September 8 is International Literacy Day, an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of over 1,000 young Sri Lankans who have participated in the U.S. Embassy’s English Access scholarship programme, along with more than 1,300 English teachers who have taken part in on-line training. English language ability opens doors to the wider world, better economic and academic opportunities and can serve as a bridge language in multilingual Sri Lanka.
Learning a new language is challenging, but these future leaders have learnt English while developing their critical and creative thinking skills, mastering formal debating and gaining confidence in public speaking. It’s not just about reaching one class or ethnic group. It’s about bringing young people together in a funfiled, but challenging programme that pushes them to work harder and dream bigger. Girls and boys between 13 and 16 are equally represented and are drawn from all local religions and ethnicities. Students apply through a competitive process, including a placement test, school administrator’s approval, and evidence of financial need.
Access students attend after-school classes and an intensive one-week summer camp. The curriculum highlights equality, democratic values, and respect for the environment. Access takes students beyond rote learning and grammar exercises with an emphasis on speaking and using the language.
The Access programme also contains a community development component, helping to build future leaders and nurture a sense of responsibility, volunteerism, teamwork, and civic engagement. For many students, this is their first opportunity to assist those in need and co-operate to find solutions within their own communities. Many students have commented that not only did they enjoy the classwork, but they took their coursework home and shared it with family and friends, teaching others what they had learnt.
Launched in Sri Lanka in 2006, Access boasts of more than 900 alumni, with 366 students currently enrolled in classes across the country
The heart and soul of Access, as in any outstanding classroom, are the teachers. Access teachers have completed specialized trainings in Sri Lanka and abroad. They have brought Access to Aluthgama, Galle, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Banderawela, Belihuloya, and Kandy. All Access teachers have received over 36 hours of residential training by language experts and experienced professors with additional coursework available online to enhance their techniques in teaching. The U.S. Department of State has brought many of them to the United States, Nepal, and India to build international and regional ties. In addition, visiting English Language Fellows offer support and provide individual expertise on American teaching methodology and pedagogy to Access teachers and students during their tenure in Sri Lanka.
Launched in Sri Lanka in 2006, Access boasts of more than 900 alumni, with 366 students currently enrolled in classes across the country. These young learners are part of a global community of almost 100,000 Access students in more than 85 countries who have benefited from the U.S. Government’s commitment to youth literacy and empowerment. With solid programmes like Access, and others like the Fulbright graduate scholarship programme and the Global UGRAD undergraduate programme, I’m proud of the investment we have made in the future leaders of this great country.