John Keells English Language Scholarship Programme helps young scholars to reach new horizons

While the pandemic has adversely affected many, the 12 school children who participated in the Finals of the Online Speech Competition conducted under John Keells English Language Scholarship Programme (JKELSP) held on 17th August 2021 impressed their virtual audience with how to remain positive, continue learning and cultivate new skills, even during challenging times.

The 12 were selected from 134 participants in the preliminary rounds from Beruwala, Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Rajawella, Ratmalana, Sooriyawewa, Trincomalee and Vavuniya. The competition demonstrated the scholars’ mastery of language and digital skills amidst the pandemic, in keeping with John Keells Foundation’s objective of the virtual speech competition in the lead up to the International Literacy Day (ILD) 2021.

Speaking on the common topic `My Experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic’, the winner, Lasangi Abeysinghe from Neluwa, related “They were enjoyable, happy days. [My sisters and I] played, cooked, and did so many things together. It was the best experience! Online education was interesting, too. I had never participated in online classes before! The classes were good, and my studies went well”.

Carmeline Jayasuriya, John Keells Foundation’s Head of Operations, who was also one of the judges for the Finals, said, “The language skills, creativity and confidence demonstrated by these teenage contestants participating from various parts of the country amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic are truly impressive! It is particularly heartening to find these skills emerging through an online competition, for which they seem to have been well equipped through the ICT component integrated to our `English for Teens’ scholarship programme.”

The ILD 2021 theme of ‘Literacy for a human-centered recovery: Narrowing the digital divide’ is very much in line with JKF’s commitment to empowering youth through language and digital literacy, creating the opportunity for many disadvantaged youth to reimagine their future, within and beyond the context of the pandemic.

JKESLP is a long-term project conducted in collaboration with Gateway Learning Center since 2004, under John Keells Foundation’s focal area of Education. Its flagship initiative `English for Teens’ aims to enhance English language proficiency, improve digital literacy and develop soft skills of pre-O’Level students, to augment youth employability. During the pandemic, in addition to classes conducted mostly online due to travel restrictions, an online speech competition was piloted to incentivize young learners to keep developing their English communication skills.

Gateway Group’s Chairperson, Dr. Harsha Alles, commended the improved fluency of the children and encouraged them saying, “Please don’t stop here. You now have the confidence; you can build on that confidence and become better speakers and better thinkers, and as you go along, better learners.”

Education is one of the six focus areas of John Keells Foundation – the CSR entity of John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH), a company listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange operating over 70 companies in 7 diverse industry sectors. With a history of over 150 years, John Keells Group provides employment to over 14,000 persons and has been ranked as Sri Lanka’s ‘Most Respected Entity’ for the last 16 Years by LMD Magazine. Whilst being a full member of the World Economic Forum and a Participant of the UN Global Compact, JKH drives its CSR vision of “Empowering the Nation for Tomorrow” through John Keells Foundation and through the social entrepreneurship initiative, ‘Plasticcycle’, which is a catalyst in significantly reducing plastic pollution in Sri Lanka.

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