Literature and the #KannangaraReport

In the section on Language and Literature, the report says:

#232 The first essential for the teaching of Sinhalese as for all other languages is books, modern books, well-written, attractively produced, readable books. By books we do not mean text-books. The market is glutted with text-books. Sinhalese wants a modem literature, not a set of aids to passing examinations. Young children must necessarily be given “readers” full of material carefully graded to suit the immaturity of their minds. But the extracts must be interesting stories and poems that appeal to the young, capable of giving a practical demonstration that reading is a joy and Sinhalese a language in which the imagination of youth can be expressed. The more closely they relate to the environment of the child the better: the modern is to be preferred to the ancient. Yet classical texts are not to be ignored so long as they are treated as literature to be read and understood, not pegs for annotations. Here as elsewhere the examination mania has almost succeeded in destroying education. The text-books consist of chunks of matter, interesting and valuable in themselves, but desiccated and desecrated by masses of notes and explanations. Language is best learned from literature, and literature should be read and enjoyed as well as studied.

Of course, 70 years ago the only mass accessible vehicle for language art was books - today it’s more likely that video based art (teledramas, movies, social media) play an important role, and social media also provides greater opportunities to express oneself (for both utilitarian and aesthetic expression), and the report also talks of the importance of expression:

#230 A language is a means of expression, a vehicle for expressing ideas and emotions. It has been used in the past by great masters; it is being used currently by write and orators who are adapting it to the modern environment. Grammar, style, spelling, even pronunciation, can be learned by reading (both silently and aloud) the literature in which the language is used, under the guidance of teachers who themselves understand what is good and what is not, and who have a genuine enthusiasm for it. Above all, the peril of set books and annotated editions must be avoided.

How many of our language teachers (especially English language teachers) have a genuine enthusiasm for it? Someone who doesn’t love literature cannot inspire a love of it!

And literature is not only for consumption, it is also for creation; in the chapter on Present Defects, the report states:

#53 …those who could afford to do so have sent their sons and daughters to English schools. There they have learned to use English as their normal medium of expression. Many of them, indeed, are unable to speak fluently and easily in Sinhalese or Tamil. English has thus been a badge of social superiority. We all recognize this state of affairs to be harmful and our recommendations are calculated to mitigate the evil. We are of opinion that the neglect of their own languages by the English educated classes prevents them from developing their own culture thus contributing their quota to the culture of the world. We are convinced that Sinhalese and Tamil is the “natural” medium for the Sinhalese or Tamil people and the only medium through which they can effectively contribute to the world of literature and art

I disagree that the local languages are the only medium (Sri Lankans can and do author books, dramas, movies etc in English) but it is the more likely medium for such contributions, and is also more likely to capture the nuances of Sri Lankan culture.