25 July, 2021


The Oath Of Kannangara

By Nalin Abeysekera

Prof. Nalin Abeysekera

As Sri Lankans, most of us are blessed with the free education of this country. If you compare this blessing word of “free education” with the globe you would understand more value of this. And we have seen people just consider  free education is all about “education for free” and think it is merely like a product or service given free of charge. In this context, Jayawardena (2013) defined free education as “Free Education is not only to provide ‘education’ at free of cost but to provide equitable access to every child irrespective of the demography, exploit the individual strengths and cultivate good values to become a law-abiding citizen”. The actual meaning of “Free Education”  needs to be the communicated for all who blessed with this as we can see people could not understand the real value of it in Sri Lanka. As per Khosla(2019) “Sri Lanka has shocked the world with its success in its system of education. Within less than forty years of independence, the number of schools has increased by 50 percent. In fact, the number of students has increased by 300 percent”.

With this Blessed “free education”, we should not forget the name of “Blessed person”, Dr C.W.W Kannangara ,Father of Free education. This is what I have extracted from the site of  United nations Sri Lanka  “In 1943, Dr C. W. W. Kannangara the Minister of Education, introduced the Free Education Bill in the State Council. After much debate, it was approved for implementation and on 1 October 1945 the Free Education Policy came into effect. This policy states that every child above the age of five and not more than sixteen is entitled to free education. It has benefited generations of students and has enabled Sri Lanka to succeed in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education”. I have seen many scholars  on the globe (only few can be seen  in Sri Lanka) have written on Dr. Kannangara and his remarkable contribution to the education sector. This country should read and respect this “unsung hero “ .One Scholar Willemijn Wuister (Colonial & Global History, Leiden University, Netherlands) in his study in 2018 titled “Colonial Education: A case study of education in late-colonial Ceylon from the  1930s until independence” allocated one section for Dr Kannangara and his contribution to education sector  . Refer to the excerpts  below

“Kannangara  proposed the idea of free education, in which education would be free ‘from Kindergarten to  University’, for every citizen of Ceylon.11 It meant that every pupil was free of paying any fees for  education. It took him 16 years of lobbying and advocating in the State Council, before his plan of free  education became reality in Ceylon in 1945. The implementation of this free education scheme made  an end to the social inequality that was inherently promoted by the colonial education system. For this  reason, Kannangara is remembered as ‘the Father of Free Education’ in Sri Lanka nowadays. Wuister (2018) argued that “A lot has already been written about education in the Commonwealth Countries. For unclear  reasons, Ceylon always seems to be left out of these studies. This is remarkable since a system of ‘free education’ was set up in Ceylon in the 1930s and implemented in the 1940s. The ‘system’ refers to all  the primary and secondary schools in Ceylon and other forms of education that were offered, for  example the University of Ceylon which was established during this period as well. An important  outcome of the implementation of free education, is that the literacy rates in Sri Lanka have become very high compared to other Commonwealth Countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.Nowadays, the literacy rate in Sri Lanka is much higher in comparison with the world-wide standard. The period in which the fundaments of this system were laid is therefore important to analyze (Wuister,2018).”

It is important  to note that “Immediately the educational reports presented in 1944 M.S. Aney who had come as a representative of India to listen  to the Free Education Bill walking to Dr. Kannangara stated that  had he presented this Bill in India as an Indian, he would have  been worshipped as a god. Giving the right of free education to  all the children in Sri Lanka was implemented”(Sedere,2016).As Sedere(2016) vividly elaborated our “father of Education” has lost his seat within 2-3 years after he has introduced free duction to this country “ To the surprise of many the hero Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara who brought about free education and liberated the rural poor, lost his seat at the next parliamentary elections in 1947. Mr. Wilmet A. Perera defeated Dr. Kannangara with the help of the affluent rich and the socialists camp (Sedere,2016)”.

We have seen Sri Lankans are really famous for celebrating many heroes. I would like to suggest everyone who has gained from Free education have to take  “The oath of Kannangara”  by pledging that the “To mark the respect to free  education we will perform our duty to the nation forever by contributing to general public and country at large”.

(The writer is Professor in Management Studies Open University of Sri Lanka and You can reach Professor Abeysekera on nabey@ou.ac.lk )

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Latest comments

  • 5

    True Hero’s are not recognised in this country is a painful truth.
    We all should salute Dr.C.W.W Kanangara for his invaluable contribution.

  • 2

    Kannangara gave free education, okay did it help the nation in return ???? Our politicians have kept those freely educated naive, ignorant and retard for years. The ones who benefited were either chased, left in disgust, became refugees or found a decent place to live and raise their families.

    • 2

      Yours is a hasty remark. It is not free education that ruined our nation.
      Dr C.W.W Kannangara deserves our praise and a thank you.

      • 1

        Nathan , I did not say anything negative about free education or Dr. Kannangara. I myself is a recipient of free education. All that benefits country should have derived from free education was taken away by our own politicians. Brain drain was not the goal of providing free education. When there is free education we have the most uneducated school dropouts sitting in parliament and their agendas are driving those freely educated faraway from Lanka. There are many like Dr. Gananarajan who returned home after studies to serve but left soon after.Not just minorities.

  • 2

    Prof. Nalin Abeysekera,
    Dr C. W. W. Kannangara was the father of free education and his contribution should be remembered by everyone in Sri lanka.
    Free education had facilitated upward social mobility of thousands of underprivileged families in Sri Lanka.
    Your proposal for everyone to take an oath in the name of Dr C.W.W. Kannangara is a worthy suggestion.

    • 1

      Thanks for your comments

  • 0

    Didnt our own Dr. Janapriya who benefited from free education whine about how few hard working disproportionately gained from free education.

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