Sri Palee Science Education 1944 – 1960 : My Recollections - K. N. Gunawardena
Wewala, the hamlet with its idyllic and blissful scenic beauty was a rural retreat where calm and solitude abounds. Horana reputed for its rubber plantations was the principal town close to Wewala. Mr. Wilmot A. Perera was the son of the famous “Rubber Raja” of Horana. He had an extraordinary vision to improve and enhance the quality of the life of the Raigam people.
Mr. Wilmot A. Perera was a planter, proprietor and talented entrepreneur of Horana. On the invitation of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, he visited “Santiniketan” situated in the rural West Bengal. The ideal scenery of “Santiniketan” for the advancement of students to master Oriental Culture and Aesthetic studies – Music, Dancing, and Arts must have created an everlasting impression of the campus in the adventurous mind of young Mr. Perera. After his arrival in Ceylon, his aesthetic mind continued to work on the creation of his dream institution - “Sri Palee” in the fulfillment of his Himalayan size ambition.
Wewala-Horana awakened to new experiences of un-parallel education system (in 1934) with the founding of Sri Palee. Mr. Perera invited Gurudev Tagore to inaugurate the institution. Mr. Perera was searching for excellence in any sphere of activity he was involved with. He had implicit faith in his own mind how to develop Sri Palee to an international level institution. This Institution - Sri Palee a knightly achievement of aesthetic studies was a role model of “Santiniketan”. Arts, Music, Dancing and Handicraft along with the general education were bright lights for students of Raigam Korale, who had come to receive education at Sri Palee. It operated as a private school with landscaped and a special layout of buildings, Class rooms, Science Laboratories, Open Air Theater; Playgrounds and ponds which displayed a typical college campus. Sri Palee was equipped with hostel facilities for girls and boys. The inauguration of Sri Palee signaled glowing light of diverse education which took root in the lines and style of Bengal – Santiniketan, the Brain Child of Mr. Wilmot A. Perera.
His earnest desire of developing a complete educational institution with all faculties had prompted him to setup a Science Education stream in Sri Palee as a policy. He mooted a scheme to establish a Science Educational stream and proceeded with the preliminaries of setting up laboratories for Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Zoology. He personally interviewed and recruited Science graduate teachers of repute for the respective fields including Pure/Applied mathematics. He planned and set-in motion a Science subject stream along with the Arts subject stream to maintain a balance in the overall educational outlook of the Institution.
Science Stream for Engineering & Medicine subject classes and the respective “Laboratory - Practicals” were progressing at a pace keeping on par with the other Colombo Colleges such as Royal, Ananda, Nalanda etc, Chemistry and Physics practicals were the most difficult task for science students sitting for the university entrance examination.
Along with the theoretical paper, the successfully completion of a practical test is a must to qualify at the university entrance examination. To help students overcome this difficulty, Sri Palee - Science teachers paid devoted attention and provided all assistance to the students to develop skills and the practical methodology. My friend Sunil Galagedara told me how Mr. Helapitage’s hints helped him to successfully complete the “Potentiometer Practical test” to gain Peradeniya university admission.
During Mr. Wilmot A. Perera’s assignment to China as our Ambassador, he possibly had dreams about Sri Palee and planned out few surprising gifts to Sri Palee - teachers, students and well-wishers. He presented Sri Palee with Chinese technology gadgetry to the Science section and a very special astronomical apparatus to demonstrate Solar and Moon eclipses. There were radio equipment and few scientific apparatus among them. This special astronomical apparatus set in motion a new field “Astronomy” for the enthusiastic science teachers and students.
Sri Palee was fortunate to have a team of high calibre science teachers - Mr. E. P. W. Helapitage, Mr. P. V. Rajan, Mr. K. Harishchandra, Mr. N. Shinnathamby, Mr. Russell Gunarathne, Mr. Hubert Silva, Dr. Ransiri Malalasekera, Mr. A. W. Wijesinghe and Mr. G. Krishnamoorthi to name a few popular teachers. In the 1950 & 60, this team of Science teachers did real justice to the institution - by adhering to a strong conviction in establishing and progressing Standard Science Subjects with appropriate syllabus content in teaching the students.
In 1950-60’s, the Sri Palee institution prides itself with very good results of SSC (O/L) and HSC (A/L), University entrance and other Educational institutions such as Teacher Training College, Nurses Training College and Technical College entrance results. The students and Sri Palee were continuously receiving recognition of the society. There were many students coming from various provinces in the Country. The name of Sri Palee was continuing to be popular – day by day.
Sri Palee received recognition not only from the Sri Lankan society but also from other countries too. The students had the option of exposure to an appreciable level of technology by projects started on the initiative of Mr. Wilmot. A. Perera. Students had an opportunity in practicing technology in the installation of electric generators; laboratory equipment etc. The Radio Club formed by Mr. E. P. W. Helapitage provided yet another opportunity to develop skills in practical radio and electronics. These preliminary technology exposures resulted in some students to overcome “Technophobia” that haunts even today with a greater percentage of the student population in Sri Lanka.
Few teachers provided supplementary Science text books of various authors from their personal libraries. Special periodicals like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics and several other periodicals from leading publishers from UK and USA were made available to the interested students through private circulation.
It must be admired that Sri Palee registered the Science, Engineering & Technology (SET) community concept in the 1950s – 60s. Now a develop country like United Kingdom and institutions like IEE / IET promotes this concept among the A/L Students in UK to persuade them to follow Engineering & Technology careers for the welfare of the Global-Village. When I experience this IET reference, I visualize Mr. Wilmot A. Perera as a special caliber visionary who saw the future in more realistic terms than any other education oriented and practicing gurus at that time.