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Sugunadasa Athukorale: Principal Par excellence

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The month of November 2021 marks the 100th Birth anniversary of an Educationist par Excellence, Sugunadasa Athukorale, one of Nalanda’s greatest Principals who guided Nalanda’s destiny for 13 long years, from 1969 to 1982. Nalanda was going through a difficult time during the early 1960s due to various internal issues such as disagreements among staff members and no Principal could manage the situation which had gone out of control and even the students were getting involved in the disturbances. The Education Ministry appointed young Gunapala Wickramaratne as the Principal of Nalanda in 1964. Within a matter of weeks, he took control of the situation and instilled discipline and order in the school. Wickramaratne was able to turn around Nalanda in a short period and Nalanda became one of the best disciplined schools. But his stay was short, and he was promoted and transferred in 1969.

Mr. Athukorale, an Old Anandian, was serving as the Principal of Thakshila Vidyalaya, Horana, before his transfer to Nalanda. He was an extremely good Mathematics Teacher found his fiancée Hema also to be another good Mathematics teacher. She later taught Mathematics at Nalanda in the middle school, and became Mr. Athukrale’s life partner when she got married to him. His son Upul, who also studied at Nalanda is now domiciled in Canada, while his two daughters Gayathri and Savithri are living in Sri Lanka. Gayathri served in the tutorial staff of Nalanda as a teacher of Information Technology.

Mr. Athukorale was born in Keeranthidiya, in Matugama, on 12th November 1921 He had his education at Ananda College, Colombo. His administration skills were fine-tuned when he led the ‘Mathugama, Horawala Dodangoda Gam Sabawa’ as its head for two consecutive terms. He had relinquished his duties as the Head of the Gam Sabawa when the government took over the schools; he automatically became a state official.

Mr. Athukorale by his actions, behavior and mannerisms set an example to the students, how one should have patience and tolerance, and how one should focus on one’s goals and work towards achieving it.

Mr. Athukorale’s integrity, honesty and simplicity was demonstrated in everything he did. He always worked for the greater good of the school. He wanted his students not only to reach national level but aim and achieve international levels. In order to give the best, he head hunted many a best teacher of the subject to Nalanda.

Mr. Athukorale always considered that it was the school’s responsibility to bring out the best in students. He encouraged freedom of expression among staff and students, promoted free thinking.

Mr. Athukorale had been a father, teacher and a friend to any student who sought his advice. Students who got caught for wrong doings were not punished initially but were severely warned and advised not to involve in such acts again. He always believed in giving students a second chance to correct themselves. He pushed students to achieve their full potential. During his time of service. Nalanda reached its peak in Academic performances, by improving the average number of students passing G.C.E (O/L) and (A/L) examinations, also producing the Island’s best students in science streams in certain years.

During his period, Nalanda reached the top in most of the sports and in, cricket, being the foremost and Nalanda had been consistently feeding players to the National team and the Sri Lanka schools cricket team. Hockey is another sport that continuously won championships at Inter school national level competitions. Athletics, too reached the top level with some record-breaking performances. Cadeting prospered and Senior Cadets won the coveted ‘Herman Loos’ Cup awarded to the best cadet platoon among the schools in the country twice. This trophy was won by Nalanda after 39 years. The Junior Cadets brought the “De Zoysa’ Challenge Trophy awarded to the Island’s best Junior Cadet Platoon after 12 years. Football too was another sport that reached top level.

Coinciding with the Golden Jubilee of Nalanda, the young past students of the school with the support, guidance and initiative, of the Principal Sugunadasa Athukorale formed the Nalanda Junior Old Boys Association (NJOBA) on the 7th of January 1975. The foresight the Principal had in supporting this initiative is evidenced today that this Association during its 47 years of journey has become one of the largest and wealthiest OBAs in the country.

Immediately after its formation, it began to support school in many ways. The very idea of forming this association was to get the young past students linked to the school at a very young age.

During his tenure, his mission was ‘not to be second to anyone’. He passed on this to teachers and students that “we don’t want to be first at the same time we don’t want to be second to anyone”. This message was made clear to every teacher and student, resulting in, a high demand for gaining admissions to Nalanda.

Mr. Athukorale had innovative approaches to solve problems and always encouraged creativity in students. It was always felt that he could see things 10 years ahead. His projects were futuristic. He saw the potential of Nalanda, to impart knowledge by giving a quality education to a higher number of students. He planned a rigorous programme of infrastructure development for Nalanda.

Mr. Athukorale should be credited for Nalanda’s rich infrastructure. A new three-storied Laboratory Building which has a Shrine Room an Auditorium and a Library was constructed during his era in 1979. He saw the need for a Theatre Hall to facilitate the development of performing skills and aesthetics of budding Nalandian artistes. A state-of-the-art Theatre Hall was constructed and it was named the ‘Malalasekera Hall ‘in honour of Nalanda’s First Principal Dr. Gunapala Malalasekera (1925-1927). These are some of the infrastructure projects this dynamic Principal added to the College.

His loyalty to Nalanda was unwavering till his death. Even after retirement he became a regular visitor to Nalanda and was available for any advice to many of us, past students. He was an honourable person with good human qualities. He spent a considerable time and effort to develop Nalanda. Very often he was seen after school hours watching sports practices at a corner of the College grounds under the shade of a tree. His life style was a very simple one. While he had his Volkswagen Beetle parked at school, he used to take the bus plying in route number 166 to go to the Education Department office at Green Path Colombo 2. He was spending public money very cautiously.

Mr. Athukorale preferred to be among his staff members and students. This was amply demonstrated at the first ever ‘Guru Upahara’ -Teacher felicitation ceremony organised by the Junior OBA in 1997, he enjoyed the company of his former lieutenants throughout the day and congratulated the Junior OBA for introducing such an event to the events calendar. I consulted him on many occasions for advice at the time I was heading Junior OBA. After his retirement, he participated in every event at Nalanda.

To coincide with the 100th birth Anniversary of this great Principal, Nalanda Junior Old Boys Association is organising the inaugural ‘Sugunadasa Athukorale Memorial Speech’ via zoom, which will be delivered by a prominent Old Nalandian during the month of November. This will be followed by a donation to the school. This programme will be added to the calendar of events of the Junior OBA. The Junior OBA is ever grateful to their founder patron Mr. Sugunadasa Athukorala. The name of Mr. Sugunadasa Athukorale will be written in gold in the history of Nalanda as one of the most far sighted Principals Nalanda ever had.

Athula Jayasekera

Past President (1995-1998)

Nalanda Junior OBA



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Opinion

Send them back to school!

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We are not talking about our children going back to school but about the request made by the Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella to allow parliamentarians to enrol in the Sri Lankan Law College, or any other university, to further their studies. How about the basic qualification to enter university? Talking about the basic qualification we remember there was a talk some time ago about some members who have not got through even their GCE (O)Level, a bare minimum qualification, required even for a peon in a recognised organisation or in government services. We request the Chief Opposition Whip to request, on behalf of these members, to allow them to go back to school, no matter how old they are.

We remember one SAARC member country brought in a regulation saying that all those who come forward to contest a seat in the parliament should possess a university degree and at the submission of nomination the officials detected that nearly 20% of the certificates were fake. Anyway, we are proud that such things are extremely rare in our country.

Finally, I urge Kiriella to include schools, too, for MPs, who need the basic qualifications for university admission.

S. H. MOULANA

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Opinion

Compensate victims of gas explosions

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There is no shortage of hot topics for the media these days, the latest being the unusual occurrence of gas related accidents. Any ordinary person would understand that the present series of accidents are certainly due to the release of newly arrived consignment of gas cylinders whose composition ratio of propane and butane has been altered to maximise profits.

The responsible institutions and authorities as well as some ambidextrous politicians are defending the culprits who deny any change in the gas composition. The special committee appointed by the President to investigate into the matter, seem biased. The other day the public saw (through the TV news footages) that these so-called experts were trying to bully the innocent victims of these accidents, accusing them of the use of worn out hoses and regulators as the main reason for the incidents. Why the hell can’t they figure out the fact that these accidents are all due to the use of the newly bought wrongly filled cylinders. A committee of this nature is useless if its aim is to serve the vested interests. Instead of blaming the victims, one compulsory question they should ask is if the cylinder is newly bought or an old one. It is sad that this Kekille committee of experts is also trying to put the blame on the innocent consumer and defend the businessman.

All that the government should do at this critical hour is to introduce a mechanism to collect the data of the victims of these explosions and pay due compensation to them forthwith at the expense of the concerned gas company. The ministry in charge should also issue an urgent order to the company to recall the return of all these defective gas cylinders distributed to all districts and take immediate action for refilling them with the correct prescription of the chemical composition and issue with a new label giving all required instructions. In the meantime, the Consumer Protection Authority must ensure that accessories like the hoses and regulators, conforming to the SLS standards, are available in the market at least from now on for the safety of the consumers.

M. B. Navarathne

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Opinion

Banks make a killing at depositors’ expense

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The motive of the government decision to lower the interest rates of deposits was predominantly to engross the banks to lend at lower interest rates for entrepreneurs to boost the economy of the country which is in dire straits. However, would this proposal prove productive?

Owing to this absurd stunt senior citizens and pensioners have been left high and dry high and dry, resulting in unprecedented agony and anguish. Many victims have highlighted their grievances on behalf of the distraught senior citizens and pensioners. This much spoken of government’s harsh decision to lower interest rates has made the lives of senior citizen’s and pensioners miserable with the escalating high cost of living, skyrocketing cost of medical expenses, etc. It is pertinent to mention that monthly interest rates on fixed deposits, which they mostly rely upon, have been reduced to alarmingly low 4% and 5 % which has added to the woes already the senior citizens face.

All senior citizens who are not receiving or entitled for a pension, depend solely on monthly fixed deposit interest as the regular source of income for their living. As a result of lowering interest rates of deposits, their plans have all been shattered causing them to be wondering how to make ends meet.At this dire juncture, the intervention of the President is needed to revoke this unreasonable decision of lowering the interest rates of deposits.

The only redress the senior folk benefits is by the Central Bank’s special scheme of 15% interest for senior citizens. However, in this too the senior citizens have been slapped and battered with a Rs 1.5 million ceiling.

In comparison to the reduction of interest rates of deposits, if one takes into account the number of loans granted to entrepreneurs at lower interest rates the answer would be very negligible, particularly as the bank’s do not take risks to lend to entrepreneurs whom they believe to have projects not viable. The banks of course, would show enhanced profits at the end of the year as they have paid the depositors lower interest rates which reflects as plus mark for their balance sheets. This is a blessing in disguise for the management of banks at the receiving end of impoverished pensioners and senior citizens.

In the above contest the intervention of the President Gotabaya Rajapakse is most needed to bring about redress to ‘distressed” senior citizens and pensioners

Sunil Thenabadu

Brisbane, Australia

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