In Appreciation of Chandra Gunawardena, Educationist at Our Frontline Trenches

Marie Perera, in The Island, December 2021

Emeritus Professor Chandra Gunawardena, the founding Dean of the Faculty of Education, Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) and one of the finest educationists and a caring human being passed away after a brief illness three months ago, leaving a great vacuum in the field of education.

Prior to joining the OUSL, Professor Gunawardena served both at the University of Peradeniya and the University of Colombo (UoC). While at the University of Colombo where she was a senior lecturer and a Head of a Department, Professor Gunawardena together with some other educationists like late Emeritus Professor Swarna Jayaweera formed the pioneering professional organization for education, namely,  the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Education (SLAAED). These pioneers encouraged us who were Post Graduate students of the Faculty of Education, UoC at that time also to join SLAAED.

Her contribution to SLAAED and support to me as the current President was immeasurable. At the initial stages of the founding of SLAAED it functioned with personal contributions of the members. However, it was not a viable solution to the sustainability of the association. It was during Professor Gunawardena’s tenure as President that she initiated undertaking commissioned research by SLAAED members thereby contributing to its fund. Thanks to her initiative today, SLAAED has a quite a substantial fund which enabled SLAAED to grant scholarships to promising undergraduates in the two Faculties of Education and the Department of Education, University of Peradeniya and contribute to many more activities for the advancement of education.

The last research assignment Professor Gunawardena undertook with two other members of SLAAED was commissioned by the NIE. She not only completed the study but she also wrote a paper based on the study in 2021. She was a Council member and a member of the Editorial board of ‘Shiksha’ the SLAAED magazine till to the end. In fact she edited one of the articles for the August volume while in hospital-such was her commitment!

Although I was a student at the Faculty of Education, UoC at the time Professor Gunewardena was on the academic staff, I never followed the subjects she taught as my field was different. However, when she obtained a research grant to conduct a study on School cultures, she selected me as her research assistant. The reason was as I had taught in the two schools she had selected for the study and my supervisor had recommended me. This showed that her main concern was the selection of the best person for the job and was not influenced by personal relationships.

My first experience of ethnographic research therefore, was through her and that inspired me later to be a qualitative researcher. Thereafter, I worked with her on several studies conducted by SLAAED. I was very fortunate to have very close interactions with madam during the last two months of her life as she and I were on an expert panel to draft a policy document on international schools for the National Education Commission. Even though, she was the lead expert she treated me more like an equal, asking for my views and accommodating them. Sometimes she was so humble as to change her views, if she felt my ideas were better. Madam was suffering from many ailments about which she used to complaint to me but, she bore all suffering with courage and never considered them as a barrier to her work. Till to the very end, even while in hospital she was involved in academic work and tried to complete everything she had undertaken to the best of her ability.

She was extremely sad when her beloved teacher Professor Ariyadasa De Silva died quite unexpectedly on the 1st of August 2021. Even though, she had a cardiologist appointment that evening and people were scared to step out of their houses due to the pandemic, she wanted to be at his house when the body was brought. Such was her loyalty and gratitude. It is ironic that she followed her beloved teacher at the end of the same month – 30th August. Among her numerous qualities what inspired me most was her courage, commitment and loyalty.

It will be very difficult to fill the void Professor Gunawardena’s demise has created. Even though it will be difficult, we will try to carry on the legacy you have left behind, inspired by you.

May you rest in peace dear madam!

Marie Perera, President/SLAAED



1 Comment

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One response to “In Appreciation of Chandra Gunawardena, Educationist at Our Frontline Trenches

  1. Daya Wickramatunga

    Many thanks. We need to be thankful for their contributions and remember them with gratitude.

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