuse the language’s importance into the country’s education system.

Education systems are formulated based on countless aspects including geographic settings and socioeconomic conditions. And this makes it hard for them to blend with curriculums that have remained unchanged over an extended period of time.

Such systems produce an inflexible teaching method, as has been seen with most English teaching practices, particularly in state schools.

To build effective and robust policies that will boost English language learning among Sri Lankan youth, the government must develop teaching capacity, curriculum, methodology and the examination of English language capabilities. Moreover, teachers must be urged to improve their own English language skills, and use relevant and modern teaching practices in the classroom.

According to the British Council’s English Impact 2018 report, socioeconomic status has a significant impact on English language learning motivation in Sri Lanka. Students from more privileged backgrounds reported a higher interest in all examined areas over their less privileged peers.

Furthermore, research conducted in South Asia confirms the advantages of education are not equalising and line up with other varia­bles such as class, location and gender. This may also be why Colombo and Sri Lanka have been placed on different proficiency bands in the English Proficiency Index. Educators must work to build on equalising educational benefits for all Sri Lankans in the hope that today’s youth will take this island to the world.