The possibility of education is one of the benefits we offer our employees in Sri Lanka. Samantha Wimalasekara is a diploma teacher of English, and she teaches the staff at the tea-packing plant in Hikkaduwa on Sri Lanka’s west coast. Usually it happens on Saturday afternoon when the workday is over.
The free English lessons are popular, today English is often the key to getting a secure and good job in Sri Lanka. People from the coastal and highland tea areas have typically only attended public elementary school and they have not learned enough English to get an education or to seek better paid jobs.
ENGLISH EDUCATION IN THE FREE I FRITIDEN
Samantha Wimalasekara teaches the staff at Chaplon’s tea-packing house in Hikkaduwa in the west coast of Sri Lanka.
Samantha is a buxom woman with small reading glasses and lively gestures. She was born in the house which now serves as a packing house for Chaplon, and when she arrives, the packing room in, what used to be her childhood home, is converted into a temporary classroom.
Around the packing table sits the employees of Chaplon ready with paper and pencil, and the most eager students have brought a dictionary, which is the key between English and the two local major languages, Tamil and Sinhalese. A whiteboard is lined up with some tea boxes, this is how the class is getting ready. Samantha explains:
My students come from poor families, who have typically lived by their husband's fishing and many of them have dropped out of school after primary school. This means that they have had about 20 minutes of English per day from the third grade, but there are very few who actually had the opportunity to do homework or practice their English.
Most have families who do not know English, but now they have the opportunity to acquire a new basis to build upon.
I have to start from scratch. The only thing I assume is that they have learned the English alphabet, and I bring my own teaching materials.
Samantha has made special teaching materials for the tea packers which are based on interviews – for example words about tea or how to sell tea in a tea shop.
I start with very basic vocabulary. Many have no English vocabulary anymore. After some time most start using very simple sentences but we start at a very basic level, and for many of them it is hard - also because they are not used to going to school.
In Sri Lanka there is free public schooling, but for the most disadvantaged families it is still hard to raise money for school uniforms, books, paper and pens. Therefore many settle with just the rudimentary elementary school. Middle-class children often go to private schools, or they get public education with complementary private lessons. Therefore, there is a big difference in the education children receive in Sri Lanka, although there is a public school system.