From alienation to inclusive learner community: Lessons from multiethnic bilingual education classrooms

The Sri Lankan public education system is highly segregated along language, ethnicity and religion primarily due to the medium of instruction.  In this presentation, I discuss how social milieu in limitedly available multiethnic Bilingual Education classrooms (English and Mother tongue – Sinhala/Tamil) shapes students’ ethnolinguistic identities. I draw on data from an ethnographically informed qualitative study framed through Pierre Bourdieu’s Logic of Practice. The findings show that how young children are socialized into ethnocentric identities during primary socialization. These ethnocentric identities are further consolidated in monolingual, monoethnic schools as secondary socialization fields where stereotypical conceptions against each other are reinforced, contradictory to the national goals of education.  In contrast, multilingual BE classrooms shape students’ ethnocentric identities towards more inclusive supraethnic identities where ethnic and linguistic demarcations become less important when they work together to achieve common educational goals, facilitating the emergence of an inclusive community of learners. Further, a heteroglossic language policy at the domain level promote interethnic understanding, reciprocity and growing respect for other’s culture and language. Translanguaging is also a pedagogical tool that scaffolds both language and content comprehension gaps. However, English language plays two main paradoxical roles: as a tool of reconciliation between the two competing national languages; and as a weapon of social stratification – those who know English and don’t. The findings may shed light on how linguistically diverse societies may utilize their education systems to stimulate diversity responsiveness, reconciliation and cohabitation.


Dr Harsha Wijesekera, ANU Visiting Fellow 

Harsha Dulari Wijesekera is a Senior Lecturer at the Postgraduate Institute of English of the Open University of Sri Lanka.
Her research interests are bilingual education, socio and applied linguistics, social cohesion, English language teaching, and teacher education.
She has taught in public schools, public/private and military universities.

Date & time

Fri 31 Mar 2023, 3.30pm


BPB W303, Baldessin Precinct Building, 110 Ellery Crescent, ACTON


Dr Harsha Dulari Wijesekera


Updated:  31 March 2023/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications