Sri Lanka’s first-ever virtual English “coaching” programme for female professionals, the “Lankan Lady Boss” programme, was successfully concluded on 27 October 2021. The 12-week virtual programme was conducted by Your English Coach Founder Shavini Somawardhana Jalil, and was powered by the American Centre in Colombo as part of their Small Grants Programme for Virtual Skills Development.
In conversation with Somawardhana Jalil on what inspired her to start this programme, to which she brought up the concept of a double glass ceiling. “There are women who are limited by not just the discrimination against their gender but also the discrimination because they don’t know English.
” She explained that these women don’t go out and network; they lack confidence to join English classes and then end up in lesser management roles. After conducting some studies on these women, she saw a market and decided to focus on it.
In terms of the programme, she informed us that while 275 applications were received, only 40 participants were selected. Of these participants, 34 successfully completed the programme. She faced a major challenge because six participants out of the 34 tested positive for Covid-19, so she had to extend deadlines, and even postpone lectures, but eventually managed to successfully conclude the programme.
Another challenge she faced was teaching grammar. “Because it’s a group session, I was not able to give highly individual feedback to everybody. It’s also hard to teach concepts like grammar in a short period of time.” She added that in future programmes they will work on signing individual tutors or teach smaller groups.
During a press briefing after the successful completion of said programme, it was clear that the participant feedback was overwhelmingly positive, commenting on this, one such participant, Pamudi Maheshika (27) stated: “I have learned so much about how to improve my English speaking ability and write and understand English phrases. The programme also helped me to learn how to talk about my ideas in English, and most importantly, how to thank and help others.”
At the event, a visually impaired university student Gayani Dissanayake noted that she was able to understand her academic work better after following the programme. Further, she said that this was not her first online programme, as she has done many before, so that was not such a challenge, but this was her first time teaching in a group, so with this programme, she too was able to heighten her skills as a coach.
When asked about the long-term goal for this programme, Somawardhana Jalil commented that the aim of the programme was not just to increase the English knowledge of the participants, but also to increase their confidence in their English-speaking ability, as well as their overall self-confidence. She further added that they’ve seen some amazing success stories in these few months. Sharing one such story, she commented: “One participant, a schoolgirl, went from being a shy recluse who did not speak English in public to receiving a key position in her District Interact Club. Another participant, a lawyer, who only spoke to her clients in Sinhala or Tamil before the programme, now speaks freely in all three languages.”
She highlighted that she is immensely grateful to the American Centre for helping her to serve these women and to change their lives. Somawardhana Jalil is also in discussions with the American Centre as well as other funding groups to begin working on future programmes to help better the lives of women and give them more opportunities in their respective fields.
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