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EDUCATION IN GLOBALIZING SRI LANKA: THE CASE OF SRI LANKAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS

V. Wettewa

University of Sydney (AUSTRALIA)
Sri Lanka is a multi-cultural state comprising of four major ethnic groups speaking three languages. Post colonial Sri Lanka endorses free state-managed education in the vernacular languages. The ‘Swabasha’ policy of 1956 requires all students to be educated in their mother tongue perpetuating ethnic segregation along linguistic divides. State owned, semi-governmental and private schools follow the National Curriculum under the Ministry for Education.

In 1961, Sri Lanka banned the establishment of any new private schools in the country. Private schools started by Christian missionaries during British rule were seen to evoke colonial pro-elitist sentiments and continued to be a reminder of colonial power and a driving force for social stratification.
However since this ban on private schools, there has been a profusion of institutions claiming to be ‘International Schools’. These schools exist within a loophole in the legal framework, established under the ‘Company’s Act’ and welcome students from all linguistic backgrounds to study in the English medium. However, by imposing high fees, these schools accentuate class-based discrimination. Furthermore, without proper governance, the quality of these schools vastly varies.

This study examines the multifaceted ideologies that exist on international school education compared to the national system. It looks at the ramifications that international schools have for the state as well as the various stakeholders via a mixed method study conducted in four contrasting case studies from four corners of the island and the Ministry for Education, Sri Lanka. The research explores the popularity, concerns and rationale behind this growing industry in contemporary globalizing Sri Lanka. The theoretical basis lies on Bourdieu’s concepts of Social Reproduction Theory and Cultural Capital; the verdict being that English proficiency and foreign credentials allow for a competitive edge in neo-liberal times.