FORGOTTEN HEROES BEHIND THE TRUE STORY OF FREE EDUCATION AND MISSED OPPORTUNITIES IN SRI LANKA

21 July 2020 12:05 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Within two years after the Free Education Ordinance, 44 central colleges were established throughout the country mainly in the rural areas with well equipped buildings,laboratories and hostels

 

Much has been said and written about the great C.W.W. Kannangara for his salutary role in the introduction and implementation of the free education policy in Sri Lanka. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to him. But we have almost forgotten other great people behind the story of free education.There are two unsung heroes behind the great story of free education.   


The first one was Rev. James Home Darrell,an Englishman Rev.Darrell was born 1872. In 1890,he entered the Cambridge University where he excelled in Mathematics and obtained a First Class Honours Degree. He studied Theology and was ordained a Minister of the Methodist Church. In 1896 this brilliant Cambridge scholar came to Sri Lanka to serve as Principal of Richmond College a school established by the Wesleyan missionaries. Rev. Darrel was the Chief Guest at the Prize Giving of the Wesleyan Missionary School at Randombe, a village in Ambalangoda at which young C.W.W. Kannangara won a large number of prizes.At that time ,Kannangara’ s father had lost his government job and the family was undergoing hardships. Rev.Darrell being the kind and compassionate person that he was,was extremely impressed with the achievements of young Kannangara at the Wesleyan Missionary School. awarded him a full scholarship to pursue his education at Richmond College as a boarder. Kannangara who excelled in his studies and first served as a teacher at Wesley College Colombo. He then went on to become a lawyer and a great political leader whose struggle for free education is remembered with much gratitude.During Rev.Darrel’s time at Richmond College there was an outbreak of typhoid fever and many children at the hostel of Richmond College had contracted the disease. Rev.Darrell left his Principal’s bungalow to stay at the hostel to nurse the sick children and eventually contracted the disease and passed away at the hostel at the very young age of  34 years. Rev. Darrell was a very kind and compassionate gentleman,and if not for his kindness and compassion,the great C.W.W. Kannangara wouldn’t have received the education that made him a teacher,lawyer and a great political leader who played a salutary role as Minister of Education in the introduction and implementation of the Free Education policy that changed the lives of many underprivileged children.   
The second unsung and forgotten hero behind the story of free education was one A.Ratnayake,who was elected the Member of the State Council for Wattegama ,in 1931 after the universal adult franchise was granted with the promulgation of the Donoughmore Commission. It was A. Ratnayake who conceived the idea of free education from the kindergarten to the University and moved in the State Council that a Special Committee on Education should be appointed to look into this issue of having a uniform system of free education from the kindergarten to the university.The State Council appointed a Special Committee on Education. Kannangara ,being the first Minister of Education under the Donoughmore Commission was appointed the Chairman of this Special Committee on Education. The committee consisted of some members of the State Council and eminent educationists. A. Ratnayake too was a member of the said committee.Mr.Mars, Principal of the University College was one of the members. Mars was succeeded by Sir Ivor Jennings,as Principal of the University College . Sir Ivor Jennings attended the last meetings of the Special Committee on Education.After many deliberations,the Committee presented the final draft of its report under the Chairmanship of Mr.Kannangara and it recommended free education for higher education only for the children who passed the Grade 5 scholarship examination. It is recorded in the autobiography of Sir Ivor Jennings that A. Ratnayake who was absent at some previous meetings, had been present at the last meeting where the final draft of the report was presented by C.W.W.Kannangara. At this stage, Ratnayake had reportedly stated that this was not what he originally intended when he presented a motion in the State Council to appoint a Special Committee on Education and moved at this meeting that free education should be given to all children whether they passed the Grade 5 scholarship examination or not up to university level A.Ratnayake’ s salutary amendment to the report was accepted by Kannangara,who was Minister of Education,responsible for the implementation of the final report of the committee and he presented the Report and the Free Education Bill drafted upon the recommendations of the Report in the State Council in 1942.At the debate in the State Council he spoke in support of the Bill for almost 12 hours and facilitated delivery of the child of “free education”and implemented the free education policy with admirable dedication and commitment. For these reasons Professor Carlo Fonseka,in a lecture, suggested that A.Ratnayake might be called the “Father of Free Education” whilst C.W.W.Kannangara might be called the “Mid-wife who delivered the child of free education”. The average Sri Lankan today is totally unaware of A.Ratnayake’s role in the story of Free Education. Sadly, A.Ratnayake is a forgotten and unsung hero.  

 

It may be noted here that from the beginning of the British colonial rule, the education in the Sinhalese and Tamil medium schools were entirely free from the kindergarten to the Senior School Certificate level ( equivalent to GCE ordinary level). But the English medium schools which constitute about 10 -15 percent of the schools in the Island charged fees


It may be noted here that from the beginning of the British colonial rule, the education in the Sinhalese and Tamil medium schools were entirely free from the kindergarten to the Senior School Certificate level ( equivalent to GCE ordinary level). But the English medium schools which constitute about 10 -15 percent of the schools in the Island charged fees. The highest positions ,reached by children who received education in the Sinhalese and Tamil medium were the positions of teachers of those schools and notaries public [authorised attest deeds written in Sinhalese and Tamil. Village headmen and Ayurvedic physicians. The clerical service ,civil service, mercantile sector employment university education, and other forms of tertiary education were open only to the children who attended the fee levying English medium schools.   


The Committee on Special Education headed by Kannangara by a majority recommended that the medium of instruction in all schools should be the mother tongue of the child in the primary classes. Kannangara who had the unique privilege of receiving the primary, secondary and tertiary education was one of the most persuasive advocates of Swabasha education. Sir Ivor Jennings who served as a member of the Committee, records in his autobiography that the politicians views prevailed on this policy rather than the educationists’ opinions on this issue. When Kannangara proposed that a child should receive education in his or her mother tongue ,there was a debate in the Special Committee on what ought to be considered the mother tongue of a child. There were some Sinhalese and Tamil children whose mother tongue was English as that language was spoken in their homes. According to Sir Ivor,the politicians including Kannangara proposed a legal formula called ‘racial or ethnic mother tongue’. According to this formula ,if the language of the forefathers of the ethnic group of the child’s father is Sinhalese ,it should be irrefutably presumed that the Sinhalese language was the child’s mother tongue which should be his or her medium of instruction for his or her primary education even if the child’s mother tongue was in fact English at home . This legal formula was proposed in respect of Tamil children too.When it came to Muslims, Burghers and the Malays,the Special Committee on Education could not recommend applying this principle for the children of these ethnic groups. If the legal formula of racial mother tongue was applied to these ethnic groups,the racial mother tongues of the Muslim,Burgher and Malay children would respectively be Arabic,Portuguese /Dutch ,and Malay. In order to overcome this difficulty,Muslims, Burghers and Malays were permitted to receive education in the English medium. Kannangara Committees’ recommendations were adopted by the State after the Independence. The Sinhalese and Tamil children in the English medium schools were required to study respectively in the Sinhalese and Tamil medium. The English medium schools were allowed to teach only the Muslim,Burgher and Malay children in the English medium. C.W.W. Kannangara was in fact the father of Swabahsha Education though S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike who was responsible for the enactment of Sinhala Only Act of 1956 is often wrongly blamed for the Swabasha education.   


Within two years after the Free Education Ordinance, 44 central colleges were established throughout the country mainly in the rural areas with well equipped buildings,laboratories and hostels. These schools initially taught rural children in the English medium and some rural children entered the University of Ceylon from the early fifties. It certainly was a great revolution.However,the subsequent language policies adopted by the successive governments for education deprived these rural children and other children of established English medium schools of the benefit of receiving their education in the medium of English. When Singapore gained independence in 1965 ,only a 10 percent of the schools in that country used English as the medium of instruction whilst 80 per cent of the schools taught in Chinese. The rest of the schools used either Tamil or Malay as the medium of instruction. Lee KuanYu the Prime Minister of Singapore,did not abolish English medium education but converted all non English medium schools to English medium schools within a decade giving every Singaporean child regardless of his ethnicity ,an equal opportunity to receive education in the English medium. He retained English as the working language of the country whilst making English, Chinese,Tamil and Malay as official languages. This ,Lee Kuan Yu did in a country where an 80 percent of the population is ethnic Chinese. If Sri Lanka’s post Independence leaders had adopted Lee Kuan Yu’s language policy,Sri Lanka would not have ethnic conflicts and tensions ,communal riots and a 30 year devastating civil war. The country would have benefited and developed immensely. 

 
Another interesting question that arises is: “How did the then government of the British colony of Ceylon have such an enormous amount of funds to build 42 central colleges ?”. The answer to this question speaks volumes of the well managed economy Sri Lanka had under the British rule. Although many writers and people portray the British rule in Sri Lanka as only an economic exploitation of the resources of our country,they ignore the vast economic ,social and educational developments that took place during the British rule facilitating the transition from feudalism to capitalism, towards a parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka during the British rule. The contemporary progressive political trends in Britain with her social movements like utilitarianism , social ,democratic and labour movements,too influenced the colonial rule here. The classic example was the grant of universal adult franchise to Sri Lanka upon a recommendation of the Donoughmore Commission. The British Government appointed a Royal Commission headed by Lord Donoughmore to inquire into further reforms to the constitution to meet Sri Lankan aspirations. A.E. Goonesinha, Sri Lanka’s pioneer labour leader, appeared before the Commission and demanded the grant of universal adult franchise. The delegation of the Ceylon National Congress vehemently opposed Goonasinha’s progressive proposal and demanded that the qualifications of education and wealth should remain and preferred limited franchise to the elite.This shows that Goonesinha who was influenced by the contemporary policies of the British Labour Party was progressive whilst the Ceylon National Congress led by the elite semi feudal Sri Lankans were reactionary. But the Donoughmore Commission which comprised progressive British politicians ,strongly recommended that the universal adult franchise should be granted to Ceylon enable the ordinary people in the rural areas to elect their own representatives to agitate for better facilities educational health and development . It may be argued that the far sighted vision of the Donoughmore Commissioners too remotely contributed to the Free Education policy of Sri Lanka. Now coming back to the question “How did the then government of the British colonial rule have an enormous amount of funds to build 44 well equipped central colleges and a university at Peradeniya? Ceylon did not borrow enormous foreign loans but built them with the enormous wealth Ceylon had due to the well managed economy of colonial Ceylon under the British rule. Colonial rule was an extension of the British capitalism to the colonies including Ceylon. V.I.Lenin in his book entitled “Colonialism: The Advanced Stage of Capitalism” presented a similar argument. Today,we beg for foreign investment in business ventures. This is not a new phenomenon. During the British colonial rule, the British companies invested in the plantations and other sectors in Sri Lanka. In the process, these capitalists paid taxes to the British colonial government in Ceylon on the profits they earned. Later parallel to the British and European capitalist class,an indigenous native class of entrepreneurs’ class emerged. The British colonial government managed the economy without borrowing from outside with the revenue it earned from the taxes.   

 

 It was A.Ratnayake who conceived the idea of free education from the kindergarten to the University and moved in the State Council that a Special Committee on Education should be appointed to look into this issue of having a uniform system of free education from the kindergarten to the university


 At the public sittings of the Special Committee on Education,an eminent educationist had told the Special Committee on Education that free education should be given only for primary and secondary education but not for the university or tertiary education,as it would be an unbearable burden to the country. His suggestion was that the students who could not afford to pay the fees for university education should be granted loans to be recovered when they get employment after graduation,whilst the exceptionally brilliant students with such hardships should be given scholarships.Then ,a member of the Committee who was a Ceylonese politician had reportedly told this educationist, “ Mr. ...., We (Ceylon) have enormous foreign reserves and assets, ..... we can well afford it”. Immediately after the end of Second World War II. Ceylon granted an enormous loan to Britain for the reconstruction work. Such was the strength of the economy we inherited from the British, in spite of the stories of the economic exploitation, we should concede the fact that we inherited from the British an economy with assets not liabilities. And it was an economy second only to Japan in Asia.   


In almost every article I have read,whilst paying tributes to Mr. C.W.W. Kannangara for his salutary role in the introduction and implementation of the Free Education policy,it has been repeatedly highlighted that Kananngara was defeated at the General Election of 1947 implying that the majority of the people of his electorate of Matugama had been ungrateful to him for his commendable role in the introduction and the implementation of the Free Education policy. Only a three years before his electoral defeat , one of the 44 well equipped central colleges had been established in his electorate of Matugama. People who make this suggestion of Matugama people’s “ingratitude”, ignore the stature of the candidate who defeated Kannangara at the General Election of 1947 . It was none other than Wilmot A.Perera, a social worker , and philanthropist who had by that time spent his personal wealth to build Sripali College at Horana and a number of other schools and educational institutions in the district of Kalutara. Obviously people of Matugama who had been touched by the generous and philanthropic contributions of Wilmot A.Perera might have preferred Wilmot A.Perera to C.W.W. Kannangara,whose implementation of free education policy was still in its infancy and the people had not yet reaped its fruits. I believe that it is unfair to suggest that a majority of voters of Matugama were ungrateful ,and apparently they seem to have felt that they should be more grateful to Wilmot A.Perera who spent his enormous personal wealth for building schools in the district of Kalutara and for social work.    

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