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GLOBAL SCHOOLS FOR LOCAL STUDENTS? THE CASE OF SRI LANKAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS

V. Wettewa

The University of Sydney (AUSTRALIA)
Sri Lanka is a multi-cultural state comprising of four major ethnic groups speaking three 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 as well as English medium education started by Christian missionaries during British rule were seen to evoke colonial pro-elitist sentiments and symbolize a driving force for social stratification. Since then, 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. Since the majority of students attending these international schools are locals, it looks at the government concerns as well as the various stakeholder consternations via a mixed method study conducted in four contrasting case studies. The research attempts to outline the reasons behind international school popularity and unpack some of the anxieties that this education system has given rise to in recent times. The theoretical basis lies on Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital as well as global identity formation; the verdict being that English proficiency and foreign credentials allow for a competitive edge in neo-liberal times yet grounding oneself in the local culture is of paramount importance if education is to be truly international.