Prof J E Jayasuriya:
Educationist par excellence
Education Department of Ceylon University in 1957 was shifted from
Colombo to Peradeniya as a Department in the Faculty of Arts of the
Ceylon University. After Prof Green, JEJ became the First Ceylonese
Professor of Education of the Ceylon University. JEJ functioned as
Professor of Education and Head of Education Department from 1957-1971.
Prof J E
He also served as the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Ceylon University,
Peradeniya during the period 1964-1965. The prestigious position JEJ
held in Peradeniya enabled him to introduce the Bachelor of Education (B
Ed) Course and to experiment with several new ideas pertaining to
teacher training at a time when Education Policy-makers were paying
scant attention to the professional development of teachers.
Teachers with B Ed degree and/or Post-Graduate Diploma in Education
who were privileged to be his students still remember and speak with
gratitude Prof Jayasuriya’s remarkable ability in presenting and
discussing complex psychological concepts and theories and different
methodologies in educational evaluation and measurement in a very simple
and interesting manner and showing their relevance to life as well as to
Many of his students who are presently holding senior academic and
executive positions and diplomatic assignments perform exemplary
services in their relevant fields with commitment and dedication keeping
up the high ideals inculcated by him.
The series of 12 Sinhala medium books JEJ wrote and published in the
1950s to present the subjects Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry in a
simplified manner to students and teachers of Grades VI-IX under the
titles Ganitha Navodaya, Veeja Ganithaya and Seegra Jyamithiya were the
most popular Mathematics books in schools for nearly two decades until
the advent of New Mathematics.
New Approach Arthmetic (Grades VI-VIII), Kumara Buddhi Pareekshana
(Grade V) and Adhyapana Vidya Lipi (1974) are three other publications
In March 1961 Prof J E Jayasuriya was appointed as the Chairman of
the First National Education Commission (NEC) which comprised 20 members
including Dr C W W Kannangara and L H Mettananda, S Natesan, T
Vimalananda, S H Perimpanayagam, D T Devendra, K L V Alagiyawanna and A
D V De S Indraratne.
Unified national system
The Commission was requested to examine and make a comprehensive
review of Ceylon’s entire educational system and make recommendations
for the establishment of a unified national system of education with
special reference to the organization, grading and classification of
The NEC submitted an Interim Report under 21 heads in October 1961
and the Final Report under 33 heads in July 1962. The report mostly
authored by JEJ himself recommended far reaching changes in many areas
of the education system.
It has been a model for similar exercises in many other developing
The NEC found that no legislation existed in Ceylon at the time
making education compulsory for all children between the ages of five to
14 and recommended that legislation be enacted defining the compulsory
school age. However, compulsory education was legalized only in 1998.
Among the other recommendations are: admission of children of five
years to school, making Sinhala and Tamil as media of instruction,
introduction of English as an optional subject from Grade V, making
schools co-educational in character, provision of a Basic eight year
Junior school (Kanishta Vidyalaya) consisting of a lower division
(Grades I-V) and an upper division (Grade VI-VIII) and a network of four
types of Senior schools (Jyeshta Vidyalayas) for education beyond Grade
VIII giving opportunities for students to develop their special
interests. The types of schools (A, B, C and D) recommended were: A for
students with an interest in Agricultural studies, B for the field of
technology, C for pure science studies and D for humanities or
J E Jayasuriya Commission
It was suggested that pupils finishing Grade VIII be advised in their
choice of schools by making available to them and their parents full
details regarding the courses of study provided in the different types
of schools, the occupational opportunities to which they open the doors
and the facilities for more advanced studies at the university level for
those who qualify in due course for such studies.
The problem of curricular diversification received the active
attention of the NEC which achieved unanimity among its 20 members on
this vital issue. The curriculum recommended for Grs. VI-VIII was:
Religion, Sinhala/ English/ Tamil, Official Language, Elementary
Mathematics, General Science (including Health Science), Ceylon and
World History (Grs. VI-VII) and Ceylon Geography (Gr. VIII), Civics (Gr.
VIII only), Art, Physical Education, Wood Work or Metal Work for boys,
Home Science for girls and Work Experience (a period or day in school
garden or paddy field or practising at school a cottage industry
prevalent in the area.) The unit of zoning recommended at the senior
school level was the electorate each of which to be entitled to a quota
of Senior schools.
The scheme of zoning advocated was to ensure that every school would
serve all the children in a given geographical area and that no test of
economic status or religious affiliation would be applied in the matter
Prof W Ariyadasa de Silva in delivering the eighth JEJ Memorial
Lecture in 1998 on the subject ‘A case for Professionalisation of
Secondary Education in Sri Lanka’, after a detailed analysis of the
Jayasuriya Commission Report observed the ‘it should reflect very
creditably on the NEC that it anticipated the recommendations of the
Delors International Commission by exactly 35 years as far as Sri Lanka
was concerned’. Learning: The Treasure Within, the Report to Unesco of
the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century chaired
by Jacques Delors was first published in 1996 by the Unesco, Prof de
Silva added:’..... The recommendations of these two commissions are so
similar, almost identical, that one may quite easily look upon the
Delors International Commission as a reincarnation of the J E Jayasuriya
Comments on 1964 White Paper
After considering the J E Jayasuriya Commission Report and the T P de
S Munasinghe Commission report on Technical Education submitted in
February 1963, the Government issued in February 1964 a White Paper
entitled ‘Proposals for a National System of Education.’
JEJ critically examined the Proposals of the 1964 White Paper (W P)
and published his observations in his 1964 publication entitled ‘Some
Issues in Ceylon Education.’
He started his comments by confessing: ‘as it was my privilege to be
the Chairman of the NEC, a commitment on my part to many of the NEC
Recommendations is to be expected. However, it is my hope that this bias
may have been balanced by my conviction that there can be more than one
solution to an educational problem: and that the NEC was by no means in
exclusive possession of the best solutions’.
It was JEJ’s view that W P departed from NEC recommendations on some
vital and crucial issues. He concluded: ‘the purpose of this analysis
was to examine the implications of the proposals for education in the
White Paper, especially the implications that are hidden under a sugar
coating of facile phraseology (eg regarding the provision of schools,
co-education at the post-Basic stage) and to focus attention on the
limitations of the proposals from the point of view of planning a
rational system of education that would on the one hand bring a good
education within the reach of every child, irrespective of the economic
condition or the social status of his/her parents, and on the other hand
gear education to the economic needs of the country’.
JEJ added: ‘one of the most disquieting features of the White Paper
is that by and large it stands for the maintenance of the status quo,
with the minimum disturbance to the interests of the well-to-do parent.
No other explanation is possible of the way in which some of the NEC
proposals, as for example, the proposal on the zoning of schools, have
been rejected or rendered ineffectual....I find in all sincerity that
almost every departure in the White Paper from the NEC recommendations
is a departure for the worse’.
Although the 1964 W P was tabled in Parliament the government was
defeated before a discussion on it could take place.
The NEC report was also put into cold storage as with every proposal,
project and concept that is good and productive for the country.