This book by my good friend K.L.Jayatissa who I  first met  as  a fellow undergraduate in the Faculty of Agriculture of the then University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, just one year  junior to me in the late 1960s, is one among many others that have come out under his pen, in both Sinhala  and English.  I [...]


Those school-going days and a tribute to free education


This book by my good friend K.L.Jayatissa who I  first met  as  a fellow undergraduate in the Faculty of Agriculture of the then University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, just one year  junior to me in the late 1960s, is one among many others that have come out under his pen, in both Sinhala  and English.  I started reading it late one night. The style of writing in the first person and narration dealing with the real-life experience of a young student in a school hostel was so absorbing that I read all 161 pages to a finish, completing it by the following morning.

Jayatissa proudly says in the preface, that he is a beneficiary of the Free Education concept introduced by C.W.W.Kannagara, through which the Fifth Standard Scholarship   Scheme, and Central Colleges with comparatively better facilities in   selected locations were established for needy children. Jayatissa was the first to win the scholarship from his village – Ehelakanda in the Matara district, where he studied at the Ehelakanda Junior School and made his way to the Deniyaya Central College as a residential scholar with financial support.

The author makes the point that if not for this, under the then prevailing conditions in the country, students like him who hailed from very poor families would have never got the opportunity to move up the social ladder sans any resources at their disposal.

The narration in the first chapter about his sitting for the Fifth Standard Scholarship Examination in 1955 along with three other students from the same school, and being the only one to get through  is exhilarating. With all humility, Jayatissa describes how his beloved mother living in abject poverty in their humble wattle and daub home far away from a motorable road, prepared things for him and packed a suitcase for his first trip to the Deniyaya Central College as a resident scholar. Tears welled up when browsing through this part of the book, owing to the genuine emotion of an innocent 10-year-old rural lad of that era that the author notes with fine details, which brought back memories of my own childhood under somewhat similar conditions.

The author quite rightly contrasts the present day Fifth Standard Scholarship Examination to the one that he faced in the 1950s and points out that the former is overtly competitive and does not augur well to bring out a quality product by way of conducive attitudes and good  discipline sans selfishness among students.

The second chapter which deals with Jayatissa’s first night at the hostel, apparently the first time he was away from his home and having to manage with a group of unknown boys in a totally strange environment, is really interesting. He describes the departure of his mother and uncle after bringing him to the hostel and the emotional farewell. From this chapter onwards, Jayatissa quite appealingly narrates his life in the hostel, how he gradually got to know the other boys and made friends with them and the altercations and interactions he had in the process.

The hostellers used to go for a bath and to wash clothes, to the river “Ginganga” flowing graciously bordering the Central College land. This was an enjoyable break for Jayatissa who gradually got used to the system. Jayatissa could not afford to go home for weekends unlike some students who were taken home by their parents or some relative. He went home only for the vacations.

Once Jayatissa reached the 3rd term of the 8th Standard, he came to a key turning point in his education. He wanted to study science simply because he wanted to get a job as soon as possible and make his mother’s dreams come true.  The practice was to select students for science from among those who score high marks for mathematics, science etc. Jayatissa had scored 86 for science, but his score for mathematics was 19. Hence, he was not included in the list of those selected for science. But Jayatissa’s determination was such that he continued to sit in the science class and ultimately the Vice Principal gave the OK, with the warning not to come back to him at a later stage with a request to go to the Arts stream. So little Jayatissa won this fight single-handed.

Jayatissa’s  success at the GCE/AL  paved the way to the then University of Ceylon, Peradeniya  for his undergraduate studies in the Biological Science stream. He had no one to accompany him to Peradeniya, and it was a helper at the kitchen of the Deniyaya Central College by the name of William who volunteered to come with him, helping him by carrying his suitcase.

He says that the purpose of writing this book was to be a living witness to the effectiveness of the free education system and at least provide a hint to the younger generation, how blessed people like him who are  the beneficiaries of  this noble concept have been. Upon graduation from the Faculty of Agriculture, Jayatissa joined the Department of Agriculture and gradually rose up the ladder. During this time, he completed his M.Sc in Plant Protection at the University of Reading, U.K, under a scholarship from the UN FAO. After serving in a number of responsible positions in the Department of Agriculture as a member of the Sri Lanka Agricultural Service (SLAgS), he had risen to the position of  the  Deputy Director (Extension and Communication) of the Horticultural Research and Development Institute, Gannoruwa, by the time of his retirement.

Being the active man he is, Jayatissa continued to work on contractual assignments  for the European Union,  CARE Sri Lanka, the International Red Cross Society, UN Habitat in Pottuvil  etc.

Book facts
“Gin Gangabada Hostel Parippuwo”- by K.L.Jayatissa
Published by Nethwin Printers, Getambe, Kandy
Price Rs.300
Reviewed by A.Bedgar Perera

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