Prof. Indraratne - he made Economics Sinhala-friendly
week Reminiscences features a much loved and appreciated figure in the
field of education - Professor A.D.V. De S. Indraratna. He is an
authority on a large chunk of the history of university education in Sri
“When I joined the university, it was the University of Ceylon. At
that time I was working at the University of Peradeniya which was part
of the University of Ceylon that started in 1952. In 1965 I came to
Colombo when the second Arts Faculty was established there. However, it
was still under Peradeniya. I became the founder Professor of Economics
and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. So the Faculty of Social
Sciences in the University of Colombo really started with me as its
founder Dean,” stated Professor Indraratna.
Professor A. D. V. De S. Indraratne
At that time the Head of the Department of Economics at Peradeniya
wanted him to come to Colombo to organize the department here. “Ever
since that, I was here, but I was teaching at both places from 1963 to
1965. But in 1965 I decided to come to Colombo for good, and give up
teaching at Peradeniya, because I had a lot of work to do in organizing
the department and all,” said Professor Indraratna.
Sinahala medium instruction
Professor Indraratna was one of the pioneers who worked hard to help
the switch over to Swabasha - introducing Sinahala medium instruction.
“The government decided as a lateral policy to switch over to Swabasha
as the medium of instruction in 1945. So the stream of Swabasha students
came into the university in 1960. We had no option but to teach them in
Sinhala because they were educated in the vernacular medium - Sinhala
and Tamil. There were many people in the university including the then
Vice Chancellor Sir Ivor Jennings who thought that it would not be
possible to teach Economics in Sinhala.”
However, people like F.R. Jayasuriya took up the challenge alongside
Professor Indraratna. They were determined to overcome this obstacle,
teaching Economics in Sinhala. Then Professor Indraratna started
teaching economic principles in Sinhala, and with experience of one year
of teaching, he introduced this book called ‘Mila Nyaya,’ which began to
serve as a textbook, for the first year G.C.E Advanced Level, and the
first year students at the university. Even today it is considered a
competent textbook on economic theory at the university.
Professor Indraratna asserted that before the introduction of free
education and subsequently to switch over to Swabasha as the medium of
instruction, the education in English was limited to the elite. But the
introduction of free education left the door wide open for education to
everybody. Professor Indraratna also added that people think better or
begin to think originally in their own mother tongue.
Therefore he felt that switching over to the mother tongue as the
medium of instruction was a good thing. “But that doesn’t mean we should
give up a world language, like English. We probably made a mistake by
not making English compulsory from Grade 3 onwards. In fact, this was
the recommendation of the National Education Commission of 1960 of which
I was a member.”
Asked what his recollections were of former Vice Chancellors,
Professor Indraratna said that he began to serve at Peradeniya
University under Sir Ivor Jennings from 1952, almost 60 years ago. Sir
Ivor was the man who was responsible for building up the University of
Peradeniya. He tried to build it up on the model of Cambridge University
because he came here from Cambridge University. In fact the site was
selected also by him and he designed the whole university: the halls of
residence and the faculty, library all of which were done under his
direction. At the end of 1952, it became a fully fledged university,
with all the facilities that could be had in a university.
“The university under Jennings was not second to any other university
in the world,” maintained Professor Indraratna.
Currently the Colombo University has a fully fledged department
called ‘Demography’ and it is interesting to note that Professor
Indraratna played a crucial role in the development of this new
discipline even though he was the Professor of Economics.
First, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Demographic
Unit at the Colombo University. “I was the Dean of the Faculty of Social
Sciences at that time, and there was a rapidly growing population
because in the late 40s and early 50s the population was growing at a
very rapid rate of between 2 percent and 3 percent. This kind of growing
population is something our country couldn’t cope with given the limited
“This rapidly growing population was a hindrance to development. At
that time the population studies were not popular here. Knowing the
relevance of this subject, I initiated negotiations for foreign funding
from the United Nations Fund for Population Activity and got a grant of
250,000 US Dollars, which in 1974 was a very big amount. So with that
money I built a unit with all the equipment and a library and I also got
two foreign experts on the project to come and formulate the programme
for population studies. An international seminar on population studies
was held and its proceedings were published. I introduced a programme in
1975 called Diploma in Population Studies”, elaborated Professor
He was also instrumental in creating a Demographic Map of Sri Lanka
for the first time and these were some of the pioneering work that he
did. He was the founder director of that unit from 1974-1978.
Professor Indraratna recalled a time when he was invited by Dr.
Stanley Kalpage, the then chairman of the University Grants Commission,
to join the UGC. He was appointed Director of Planning and Research in
1982. He worked there for 12 long years during which time, he introduced
the statistical handbook - Statistics of University Education. He also
brought out a corporate plan on university education for the first time,
followed by annual implementation plans.
“I had no political affiliations, whichever government needed my
services I made my services available. So during various governments I
served various committees in an advisory capacity.”
Admired by many, Professor Indraratna received two felicitations. One
at the end of 1994 when his students published a felicitation volume.
More recently ont his 80th birthday they had a rather big felicitation,
with a book containing 29 papers written by him over the years. This was
attended by a large gathering of students, colleagues and well wishers
at the BMICH, and the Chief Guest at the ceremony was then Prime
Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake.
“I was overwhelmed with joy in the sense that I saw what sort of
gratitude people still had for me.”