By Helasingha Bandara –
An exceptional group of people set an exceptional precedent in exceptional circumstances on 16 March this year at the National Institute of Education in Maharagama, Sri Lanka, formerly the Specialist Teachers College. In a society where politico-worship is the norm, any worthwhile event held has to be highlighted as a good example for the rest to follow. By launching such an event, a good precedent was set in motion by a group of golden oldies on that day .
Although it was a usual dawning of a new day, in a particular January morning in 1972 an unusual group of 161 youngsters, most of whom were between 19 and 23 years of age, gathered at LT4 (Lecture Theatre 4) of the Maharagama Specialist Teachers College to start their two year full-time training course to become fully fledged Mathematics teachers . The teachers college had other faculties such as Science, Commerce, Physical Education, Handicraft, Special Education, Home Science etc. The whole student-teacher population was over 1500.
The mathematics faculty was unique because it comprised bright students most of whom had only failed to admit to Universities or had preferred to take up teaching posts due to reasons beyond their control. There were at least 10 in the batch who had earlier joined the Universities but had given up to take up a paid studentship as would-be teachers due to economic reasons. The batch became unique not because it comprised bright students but because of the versatility they brought in with them. For example, the batch had one who played for Sri Lanka national volleyball team, two had played for Sri Lanka national hockey team, one had been the pentathlon champion of Sri Lanka, some had taken athletics at national level, there were a few who had been non-commissioned officers in the respective battalions of the Ceylon Cadet Corps (CCC), a few highly talented musicians and some writers etc. Mathematics faculty won the annual inter-faculty sports meet for both the years of 1972 and 1973 including both male and female march past. Inter training college sports meet between Maharagama and Palali Jaffna was also won by Maharagama in both years mainly due to the contributions of the faculty of Mathematics.
Some names among the famous mathematics lecturers were Ashoka Lincoln Devendra, Leelasena, Samarasekara, Kannangara and Ranjith Ruberu. Although Ashoka Devendra became the Principal of the college later he did not sever his connection with the faculty of Mathematics. The students had great respect for the staff and for the Principal in particular for his close connection with the faculty of Mathematics.
At the end of 1973 students said adios to the college and to their loved teachers and took up teaching positions all over the country. Exactly forty years later one of them led a small group of old colleagues to organise a reunion of the batch mates.
It was an incredible task and the group had worked almost a year to collect contact details of the batch mates and to pass information. They managed to gather over 100 of their old colleagues on the 16th of March 2014.
In the morning of the 16th, now forty years later, one by one the gray haired golden oldies started coming into their old LT4. All of them are now in their sixties and retired.
The centre of attention was Asoka Devendra who has been invited to be the chief guest at the occasion and was majestically sitting in front despite being in his nineties. The participants had moved on in their lives, fields and professions that the audience had the former Deputy Inspector General of police Colombo, a consultant of the National Institute of Education, all Island Maths Director, all Island Director for teacher training colleges , the Vice chancellor of a Technical University in Sri Lanka, retired directors, principals of recognised schools including Wesley College Colombo and people who have held highly recognised social and professional positions. They had come to honour an old teacher and to reunite.
The significance of this event lies in the fact that for teacher training colleges this was unprecedented. At the same time the golden oldies were setting an example by honouring someone who had dedicated his whole life for the people of this land and had been a worthy teacher. In contrast, most eulogies are sung for and events are organised to honour the unworthy. Therefore this particular event deserves publicity for others to realise that it is important not to let our good traditions fall apart.
One old student of this batch who is currently residing in the UK , speaking to the crowd quoted W.B. Yeats.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
Drawing a parallel between falcon story and the current situation he said
“Today all the falcons who had flown away to various parts of the country and beyond, to various professions and to various positions have flown back to their old nest to see their falconer. This day is not only memorable for us but it is also memorable for our beloved teacher. We should not allow things to fall apart but make sure good traditions continue- Let us worship the worthy ( Pidiya yuththan pudamu).”