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Tribute to a Mathematics Educator Par Excellence

14 Feb 2020 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Dean, Director/ Professional & General Education, Faculty of Education, Horizon Campus 
The 102nd birth anniversary of late Emeritus Professor J.E. Jayasuriya falls on 14th February 2020. One significant event coinciding with the annual anniversary is the Prof. J.E Jayasuriya Memorial Lecture and this year it will be delivered by Emeritus Professor M. Sornarajah Ph.D., LL.D. (London) of the National University of Singapore, on 14th February 2020 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) at 5.00 pm.

This note is a preamble to the event. John Ernest Jayasuriya was born in Ahangama in the Southern Province. He achieved academic excellence and served the country as a principal, lecturer and professor in education and later as a Regional Adviser to UNESCO. During his lifetime, he produced many scholars who have distinguished themselves in various fields. Professor Jayasuriya produced a range of books, monographs and articles numbering nearly 200 to enhance the body of knowledge for the benefit of academics and the higher education community.

The first among them is Statistical Calculations for Teachers which was a prescribed text in Universities in Sri Lanka, U. K. and Australia. His subsequent country studies on educational and national developments in Sri Lanka, Republic of Korea and Malaysia continue to be prescribed texts in universities teaching comparative education.

Some of his journal articles have been widely cited in the international literature. I believe his greatest work is the set of mathematics books he wrote for school children. These still remain in circulation to enrich young learners.   

It was in the 50’s that J. E. Jayasuriya’s name became a household name. I recall that he first ‘visited’ our home in the late ‘50s when I was very small. That was to help my elder sister to learn Basic Mathematics in her Standard VI class. It was not a physical visit, but his textbooks came to help my sister to learn Basic Mathematics. By the 60’s Jayasuriya’s books were included in the Mathematics Curriculum from Grade 6 to O.L. As a result, J.E. Jayasuriya’s Mathematics books were used by all the students who completed at least Grade 6 in their secondary education regardless of their ethnicity as these Mathematics books were published in all three media: English, Sinhala, and Tamil. The Tamil books found a market even in South India through the prestigious U.K. publishing house, McMillan’s Ltd.

Like all others in my generation, I too learned extensively from his books. They are pedagogically excellent. The language used in the book was simple enough to understand; no ambiguities; proper teaching sequence helped to progress the learning; worked examples were arranged in order to develop and sharpen the thinking process; worked examples also demonstrated how a solution for a mathematical problem should be presented in a logical manner; exercises with answers made it convenient to improve and enhance mathematical reasoning skills. As such, the books were well-equipped for self-learning as well.   

The education system continued using these valuable books until the early 70’s when the hurriedly prepared textbooks were introduced by the State. Euclidian Geometry was replaced with transformational geometry in 1972. The replacement made a critical gap between O.L. and A.L. mathematics curricula. Even the brightest students in the HNCE Mathematics stream found it difficult to convert the problem space into mathematical representation. To bridge this gap, the majority of the teachers who teach AL Mathematics still use Jayasuriya’s Mathematics Books to prepare the students for the A.L. curriculum. Reflecting on the demand, you can still see recent reprints of these books in the leading bookshops. I have heard that the books have been translated to foreign languages in other countries too.   



"Professor Jayasuriya produced a range of books, monographs and articles numbering nearly 200 to enhance the body of knowledge for the benefit of academics and the higher education community"

Even though I have never met him personally, I admire him as the teacher who helped me to become a Mathematics educator. In the school, I learned how to successfully workout mathematical problems. After leaving school I learned how to reason out the solutions from Jayasuriya’s books. The language used for explaining Mathematics was concise, simple and precise to maintain the interest required in working long hours. I have no doubt that Jayasuriya was instrumental to a great extent in producing a large number of capable mathematics educators in Sri Lanka.   

It is important to make a specific note on Euclidian geometry in his books. Euclidean geometry is not just a branch of Mathematics. It is compiled in Euclid’s Elements as a deductive system containing 13 volumes. Without moving away from the system Jayasuriya has extracted a portion from Euclid’s Elements. The amazing factor is that the selected portion is independent of the rest and it was sufficient to develop adequate deductive reasoning skills in the students. All the examples and exercises are carefully created and presented from the simple to the complex for the gradual progression of the students.

I cannot imagine how he has created such a massive amount of nonlinear, non-algorithmic and ill structured problems accurately and appropriately. His approach was a trail-blazer in that geometry books in other countries written after his books in the late 50’s followed the same pattern.   

In addition to his impressive contribution to comparative education, education psychology, psychometry and population education (in which he is internationally considered as the ‘father of population education’), he had made an everlasting contribution to the teaching of mathematics in this country. My own role as a mathematics educator and an educational administrator was enriched by following the logical approach Professor Jayasuriya guided us to follow through the window of ‘mathematics education’.