Prize-Day Report of the Principal, Zahira College, Colombo read on January 14, 1956

It is our  conviction  that  we  best  serve  Sri  Lanka  not  by the abandonment of our culture but by its preservation and promotion aiming at unity in diversity – political unity in the midst of cultural diversity. On Zahira, therefore, devolves a  sacred  obligation  to  foster  the  culture  that  is distinctively our own. In thus stressing its importance we are not unmindful of the value of political unity. We believe with Sir Richard Livingstone that, "Men are born to  four  citizenships. They should be able to live as good members of their family, of their community, of their nation, and of the whole human society," and that "many of the world's troubles can be traced to a failure in  one  or  other  of  these  citizenships – to  our  never  mastering the art of living with others, in the family, in the community, in the nation, in international relations,". We  also  realise  that these four citizenships must co-exist and that the transgression of one of these loyalties must necessarily involve the transgression of the other three. While an Englishman in the United Kingdom or an American of Anglo-saxon descent in the United States could exercise his rights and discharge his duties inherent in these four citizenships through the medium of one single language, namely English, and without the necessity of his having to acquire a knowledge of any other language, we the Muslims  of  Ceylon  are in  an entirely different and extremely difficult position. To fulfil adequately the obligations cast on us by these four citizenships, we should of necessity acquire a knowledge of four different languages with four different scripts – the four languages concerned being Tamil, Arabic, Sinhalese and English, each of them with a different background of religion and history. In the case of the Ceylonese Malay – Muslims the problem is further complicated by the presence of still another language, Malay.

In the absence of an easy and ready-made solution there is the danger of the Community pursuing unconsciously a policy of drift which will tend to endanger the future progress of the Community and to prevent its harmonious integration into the general life of the country. It is most unfortunate that when the Muslims, having once made the blunder of ignoring English when the other communities were insistently clamouring for and obtaining more and better English, were trying "to catch up" the other communities who had stolen a march over them, educational changes in Ceylon have followed one another with a bewildering rapidity leading to the dethronement of English that was never anticipated by the leaders of the Community during the Donoughmore era. The  problem  yet is not peculiar to us for the several millions of Muslims  belonging  to  the  Republic of India have a similar problem – in their case Hindi taking the place of Sinhalese and the Home Language differing according to the region concerned.
Tamil is the home  language  of  the  preponderant majority of the Muslims of Ceylon whether of the North or of the South even though for the purposes of the Education Code, English has been elevated to the position of their mother tongue. But the Tamil of the Muslim home has its peculiarities. It has several Arabic words which have displaced their pure Tamil equivalents. And in the South some Sinhalese words have also been included. As a result of the pundits and purists of the Tamil language not admitting the Arabic words referred to above in to the Tamil vocabulary, the term Arabic-Tamil gained currency and has a special meaning attached to it.
It is now long past the stage of experimentation and has assumed the character of an axiom among educationists that the education of a child should begin in its Home Language, and it may be stressed here that, "language is not a mere means of expression,  Language is an instrument of thinking. It is more than that; it is an instrument of feeling" and that "a man's native speech is  almost  like  his  shadow,  inseparable  from  his  personality."  In these circumstances the Community is compelled at present to build its educational structure on the foundation of Tamil.
Islam, our religion, forms the very base of our Community and for this reason the Macaulayan conception of Education never had any attraction for the Muslims of Ceylon. Our  daily prayers are in Arabic and our religion cannot be taught or practised without the Arabic language. We should not be unmindful of the fact that our salutations and our names continue to be in Arabic which is  of  great  significance –  that we are not prepared to be culturally  assimilated.  Therefore  without  the Arabic language we shall become culturally isolated and shall later lose entirely the rich heritage we are heir to.
In Free Lanka, Sinhalese as the language of the vast majority of the Island's  population will inevitably occupy a dominant position whether it becomes the only State language or a State Language in association with Tamil with or without parity of status. Sinhalese therefore cannot be neglected by the Muslim Community. The spoken Sinhalese so far acquired by several Muslims of South Ceylon is no longer adequate and even the Muslims of North Ceylon unless they decide deliberately to confine all their activities to the Northern  and Eastern provinces cannot afford to ignore this language. It is relevant for us at this stage to remember that two thirds of the Ceylon Muslims live outside these two provinces.
With a view to promoting better inter-communal harmony and under standing it has become necessary for us to produce books on our religion in               
Sinhalese and thus gain for Islam a new and additional language.
English will  not  continue to occupy the position it did during the British period when the elite of the Country experienced the magic of its fine literature and endeavoured to speak the language with a perfect accent. Yet English is  a  world  language,  the  language  of commerce, science and technology with a wealth of literature and resources without any parallel so far. Thus it becomes imperative that the Muslims should acquire a knowledge of this language.
In these circumstances the curriculum of our schools and of every school where there is a considerable number of Muslim boys or girls should include all these four languages. The principle of such inclusion is one that would command almost universal assent. But this principle has to be translated into practice; and reflected in the syllabuses and schemes of work that obtain in our schools. The stages  at which each of these four languages should be introduced, the extent to which each of them should be taught and the degree of proficiency that  should  be  expected  in  respect of each of them are problems  that  need  careful  study  and  detailed  analysis. The decisions to be reached  should  have  regard  to the varying needs, geographical and intellectual, of the pupils and the diversity of their aptitudes and abilities. A uniform solution would not meet the problem adequately, and the solutions finally arrived at  should  in  no  way  retard  the  educational or mental development of the child or weaken the solidarity of the Community or bring about political or economic in consequences adverse to the Community.
It  behoves  Zahira  College,  Colombo  therefore as the Mother of Muslim  Denominational  Institutions  to take the  initiative  by calling a conference of the educationists and the elite of the Community and composed of persons holding various shades of opinion on this subject with a view to deciding upon a curriculum in the light of the opinions expressed and the experiences pooled so that the obligations cast on the four citizenships can be adequately met and the future of the Community thus safeguarded.
Muslims and swabhasa
When the Swabhasa medium was first introduced into Zahira in 1949 there were many Muslims, and among them men of light and leading, who sincerely and with strong conviction felt  at that time that it was extremely injudicious for Zahira to abandon the English medium even in a single class and thereby to forego even to a slight degree the advantages derivable from the right for the Muslims to opt for the English medium, wrested from the State by the leaders of the Community during the Donoughmore era.
The recent Cabinet decision on the medium of instruction in the Senior Secondary classes and on the medium of examination for the Government Clerical Service from 1962, has completely vindicated the step that was taken by Zahira so early as in 1949. This Cabinet decision has also confirmed that Ceylon cannot be an  exception  to  the  universal character of linguistic problems in education – displayed  by  several  countries of the world and particularly of resurgent Asia "Seldom is the solution a purely educational one : politics, economics and national aspirations often decide the language of instruction,  irrespective  of  psychological  obstacles  or  pedagogical considerations." Even those among the Muslims "who with nostalgic regret recall the glorious days of the past when in Ceylon many experienced the magic of fine literature and spoke with a perfect accent and wrote in English with a feeling of an Englishman himself and now lament the shortcomings in grammar, idiom, accent,  intonation  and  style  and  bemoan  the loss of acquaintance" with the 'English classics' and 'English culture' seem to have vividly apprehended as a result of the Cabinet decision the vast, swift, and fundamental changes that have  taken  place in Ceylon since the grant of universal adult franchise in 1931. They, I  feel confident, now realise the necessity for the Muslim Community to ensure its harmonious integration into the general life of the Country by quickly weaning itself from English as the medium of instruction  which no  longer can  bring its children "to a position of intellectual elevation, social efficiency and political power." It is now clear, more than ever before, that any further neglect of Swabhasa would expose the  members of the Community to the same kind of dangers that overtook them during the early part of this century as a result of the Community's neglect of English.
In the context of current affairs it has become imperative that every member of the growing generation of the Muslim Community should as far as possible be tri-lingural. While on this I can do no better than quote the weighty words of our Prime Minister spoken a few months back on the occasion of the Prize Day of a sister College :-
"The  problem  of taking education to the masses and giving equal  opportunities to the sons of rich and poor parents alike could not have been tackled unless children were given instruction in the only language they knew, which was their mother-tongue.
We have two major linguistic groups in this country and education has, therefore, to be  conducted in both these languages. But education in one language does not  necessarily mean that people must not learn the other language, or cease to enjoy the obvious benefits which the knowledge of the English language brings with it in science and cultural subjects. One must not under-estimate the role of language in a child's life during his formative years, or forget that language is a child's chief means of making social contacts and influencing others. In actual use, language plays an important role in thinking and the solving of problems. Bilingualism, and even tri-lingualism, should therefore be encouraged as far as possible, if the communal harmony which we pride ourselves in having today, is to be preserved for the future; because, unless we understand the other man's language and talk to him in his mother-tongue we would have failed to reach his innermost thoughts and have merely succeeded in creating a barrier between ourselves and our neighbours. I would welcome, therefore, every opportunity a Sinhalese takes of learning Tamil, and vice versa."
And the Hon. The Minister of Education has so recently as on January 10, 1955 expressed himself in similar terms :-
"I also envisage a time when every child would speak his own language fluently and have a working knowledge of English and the other national language as well."
At this stage I should like to recall what was stated in my Prize Day Report of March 17, 1951.
"I am sure that you will also be interested to hear that by an innovation introduced at the beginning of this year, we hope to make the students of Zahira tri-lingual. Boys of the Sixth Standard are now doing both Sinhalese and Tamil and will continue to do so till they pass out of the S.S.C….. A knowledge of one another's languages should tend to reduce inter-communal misunderstandings and prejudices."
With the policy of the Government stated in such unequivocal terms by both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Educatin, we have good reasons to feel sure that the  Department of Examinations will no longer insist on setting the same paper for the boy  to  whom  Sinhalese  or Tamil is the mother-tongue as for the boy to whom it is the third language. There is no better method of encouraging tri-lingualism than to set a Lower S.S.C. paper in Sinhalese to those to whom it is not the medium of instruction and similarly in Tamil to  those whose  medium  is  not  Tamil. It is certainly unsound educationally to set the same paper to those to whom a particular language is the mother-tongue as to those to whom it is the third language. Up to now this principle, which is axiomatic to us, and which I have personally advocated for the last three years, has however not been accepted by those who are in charge of the S.S.C. examination. In view of the new stress that has been recently laid on  tri-lingualism,  we are hopeful that very soon a Lower Sinhalese paper  will be introduced in the S.S.C. examination for the non-Sinhalese candidates.
A new horrizon in education
It is unfortunate that the major reforms in education of the recent past proclaimed  in 1945, 1947 and 1951 have been preceded and followed by prolonged  controversies  often marred by rancour, acrimony, passion and prejudice. Till  1951  the  place  of  the  Denominational  School  in the Government scheme of Education was uncertain and till 1955 the place of Swabhas in the Senior  School  was  canvassed.  With the recent Cabinet decision "the whole picture is quite clear" and the stage has been definitely reached  when  all the controversies of the recent past should recede into history and be regarded as "old, unhappy, far off things, and battles long ago" so that all  concerned with education may settle down to the new task of initiating reforms in another equally important sphere of education, viz : its content and curriculum.
Curriculum  cannot be dissociated from the availability of adequate text-books and supplementary books and the recent Cabinet decision has raised hopes in us that satisfactory books in Swabhasa will be produced in sufficient numbers without any further loss of time. But if the Government alone is to produce these books, there is the danger of a threat to the freedom of the schools and where the  Schools  lose  their  freedom, the freedom of the individual  citizen  is  in  peril. "Therefore,  it would be one of the most important problems in the near future to decide upon the kind of relationship that should exist between private enterprise and the Government in the matter of the production of these books. If all the text-books were to be Government produced  and  thus  Government  controlled,  that would be the first step taken towards the path of totalitarianism. That cannot be the intention of the Government.
In the discussions preceding these reforms adequate attention will have to be naturally paid to the relationship between education and employment and to the necessity for continuous experimentation in curricular matters. It would not be appropriate for me to go into details on this occasion. It may, however, be stated that the success of such reforms would depend on the extent to  which the curriculum is made flexible so that the two goals of giving scope to ability and raising the average could be simultaneously and successfully pursued. It is also essential that the new curriculum should give equal emphasis to General Science as well as to Social Studies. It has been rightly stated that :-
"If narrowness  begins  in  school  it  cannot be cured at the university or anywhere else. It is in school and not at the university that the budding scientist should be helped, for instance, to develop a taste for music and the arts, and the young historian an understanding and reverence for science, and both, incidentally, an appreciation of the crafts."
The Cabinet decision has, we hope, ended the days of conflicts and canvassing and thereby opened before us a new horizon in education – an educated  democracy  planned  on  a national scale to achieve the fullest development possible of the human personality. Let us fervently hope that through the  educational  reforms  of  1945-55  we  shall  achieve in Ceylon the Silent  Social  Revolution, which in peace and tranquility  will  bring Liberty, Social Justice and Contentment to all unendangered by either the manifestations of demagogy or the machinations of vested interests.

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