His pioneering Sinhala textbooks shaped generations of students

D.F.E. Panagoda

The 18th death anniversary of eminent educationist and scholar D. F.E. Panagoda falls on November 18. The pioneering services he rendered in post-independence Sri Lanka paved the way for the consequent growth and development of education in this country. Mr. Panagoda was many things – a trainer of teachers, mathematician, author, educationist, artist, and above all, unassuming, kind-hearted, and cheerful man. D.F.E. Panagoda was principal of Musaeus Teachers’ Training College for a quarter century, from 1937 to 1962. He helped train outstanding female teachers who nurtured generations of students across the country. But he is better known as a mathematician and author of textbooks.
Don Francis Edmund Panagoda was born in Malabe, in the Colombo district, on March 7, 1907. His father and mother were both teachers, and his four sisters also became teachers. This background no doubt influenced his decision to become a teacher himself.

He attended Royal College, Colombo, from 1918 to 1925, where he gained his Cambridge Senior Certificate. He obtained an English teacher’s certificate at the Maharagama Teacher Training School, and in 1932 took up a teaching post with the Department of Education. He later took up a post as a lecturer at the Mirigama Teacher Training School (1933), before becoming principal of the Musaeus Teachers’ Training College.

He obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of London in 1947, majoring in Sinhala. Although he studied Sinhala and Pali for his bachelor’s degree, he also excelled in mathematics. He went to Canada in 1952 for further studies at the University of Toronto as the first recipient of a Colombo Plan Fellowship in education.

Long before Sinhala became the official language, educationists such as D.F.E. Panagoda were pioneering the teaching of algebra, geometry and arithmetic in Sinhala. Mr. Panagoda made this possible through his user-friendly mathematics textbooks. His Sinhala publications, including ‘Senior School Algebra’, ‘Senior School Arithmetic’, ‘Teaching of Arithmetic’, ‘Delight in Numbers’ (Books 1 to 5), were used widely in schools from 1940 to 1960. Some of the Sinhala mathematical terms Mr. Panagoda coined have become standard terms in mathematics.

He was also interested in language and literature, especially poetry. His other publications include ‘Padya Rasaya’ (a seven-volume series of poetry books), ‘Rasanjalee’, an anthology of Sinhala verse, and ‘Sinhala In Practice’ (a five-volume series). All of these books were widely used in schools as supplementary texts during the ’50s. Those who were students in the ’50s and ’60s would no doubt have fond memories of these books.

Mr. Panagoda served on several committees to promote the use of Sinhala as the medium of instruction. In 1960, he was appointed to the National Co-ordination Committee of UNESCO.

Educationists like Mr. Panagoda have rendered an inestimable service to the country by giving new generations of students access to higher education in Sinhala.

As the male head of a women’s college, Mr. Panagoda was a strict disciplinarian, but his kindness and understanding gave him an iconic status among schoolteachers in our country.

Mr. Panagoda will be remembered by many: immaculately dressed, cheerfully walking the corridors of Musaeus Training College.

I end this tribute with a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that my maternal uncle would often quote:

The heights by great men
Reached and kept
Were not attained by
Sudden flight

But they, while their companions
Were toiling upwards
In the night.

He would quote this each time he admonished us, and that was exactly what he practised to become recognised as a great man of achievement.

Upali Cooray

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