Address by the Right Honourable Sir John Kotelawala, K.B.E., M.P.,
Prime Minister of Ceylon, at the Distribution of Prizes,
S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, Saturday, 31 st July,1954
(image source: wikipedia )
When I played for Royal against S. Thomas’ many years ago my intention, which was shared by my team-mates, was to give the Thomians a good drubbing, and, if that was not possible, at least to give them a test of endurance. Much as I value the opportunity which I now have of presiding at your Prize Distribution, I shall endeavor to do neither this afternoon. I mist congratulate the Warden on his Report, which illustrates what opportunities school like S. Thomas’ have of continuing to play a leading part in the training of our youth and the moulding of their character.
I am glad that the Warden’s Report did not follow the usual pattern of Principals’ Report on such occasions, when the Government’s policy on education is taken up for microscopic examination and dissection. Our policy on education was born of the county’s needs, and does not claim to be a perfect solution to the Problem that confronts us of providing the best possible education for the rising generation without cost to the parents. Now that we have Free Education we have 6,561 schools and 1,570,000 school going children. Our high standard of Literacy, no doubt, enabled us to obtain our freedom at an earlier date than we otherwise might have, and in an atmosphere of calm. Peace, and quiet, Since then , however, various problems have cropped up like little mushrooms, and one hears it said that education in the mother-tongue is likely to put the clock of political progress 50 years back, and that the next generation will see the ugly monster of communalism rear its head amongst us, 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. Bi-lingualism, 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.