Prof J E Jayasuriya: Educationist par excellence -
D S Mettananda
Prof J E Jayasuriya
- First Ceylonese Prof of Education
- Functioned in that post from 1957 to 1971
- Served as Peradeniya University Arts
Faculty Dean in 1964
- Wrote 12 Sinhala books
- Appointed first NEC Chairman in 1961
After JEJ’s premature retirement from the post of Professor of
Education in 1971 he was invited by UNESCO to take up the post of
Regional Adviser, UNESCO Regional Office for Education in Asia, Bangkok.
He served in this capacity until 1976.
It was under his leadership that UNESCO initiated in 1972-73,
national population education programs in the Republic of Korea,
Phillipines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Thailand.
These programs received the personal attention of JEJ and developed into
training sites for hundreds of educators all round the world.
JEJ’s UNESCO colleagues were highly impressed by his organizational
ability and dynamic leadership with which he conducted the workshops and
encouraged the free flow ideas at a time when population education was
being conceived as another name for family planning - a very sensitive
issue at the time.
JEJ guided his Asian colleagues in expanding the conceptual framework
and designing the strategies to integrate population education concepts
in different development programs. He was fully committed to develop
among children and adults, a sense of responsibility and rational
decision making abilities while facing problems of rapid population
growth and poverty.
Because of his pioneering contribution in defining the concept of
population education, developing its content and related training
programs he is considered as the ‘father’ of Population Education in the
In 1980 JEJ made a detailed analysis of the Korean Education System
in his book entitled ‘Education in Korea - A Third World Success Story’.
He had a two-fold purpose in writing this book, namely, ‘(1) to make
known to educational planners and administrators in other Third World
countries the Korean experience in education, for it shows what a
country can achieve, given a firm determination and a sense of purpose,
that do not let themselves to be swayed by every wind that blows; and
(2) to provide teachers of comparative education with an account of
He took the view that ‘books on educational developments in the Third
World countries can provide a corrective to the tendency in these
countries in the teaching of comparative education to concentrate on the
educational systems of the USA, France, Britain and Japan for
He wrote that ‘the major reason for Korea’s economic success lies in
the work ethic of the Korean people.’ This should be an example to us,
Sri Lankans. He identified ‘4 roots in the Korean work ethnic, namely,
(1) the Confucian idealogy of veneration of elders that has clearly
extended to the recognition by the worker of the pay master, be it an
individual, an industrial organization, or the Government as
paternalistic and therefore deserving of a loyalty that could be
discharged only by an unflinching devotion to duty;
(2) the deep commitment to study over-whelmingly stressed throughout
the entire period of schooling and possibly so firmly embedded in the
personality structure of the average Korean that when he or she becomes
a member of the work force, it takes the form of a dedicated commitment
(3) the role models provided by the two nations which have had the
greatest impact on Korea, namely, Japan and the USA, and the indelible
impression in the average Korean mind that if the Koreans strive
sufficiently hard, they can achieve what the Japanese and Americans have
(4) the almost compulsive urge to show the North Koreans what stuff
the South Koreans are made of.
In JEJ’s book on ‘Education in the Third World: Some Reflections’
(1981) he contrasted the Third World countries with the developed
countries by identifying the salient features of the developed countries
at the time of their take-off as follows:
(1) slow rates of population growth;
(2) availability of raw materials and markets in their colonies;
(3) absence of competition from other countries with advanced technology
as almost all countries were at the same level of development and
(4) availability of an exploitable stock of labour with no labour laws
or trade unions.
He added: ‘the Third World countries of today are midgets in a world
of industrial giants who dominate all matters pertaining to
international monetary affairs, trade and banking.’
JEJ warned that ‘these contrasting backgrounds should caution us
against unbridled utilization of capital intensive technologies as they
do not generate employment for our youth and he asserted that mass media
should be restrained from holding up before young people exotic styles
of life ....... giving rise to desires and aspirations that are
In 1982-83 JEJ served as the National Consultant of Educational
Innovational and Change in the UNDP-UNESCO Project for Quality
Improvement of General Education (later named as the Life Skills
Education Project) headed by Eric J de Silva as its Chief Technical
JEJ was responsible for assisting the project in identifying the
schools to be covered by the project; analyzing the curricula, the
qualifications of teachers and the resources available in these schools
relevant to the aims and objectives of the project; evaluating the
teaching of technical subjects in Secondary Schools and identifying in
collaboration with International Consultants the structural changes,
staff resources and material production facilities required to introduce
the Life Skills Curriculum to Years Seven and Eight (Grades Six and
Seven) of the Secondary School.
JEJ first submitted a 52-page report entitled ‘The Teaching of
Technical Subjects in Secondary Schools in Sri Lanka - an Evaluation’
revealing 14 deficiencies in the teaching of technical subjects.
These included limiting of teaching mainly to the three subjects
Agriculture, Home Economics and Commerce out of the 13 technical
subjects, quantitative and qualitative inadequacy of teachers for
teaching technical subjects, inadequacy of tools and other facilities,
non-availability of syllabuses and teacher guides, vagueness in
syllabuses, inadequate attention to practical work, lack of supervision
of teaching and feedback mechanisms and lack of storage facilities for
safe storage of tools/equipment.
JEJ’s second report on the consultancy covered the distribution of
schools among the 18 districts proposed for piloting the subject,
possible content of the Life Skills subject and the list of projects for
which first drafts were prepared indicating the skill areas, Grade and
the number of periods.
JEJ’s findings and his advice and support given to us of the project
team were very valuable in curriculum development, tools and equipment
distribution, teacher training and evaluation activities pertaining to
the Life Skills Curriculum.
Life Skills subject which was very popular among students due to its
highly practical nature had been taught in the schools from the late
eighties up to 1997. It was one of the subjects in the junior secondary
curriculum under the 1997 education reforms.
However, a sudden decision was taken in the latter part of 1998 to
replace the subject of Life Skills with a new subject called Life
Competencies having a different focus.
Eric J de Silva delivering the 13th J E Jayasuriya Memorial Lecture
in 2003 on the subject ‘Some reflections on policy making in education’
referring to the above ‘decision which was taken by the National
Institute of Education (NIE), an implementation agency which had no
mandate to make/change education policy’ said this was ‘a good example’
to show how ‘policy making in education was up there for grabs, to use a
popular expression, leaving it open for agencies which had no
policy-making mandate, ad hoc groups and even individuals to take
important policy decisions.’
In 1982 Colombo University awarded Prof Jayasuriya the degree of
Doctor of Literature (honoris causa) in recognition of his unique
contribution to Education in this island during its formative years.
In 1987 the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) conferred on him the
degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa) in recognition of his
contribution to the development of its Education Department as a
Consultant and also as a member of the OUSL Council.
In his OUSL Convocation Address, he spoke of his confidence in the
techniques of Distance Education. He referred to a lecture he had
delivered in India in the 70s, around ten years before the OUSL came to
be established; In this lecture he had drawn the attention to the
potential of this method of education in developing countries in
reaching out to large numbers, at a minimum cost whilst, at the same
time, safeguarding the quality of education provided.
Reference was made to the inaugural Dr C W W Kannangara Memorial
Lecture delivered by Prof Jayasuriya at the NIE in 1988. Prof Jayasuriya
was appointed a member of the NIE Council in 1986 and he served in this
capacity until 1989.
It is clear from the above analysis that a wider view of development
was the essence of many of Prof Jayasuriya’s writings.
His message will continue to inspire us and will be relevant, indeed
increasingly relevant, to the problems of today and tomorrow.
(The writer is former Chief Commissioner, Colleges of Education and
Consultant, ADB and WB Education Projects, Education Ministry)