Friday, 14  February 2003  
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Prof. J. E. Jayasuriya - a tribute to an outstanding educationist

by Prof. Chandra Gunawardena

Today, the 14th of February, 2003, is the 85th birth anniversary of Prof. J. E. Jayasooriya, a great teacher who has guided thousands of students to be committed and effective as teachers, teacher educators, university academics and educational administrators in positions of eminence, nationally and internationally.

Prof. J. E. Jayasooriya
Prof. J. E. Jayasooriya

Prof. Jayasuriya made an indelible impact on the discipline that he taught, Mathematics; through his textbooks and advocacy of new teaching approaches to its teaching, on the teacher education system, as a university teacher, educator and by initiating an under-graduate pre-service teacher education programme; and on the educational thinking in this country as a national educational reformer and through his large number of publications as a disseminator of knowledge on education. He truly personified the ideal university teacher, dedicated to the three goals of a university: teaching, research and service to society.

Born in Ahangama, Prof. Jayasuriya had his early education at Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda and Anuruddha Vidyalaya and his secondary education at Wesley College, Colombo. His brilliant career as a student was crowned with success on being awarded a first class honours degree in Mathematics in 1939.

His interest in education was manifested by his acceptance of the founder principal's position of Dharmapala Vidyalaya, Pannipitiya, at the age of 21. During the period when the concept of "excellent schools" (Central Colleges) was being put into operation, the then Minister of Education, Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara identified Prof. Jayasuriya to be the principal of the Central College in his own electorate, Matugama. Prof. Jayasuriya's academic brilliance and dynamic action was given recognition with this appointment.

Prof. Jayasuriya's dedication to the cause of education did not cease at the point of teaching and school administration. The series of Mathematics books written by him were very popular in Sri Lankan schools for well over two decades, used by teachers and pupils alike until the subject of Integrated Mathematics was introduced to the school system. For Prof. Jayasuriya the shift from teaching to teacher education was a natural transition and he became the lecturer in charge of Mathematics education at the Teachers' Training College, Maharagama. Today when the achievement of children in Mathematics is at a low ebb, we can only remember wistfully about the contribution of that great Mathematics teacher.

On his return to Sri Lanka after successfully obtaining a Masters Degree in Education, from the Institute of Education, University of London, he was appointed as a lecturer in the Department of Education of the then University of Ceylon, Colombo. His distinguished career as a university academic had begun. In 1957, he was appointed as the Professor of Education, the first Sri Lankan to hold that post.

In his capacity as the Professor and the Head of the Department, Prof. Jayasuriya systematized and strengthened the modalities of professional development of graduate teachers in the country. His contribution in this sphere was immensely significant, especially during the formative years of the Department when programmes of study relevant to the national context had to be developed and much needed research in education had to be undertaken by a small number of university academics who themselves became in later years eminent teacher educators, researchers and policymakers.

Efforts taken by him to develop the younger staff, by securing the best training opportunities in foreign universities, by guiding them in their individual research as well as collaborative research by monitoring and encouragement can never be underestimated.

Many a colleague of Prof. Jayasuriya has referred to him as an educationist with a vision, a vision for education - his field of study and a vision for Sri Lanka - his beloved country, which could be achieved through education. It was this vision that steered him into proposing the first undergraduate degree in education - the Bachelor of Education, to ensure the pre-service training of graduate teachers. Even though the programme was suspended after a few years of operation, the selection mechanism and the quality of the programme ensured a high quality of output. The majority of the first generation of B.Ed. graduates who have achieved high professional status, even in international organizations, testify to the foresight of Prof. Jayasuriya in developing this programme.

The first National Education Commission ever to be appointed, of which Prof. Jayasuriya was the Chairman, proposed far-reaching reforms in many areas of education. Prof. Laksiri Jayasuriya comments at length on his qualities as a Chairman - integrity, sense of independence, objectivity and fairness in the conduct of the Commission's proceedings. His passion for equity and justice runs through his writings, through his outspoken criticism of any proposal that runs counter to the cardinal principle of equity which he espoused.

Kamala Peiris selected his characteristic of fearlessness in exercising his freedom to think and his creativity and innovation as the theme of the Memorial Lecture delivered by her. She refers to Prof. Jayasuriya as one of the two persons who influenced her professional life but there surely must be several hundreds more whose professional life Prof. Jayasuriya had helped to mould.

Prof. Jayasuriya's farsightedness was clearly demonstrated when in 1970, ten years before the establishment of the Open University of Sri Lanka, he appreciated the immense potential of Distance Education in delivering education to the people of developing countries.

The Open University in the two decades of its existence has proven its capability to realize this expectation to a great extent. After its establishment, Prof. Jayasuriya contributed to the development of the Department of Education as a Consultant and also as a member of the Open University Council. In recognition of his contribution to the University, the Open University conferred on him an honorary doctorate (as was also done by the University of Colombo).

The Jayasuriya family has instituted the annual award of a Gold Medal in memory of Prof. Jayasuriya for the student with the best performance in the Postgraduate Diploma in Education examination conducted by the Open University. I am distinctly privileged as a member of the academic staff of the Department of Education of the Open University to make this tribute to Prof. Jayasuriya just two weeks after the establishment of our own Faculty of Education. Prof. Jayasuriya took an equal interest in the development of other institutions created to improve the quality of education in the country.

He was a Consultant to the Department of Teacher Education of the National Institute of Education and a member of its Council. His valuable collection of books was gifted to the NIE and is housed in the J.E. Jayasuriya Museum of its library.

Prof. Jayasuriya's active involvement in university administration as the Head of the Department and at times as Acting Dean or Vice Chancellor, did not direct him away from the academic pursuits of research and scholarly writing. I still vividly remember him sitting in a corner of the Education Section of the Peradeniya University Library during his sabbatical leave studiously going through references before he re-appeared with a publication. The intelligence test that he developed for Sri Lanka and his standardised version of the Raven's Non-Verbal Test were instruments used in testing for many years.

He fearlessly and critically analysed any proposal on education that was put forward by policy-makers if they did not meet his standards, "often couched in pithy language, sometimes inacerbic tone", as was noted by Prof. Laksiri Jayasuriya.

Prof. Jayasuriya authored several books and monographs, amounting to around 200 publications both in English and Sinhala. The impact of his publications was perhaps greatest in the areas of comparative education and population education. Scholarly work by him on "Educational Policies and Progress during the British Rule in Ceylon" and Education in Ceylon: Before and After Independence" were avidly relished by the postgraduate students, appreciating the incisive thinking, deep analyses and sharp criticisms of the political and administrative bureaucracy contained therein.

His interest in analysing the developments in education of Korea, Malaysia and Third World guided the university curriculum developers into the inclusion of the study of educational systems of Asian countries in the comparative education syllabuses. Prof. Jayasuriya made his impact felt on the international scene in education by serving the UNESCO as its Regional Adviser in Population Education at the Regional Office of Education, Bangkok from 1971 to 1976.

Prof. Jayasuriya with his unique professional experience and strong commitment to population education was appointed to lead a team of specialists to help the countries of the region develop population education programs. With his team of educationists he developed and published the Sourcebook on Population Education in Asia which was influential in developing the techniques and programs of population education in the region. He continued to collaborate with UNESCO even after retirement.

Educationists and university academics invited to deliver the annual J.E. Jayasuriya Memorial Lectures since its inception have respectfully extolled his outstanding qualities: a university teacher - incisive intellect, breadth of vision, clarity of purpose and admired his thought-provoking carefully-planned, well-prepared and lucidly-delivered lectures. In addition to these valued qualities of scholarship and teaching, all of them have remembered with affection his human qualities - wit, humour, sensitivity, friendship, paternal affection and unfailing encouragement.

I came to know Prof. Jayasuriya during the most important period of my academic career - its formative stage as an Assistant Lecturer and this tutelage has had a lasting effect on my professional life. I learnt from him that university academics are given academic freedom and flexibility to devote time for professional work only. As a true teacher rejoicing in the achievements of his students and younger colleagues,he gave me unstinting encouragement during my period of doctoral studies and subsequently to engage in research and publications.

In the present era of moral decadence in our country, it is pertinent to reflect on the personal qualities of Prof. Jayasuriya. He was modest and simple in his ways and had a high sense of propriety, social responsibility and ethical standards. He was in every sense, a role model for his students and junior colleagues to emulate, not only in his professional stature but also in his demonstration of personal moral integrity.

Hundreds of people who benefited from their association with Prof. Jayasuriya scattered over the country and even overseas, would reminisce with gratitude the invaluable impact he made on their professional life.

Perhaps the happiest of them would be Prof. Asoka Jayasena, the former Head of the Department of Education, University of Peradeniya, who prevailed upon the Teacher Education and Teacher Deployment Project of the Ministry of Education to gift a fabulous three-storeyed building for the Department and obtained the concurrence of the Council of the University of Peradeniya to dedicate it to the memory of our great teacher, Prof. J.E. Jayasuriya.

The Prof. J.E. Jayasuriya Memorial Building of the University of Peradeniya was ceremoniously declared open by Prof. B.L. Panditharatne on the 15th of November 2002.

(The writer is Dean, Faculty of Education, The Open University of Sri Lanka)

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