English Elocution for rural kids Project SEARCH

By Nihal de Run from Melbourne

In my schooldays, Elocution was the privilege of a few boys and girls whose parents knew the value of good English diction and could afford the cost of attending a school. Foremost among the schools at that time was the Wendy Whatmore Academy. It still exists.

Project SEARCH was established to enhance the English-speaking ability of the hostellers of Royal College. Why? Because the hostel houses the brightest boys of the nation almost entirely from rural Sri Lanka. Only the highest achievers of each district at the Year 5 scholarship exam are offered admissions to Royal College. They are the crème de la crème of rural Sri Lanka but lack English speaking skills due to the limitations of their environment. They score very high marks in all other subjects including English but when it comes to speaking, they fall far behind children who come from English speaking backgrounds.

Project SEARCH seeks to rectify this and have introduced each student to a volunteer tutor (mostly from overseas) at no expense to the student or his parents, providing internet-based mentoring and guidance in spoken English.

Having completed a six-month induction, the student is then ‘finished off’ with a 10-week course in elocution provided by Priyanganie Mushin of Accenxia, ​​at an Elocution School based in Nugegoda and Ramani Gunasekera now resident in Perth, Australia. Both Priyanganie and Ramani are former instructors of the Wendy Whatmore Academy.

42 students are currently in the program and will complete a ten-week course in April. After the introductory session the comments received from students were glowing and complimentary.

“Today’s session was very interesting, and it is very important to improve our English skills” – Kisara Pesanjith, Kuliyapitiya

“It was a great session and got some new targets to accomplish” – Wisal Jayathilaka, Maho

“It was very informative and got us exciting for upcoming sessions” – Hirusha Pramuditha, Pelmadulla

“We had an indescribable experience in one sentence” – Thasuka Samarasinghe, Kuliyapitiya “I got an idea about Elocution from today’s session” – Thareen Wickramasinghe, Kuliyapitiya

“It is absolutely a rare chance for a child like me” – Tharin Sandul, Galle

“A session that was too great to say in one sentence” – Lakira Dodangoda, Galle

“The session was superb” – Bimsara Wijerathna, Weddagala

“My ambition is to see these boys speaking as well as their day scholar colleagues at the end of this course” says Project Search Director Nihal de Run.

Ramani Gunasekara- one of the two Teachers made the following comments after the first session from Perth Australia: (the session went) “very well I thought. I enjoyed myself! I haven’t taught elocution since leaving SL in 81. The boys warmed to it after a little while. They were naturally a bit reticent to start with. We went on for over an hour! It’s very rewarding. In SL I taught at Government schools where there’s a mix of student’s like at RC, Visakha, Devi Balika and Mahamaya. I know that elocution lessons made a difference. Sadly, many schools have discontinued teaching whole classes during school hours.”

After completion of the 10-week lesson program, it is intended that the students participate in practical conversations with members of the Interact Association of Royal College for a further period to improve confidence in the spoken language. The program will be offered to a new batch of students after April. The students will be picked from those who complete Year 9 and are transitioning to Year 10.


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