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C.W.W. Kannangara 

Father of free education

September 23, 2003 was the 34th death anniversary of Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara who introduced the Free Education System to the Nation of Sri Lanka.

He was born on October 13, 1884 at Randombe a suburb of Ambalangoda to the family of John Daniel Wijekoon Kannangara of Loolbadduwa in Ittapana, Matugama in the Kalutara District, the Deputy Fiscal Officer in the Balapitiya Courts and Emaly Wijesinghe of Weebadu Walauwa of Wewala, Hikkaduwa in the Galle District. He obtained his primary education at Weslyan English High School at Ambalangoda and entered Richmond College, Galle on a Scholarship.

He got through the Cambridge Local Junior in 1899 with distinction in mathematics and got through Cambridge Senior in 1901.

He not only excelled in studies, but also in sports. He captained the College Cricket Team and won his colours at football. He was also a fine debater and an actor. After his studies in Richmond College, he continued being appointed to the tutorial staff. After his role there, he joined Prince of Wales College, as a teacher in mathematics. Then he joined the tutorial staff of Wesley College, Colombo in 1907. He also taught at Methodist College, Colpetty.

He passed the Proctor's Intermediate Examination in the year 1908 and Proctor's Final in the Year 1910. He ended his role as a teacher at the Wesley College in the same year and commenced lucrative practice in law in Galle.

He joined the Temperance Movement initiated by the leaders such as Sir D.B. Jayatilleke, Messers D.S. Senanayake, F.R. Senanayake and Arthur V. Dias and actively worked with them.

He entered the political arena, joining the Ceylon National Congress which was formed in 1919. He married Edith Weerasuriya, daughter of Gate Mudliyar J.C. Weerasuriya of Kandy in 1922 and he became a member of the Education Committee in the year 1929.

He was elected to the Legislative Council in 1923 as the member for Galle District filling the vacancy caused by the demise of Mr. O.C. Tillekaratne. He became the President of the Ceylon National Congress in 1931 and was elected as the member for Galle under the Donoughmore Constitution at the first election to the State Council in the same year. Further he was appointed the first Minister of Education, which he held up to the year 1947.

He attempted several reforms in his tenure of 16 years in the capacity of the Chairman of the Executive Committee for Education and the Minister of Education. Mr. Kannangara who was the first Minister to take to the National costume in the State Council, commenced to give free mid-day meal to the students in 1935, as a relief measure during the malaria epidemic. He extended his food drive to the students in a more prosperous manner during the 2nd World War.

In 1943 as the head of the Special Committee on Education recommended the free education system from Kindergarten to the University Education. In the year 1943 he introduced the Free Education Bill in the State Council. Since then he had to face much inconveniences from many quarters. He spoke six and half hours to convince the other members to vote for the Bill.

He was also attacked by the media as well as the members during the debate of the Legislation on Education. Mr. Kannangara was supported by Messrs Dudley Senanayake, A. Ratnayake, J. R. Jayewardene, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, Dr. N. M. Perera.

Dr. E. W. Adikaram, Dr. G. P. Malalasekera and Mr. L. H. Metthananda led the public campaign in support of Mr. Kannangara. After much debate, it was approved for implementation. On October 1, 1945 it came into operation. The main recommendations were:-

I. Schools and training both state and denominational, will continue and the opening and running of new schools will be the responsibility of the state.

II. No school fee will be charged in the Government and assisted schools. Games Fees (up to Rs. 6 annually could be collected.)

III. Medium of instruction will be the mother tongue in the Primary School. The mother tongues and English could be used in the secondary classes. However English was to be taught as a compulsory subject.

IV. Compulsory education should be from 5-16 years of age.

V. Religious education to be provided to children in all schools.

VI. Estate schools to be developed into state Primary Schools and integrated into the National Education System.

VII. Full salaries for teachers of all schools, state and assisted, should be paid by the state direct to the teachers.

VIII. Mid-day meals to be provided to the needy pupils.

IX. Adult education to be designed and developed.

The primary factor in the program of implementation was the set-up of good schools and teaching staff well qualified, equal to those in the English schools.

Christopher William Wijekoon Kannangara, the Father of Free Education System in this country was honoured with a LLD (Honoris Causa) by the University of Ceylon and D LITT by the Vidyodaya University in 1961.

He breathed his last on September 23, 1969.
May he attain Nibbana.

- Walter Wijenayaka

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