It is an honour to write about this unparalleled educationist whose service to Sri Lankan education is unprecedented. His service to education starts with being the founder Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya Pannipitiya in 1940. After a long career in various educational institutions, he ended up as the Faculty of Education Dean at the University of [...]


Prof. J. E. Jayasuriya: the epitome of Sri Lankan Education Philosophy


It is an honour to write about this unparalleled educationist whose service to Sri Lankan education is unprecedented. His service to education starts with being the founder Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya Pannipitiya in 1940. After a long career in various educational institutions, he ended up as the Faculty of Education Dean at the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya and then UNESCO Consultant on Third World Education in Bangkok.

Prof. J. E. Jayasuriya

I, being a Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya, would like first to dwell on his strategies to bring up Dharmapala starting with a wattle and daub cadjan hall. Later I shall deal with his rise to the level of the most resourceful educationist. I also experienced his knowledge of education as a student under him during my Diploma in Education at the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya when he was the Dean of the Education Faculty.

At the inauguration function of Dharmapala Vidyalaya, Mr. P.D.S. Kularatna introduced the pioneer principal thus: “A 22 year old energetic gentleman with the highest educational qualification has been appointed as principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya. That fact itself I see as a good sign to the future development of Dharmapala Vidyalaya.” This prophecy has become true of Dharmapala Vidyalaya’s development as the premier mixed school in the island.

His simplicity and humbleness in spite of the highest positions he achieved may lie in the simple of J.E.J in remote village of Ahangama as the son of the postmaster there. The father’s profession being transferable J.E.J. started his primary education at Anuradha Vidyalaya in Nawalapitiya. When his father got transferred to Ambalangoda he was admitted to Dharmasoka Vidyalaya in Ambalangoda. Once he passed the seventh standard, he sat for the entrance exams of Ananda Vidyalaya and Wesley College in Colombo. He passed both tests winning first place. Though Mr. P. D. S. Kularatna offered him a scholarship at Ananda his father preferred Wesley College. This bright student passed the Cambridge Senior Examination winning third place among students of the British Empire. Subsequently having won a scholarship to the Colombo University College and following mathematics as the major subject he got a first class pass in the London University Examination. This educational background must have laid the foundation to become a philosopher later.

He was humble enough to take up the post of Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya though Mr. P.D.S. Kularatna said he could not promise a reasonable salary but shall allocate a sum depending on the school fees collected. In the end in January 1941, he was paid a paltry Rs 225 as the salary.

When he started as Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya in 1940 it had only a semi-permanent wattle and daub cadjan hall, and a semi completed hall. And the staff had many elders to him and some students among the 350 on the roll too were older to him. However, he had the sharp intelligence and soft-spoken words and a capacity to explain lucidly even a subject as difficult as mathematics.

Three weeks after he assumed duties at Dharmapala he was called up to the Ceylon Civil Service interview. Though he had passed the Civil Service exam with the highest marks he failed the viva interview because the chairman of the interview board was the Education Director L. Mac. de Robinson, a British man. He scoffed at J.E.J’s post of Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya and the fact that J.E.J couldn’t tell his exact salary. So he was not selected to the civil service. Realising they devalued the dedication to service irrespective of the salary J.E.J. decided to dedicate his future to education.

He considered as a blessing in disguise the fact that he lost the chance to be a civil servant because he was Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya.

Since he became Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya all his efforts and energy were directed to bring up its education to the highest level and develop infrastructure facilities. With his able administration and dedication of the staff and the support of Mr. P.D.S. Kularatna and well-wishers, within a short period Dharmapala achieved a prestige not second to Ananda Vidyalaya. With the fast increase of student population with the support of donors within one year he got built a row of new classrooms. Further having realised the importance of sports and athletics for the balanced mental development of students he developed a playground, to develop aesthetic he organised variety entertainments with famous artists performing. And to motivate students he started the year end prize giving.

These accounts show his total capacity and understanding and dedication to education. After laying the foundation for Dharmapala Vidyalaya to develop to its present state, in 1942 he was appointed as Deputy Principal of the much-developed Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya in Hikkaduwa. Later Mr. C.W.W. Kannangara appreciating J.E.J’s capacity and ability as a principal and an educationist appointed him as the Principal of Central College in Matugama.

In 1947 J.E.J. joined the University of London for his Post Graduate Diploma in Education and obtained the master’s degree in education later.

In a statement to the Dharmapala Vidyalaya magazine 1940-1980 he said: “Because the period I was at Dharmapala was limited to about one year I believe my service to Dharmapala was minimal. But from the day I became Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya all my efforts were to organise teaching to bring education to the highest level possible. The fact I was not selected to the civil service because of Dharmapala, I regard as a blessing.” This statement sums up his humbleness and dedication to education.

After coming back to Sri Lanka from London he worked as a mathematics lecturer in the Maharagama Training College and in 1952 joined the Education Faculty at the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya and in 1957 became its Dean. This account so far traces the history of J.E.J. and his rise to the top in the education arena.

I shall now briefly narrate other lasting contributions he has done to Education in Sri Lanka which most of us educationists know about, particularly retold by the orators and writers at the annual J.E. Jayasuriya memorial commemoration on his birthday—February 14. This is his 104th birthday anniversary.

By facilitating the offering of Post Graduate diploma in Education through the colleges of cducation, making research to maintain cordial relationships between teachers and parents and authoring several books on education and statistics are a few of his services to the national education system. By inaugurating Bachelor of Education Degree at the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya in 1962, the effort he made to bring out experts in education administration is another successful national endeavor on his part.

In 1961 he was appointed as the Chairman of the National Education Commission. In this capacity he gave leadership to several education reforms to bring our education system in par with exemplary systems in developed countries. Though most of the proposals were not implemented then they still hold relevant to overcome some of the startling drawbacks in our present education system in schools and in the universities in the present socio-economic political context.

I note down some of the recommendations with attention to detail of the N.E.C to which J.E.J. gave leadership as follows:

The compulsory school going age to be between six to 14 years to be enacted by legislation.

The duration of school hours during the day, the school days during the week and the number of days school should be held during the year–minimum being 210 days. It also recommends the variation of school calendar to accommodate harvesting and agricultural areas to prevent children’s attendance at school falling.

The importance of health and physical education is also highlighted for the development of a total child.

The report also stressed the need for work experience in secondary school children. However, the secondary education in our system continues to be teaching of subject matter oriented to examinations.

Long before the United Nations recognised the right of every child to education in the 1988 Convention of the Rights of the Child the N.E.C stated that education should be provided as that birth right of every child.

In recognition of his excellent service to Education J.E.J. was awarded the “Sahithya Chakrawarthi” Honourary Degree by the University of Colombo and the “Vidya Vishsarada” Honourary Degree by the Open University in 1982. An exemplary teacher, administrator, author, researcher and policy maker, he has attained international fame.

He left our nation on January 23, 1990. We need the participation of professionals of the calibre of Prof. J.E. Jayasuriya to bring our education system to the level he prophesied.


S.H. Kumarasinghe

Retired Principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya and Royal College

Member of SLAAED


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