C.W.W.Kannangara - Father Of Free Education
Christopher William Wijekoon Kannangara had a dream. He transformed this dream into thoughts. If there are no dreams, there are no revolutionary thoughts. If there are no thoughts, no actions will emanate. As the first Minister of Education in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, C.W.W.Kannangara, fulfilled his dream by opening the door of Free Education to all children in this country. He was instrumental in bringing a social revolution by granting Free Education to all, from Primary to the University.
We all respect this great personality as the "Father of Free Education" in Sri Lanka. He is a National leader and a Great Son of Sri Lanka. He is a true PATRIOT, a person who loved his country.
June 4, 1944, was a red-letter day in the annals of Education in Sri Lanka. It was on this day, that C.W.W.Kannangara, as the Minister of Education presented the Free Education Bill in the State Council. His oratory was mesmerizing. His language rich and impeccable. In his inimitable style and his deep dulcet tones he uttered "The Great Roman Emperor Augustus once blew his own trumpet stating that he turned the brick laid Rome, in to marble laid Rome.
On this occasion, please allow me to say this. I humbly tell you, I am responsible in giving Free Education to all. Remember all this time, you got Education for a big price. You paid a very big sum. I opened a book, which was closed all this time. I opened the door of Education to the poor, which was once meant only for the so called Elite class of this country. It was once a right of HAVES only. I opened it to HAVE NOTS.
Education is an investment in a person's future. It is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Wisdom is the weapon to ward-off destruction It is an inner fortress which enemies cannot destroy. A process, beginning at birth of developing intellectual capacity, manual skills and social awareness, especially by instruction can be defined as Education. In its more restricted sense, the term Education refer to the process of imparting literacy, numeracy and a generally accepted body of knowledge.
C.W.W. Kannangara was born on October 13, 1884 to a highly respectable Middle class family from down South. He hailed from Randombe, a village sandwiched between Balapitiya and Ambalangoda. His parents were John Daniel Wijekoon Kannnagara, Fiscal officer of Balapitiya and Emily Wijesinghe of Weebadu Walauwa, Wewala, Hikkaduwa. They had seven children, two boys elder to C.W.W.Kannangara, and three girls.
Little Kannangara had his primary Education at a Wesleyan Mission school in Randombe. Even as a child, he showed promise and leadership. At the school prize giving, Kannangara shone like a bright star and collected all the prizes for his form. A leading Educationist, Cambridge Wrangler, (top Mathematician), Richmond College Principal Rev J.H.Darrel was the Chief Guest at this Prize Giving. Rev. Darrel was delighted. He patted little Kannangara and remarked "Son you may have to hire a Rickshaw to take home the books you collected.”
The prize- giving was the turning point of Kannangara's life. Rev. Darrel offered this bright child, a Richmond College Foundation Scholarship. This entitled him to free board and lodging at Richmond College, a great seat of learning in Sri Lanka. This incident made such a great impact on his young mind, that the origins of the ideal of Free Education started to take root in his thoughts as a school boy.
Kannangara was a versatile student. In 1903, he sat for the Cambridge Senior Examination, heading Ceylon and the British Empire list in Mathematics and brought credit, honour and glory to Sri Lanka.
He was a fine-sportsman. In 1903, young Kannangara, captained Richmond College First XI Cricket Team. He was a member of the College Soccer Team and excelled in Athletics. Further, he was the College Head Prefect and a member of the English Debating Team.
C.W.W. Kannangara, knowing the challenges that he himself faced in developing his capacities, he tried to make it possible for the young sons and daughters of Sri Lanka, to achieve their higher potential and to serve their motherland to the best of their ability.
Dr. Kannangara laid emphasis on Swabasha, but he insisted that children should learn English and compete with students of Elite schools. He was a man of multi-cultural reach. Further, he was very concerned about the poor Tamil children. Kannangara's philosophy was to give opportunities to all students of this country.
The concept of Central Colleges, originated from his idea of equity that could cover all children, irrespective of the circumstances in to which they were born. It is remarkable that the crop of Central Schools he started produced some of the most brilliant Academics, Administrator and Professionals. The characteristic of this group was that they gave their best for the welfare and advancement of the motherland. It was their unstinted commitment that helped the development of the country. The system initiated by Kannangara, produced, fortunately for Sri Lanka, a set of Leaders, who always put country before self.
Kannangara was instrumental in personally, choosing broad- minded , able, scholarly individuals as Principals of these Central Schools. The great Educational Practioneer late P.M.Jayatilake, was the Founder Principal of Ibbagamuwa Central College. Kannangara selected him, when Jayatilake was a teacher attached to St.Peters College, Bambalapitiya. He developed Ibbagamuwa Madhya Maha Vidyalaya , to be one of the most outstanding Educational institutions in the island. Kannangara hand-picked the best Principals to manage the Central Schools. Central Schools were started in Matugama, Nugawela, Walala, Sandalankava, Piliyandala,Tholangamuwa, Nakkawatta to name a few.
Kannangara's philosophy in Education was to grant equal opportunities to all children irrespective of the circumstances to which they were born. His Mission was to give a wide breadth of Educational Experiences through the establishment of Central School, which provided opportunities to them to develop their intellectual capacities , creativity and humanness. Kannangara advocated and made it possible for all children to study in their mother tongue.
When analyzing the Sessional paper 24 of 1943, the Report of the Special Committee of Education of , which Kannagara was chairperson, it showed that it covered two important aspects.
Firstly, every individual must have equal opportunity, so that, provided he has the necessary innate ability , he can lift himself from the humblest to the highest position in the social , economic and political life of the Nation.
Secondly, Education in a democratic society should be free at all stages, Thereby, children were provided Free Education from Kindergarten to University level in Sri Lanka. It was Kannangara who provided Free Education to Sri Lankan students, which is continued up to date.
C.W.W. Kannangara was a great Democrat, and a Patriot. He was a Social and Political Thinker. His contribution to the Education system of Sri Lanka inter alia, the scheme of Free Education leading to the democratization of Education, priority given to mother tongue in school Education, establishment of Central Schools to encourage rural talent, rural scheme of Education etc, is highly commendable.
His vision, thoughts and practices are conducive to the formation of Human Capital.His name will be written in Gold in the history of Sri Lanka. He was the man who revolutionized the Education System of the country.He is undoubtedly THE FATHER OF FREE EDUCATION.
When the Executive system was established under the Donoughmore Constitution in 1931. Kannangara was elected as the Chairperson of the Executive Committee on Education and was elected as the Minister of Education. This position he held for 16 years.
Kannangara started his life as a Teacher at Richmond College, Galle.He taught his favoutite subject Mathematics.Later, he served as a Teacher at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa and Wesley College, Colombo. While teaching, he studied Law and became an Attorney at Law and passed out as a Lawyer.
His mission was to serve the down-trodden. He entered the Political Arena. The greatest talent a Politician can have is, the ability to convey sincerity. He was always a man of honesty and integrity. He was meticulous,methodical, organized and flawless in whatever he did. Further, he was good debator and a fine speaker. In 1923, Kannangara contested the Galle by-election and entered the Council. He was re-elected in 1924.
Free education was his dream even before he brought the Free Education Bill. His Commitment for the future welfare of the children was remarkable. The following was one of the examples, out of many.
A girl who was successful at the Denham Scholarship ,granted to one child from each Province, was informed two years later, that the scholarship amount granted to her exceeded the maximum ceiling. This was due to the War Allowance paid to all Government servants in the early 1940. This child's father who was a Headmaster in a rural school met the Minister of Education Hon.C.W.W. Kannangara, and informed him of the injustice meted to this girl, who always topped her class at St. Johns College, Panadura. The father inquired whether Sri Lanka does not need the future services of able children such as this bright girl.
Minister Kannangara after examining her excellent school report cards, ordered the revocation of the earlier decision, made by the officers concerned and granted the Denham Scholarship to all children in the Island in similar circumstances. If not for Kannangara's timely intervention the girl would have had to revert to her village school and continue her studies in the vernacular stream.
The child, concerned was none other than the Internationally Reputed Educationist, Dr.Kamala Peiris Former Director of Primary Education, who did yeoman Service to Education in Sri Lanka. A few years back the Open University conferred Miss Kamala Peiris a Doctorate for the services she rendered to Education in Sri Lanka.
C.W.W.Kannangara's Central School concept was a great boon to the rural children. By 1941, there were 3 Central Schools. In 1945, it was increased to 35. By 1950, there were 50 Central Schools in the Island. Today, there are 57 Central Schools. The present Minister of Education Susil Premjayantha who himself is a beneficiary of Free Education, is committed to improve the standard of Education in Sri Lanka, have already given top priority to improve the infrastructure and the Standard of Central school. During the Kannangara Era, every electorate had one Central School. This helped the rural children further their Education and enter Universities.
Under the Donoughomore Constitution in 1931, he was elected to the State Council and was appointed as the Minister of Education, which he held for 16 years.
The first Education Executive of the State Council consisted of C.W.W. Kannangara, great Philanthropist H.W. Amarasuriya, who did yeomon service to improve Education in Ceylon, especially down South, W.T.B. Karaliyadda, A. Ratnayake, G.R.De Zoysa, P.E. Madewala, Dr.S.A. Wickramasinghe. They elected C.W.W. Kannangara as the Chairman of the Committee and thus he became the First Education Minister of Ceylon.
In addition to the sense of justice, Dr. Kannangara felt that giving special advantage to more intelligent children all over the country would result in a better group of leaders that would forge the future of Sri Lanka.
In appreciation of the service rendered by C.W.W. Kannangara to Education, the University of Ceylon conferred an Honorary Doctarate to C.W.W. Kannangara, at their first convocation held in 1946. Thus, he become Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara.
Dr. Kannangara, the gentlemanly Politician faced many challenges and opposition even from his own colleagues. It was an Era where the Elite Class, the "Top Hat and Tailcoat" culture dominated. They, very silently manouvered against this Great Leader. Although they did not show it openly, in their hearts, they did not like rural children developing their educational talents.Further, this so called Elite Class was not in favour of rural children gaining admission to the University.
Politics is almost exciting as war and quite dangerous. In War, you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.Dr. Kannangara, also faced a similar situation in politics.Politics is a funny game.Great honest men are rarely recognised in their own home. A National Hero, who did so much to elevate the poor in the field of Education, was defeated at the General Election in 1947. Wilmo A Perera of "Sri Palee Fame" was elected as a Member of Parliament defeating Kannangara.
After the defeat, he was appointed as the Ambassador to Indonesia, where he served from 1950-1952.
Again in 1952, he entered Parliament from Agalawatta. He was assigned the Portfolio of Minister of Housing and Local Government. Kannangara got married to Edith Weerasooria of Kandy a daughter of late Mudliyar J.C.weerasooria, sister of eminent Lawyer N.E. Weerasooria.Q.C. They were blessed with two children Dr.Chitraranjan Kannangara, specialist Gynochologist and daughter Kusuma, wife of Theobald Seneviratne,Ex.SLAS Officer.
Dr.Kannangara retired from Politics in the year 1956. The great leader, statemen and patriot crossed to the great beyond on September 23,1969. To honour this great Leader,on Monday June 8, 2009, Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara's statue was unveiled by the Minister of Education Susil Premjayantha at the Ministry of Education Premises Isurupaya, Battaramulla. To conclude this article I quote Thomas Gray's Elegy-
For Many a Gem of Purest Ray Serene, The dark unfathomed caves of Ocean bear, Full many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its Sweetness in the Desert Air.
Dr. Kannangara, true to his words, unearthed gems from the dark unfathomed caves of the ocean, He never allowed the flowers to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on Sri Lankan soil.
Text: Premasara Epasinghe