Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara - Educationist and Sportsman par - excellence


Christopher William Wijekone Kannangara or C. W. W. Kannangara, was born at Randombe in Ambalangoda on October 13, 1884.

His father was John Daniel, a Fiscal Officer, attached to the Magistrate’s Court, Balapitiya.

He married Emily Wijesinghe, a Christian. They were blessed with five children. Little Kannangara’s mother died.

His father married again. The stepmother had four children. Daniel Kannangara, lost his job. The family underwent many financial difficulties. Once, C. W. W. Kannangara remarked; "I do not think, anyone else knows about poverty as I do. Sometimes we had only one meal and slept on mats."

This was the humble beginnings of this great national leader and patriot. C. W. W. Kannangara.

A fine cricketer/soccer player

From his early childhood, Kannangara was an exceptional child. He used to play games, specially cricket and soccer with neighbouring children. As they were poor, his father could not send C. W. W. Kannangara, to an Elite School, in the Southern Province like Richmond, Mahinda or St. Aloysius College, Galle. Therefore, he sent his son to a Wesleyan Missionary School, at Randobe, Ambalangoda.

Kannangara was a bright child. When he was in Grade 5, he collected about 14 prizes at the school prize giving. The chief guest was the Principal of Richmond College, Rev. Darrel. He was very impressed about the performances of this brilliant child, Kannangara. Rev. Darrel commented; "son, you will need a bullock cart to the take away all these prizes you collected."

After a brief chat with this ‘BRIGHT SPARK’, he called the child’s father Daniel and told him if he likes, he will grant his bright son a scholarship to study as a resident student at Richmond College. The rest is history!

Captained Richmond First XI

C. W. W. Kannangara was a complete student. He was not a ‘book worm’. He played cricket and soccer for Richmond with distinction. In 1903, he captained the Richmond College First XI. He was an elegant batsman. This right hander was also a fine all-rounder in the school cricket circuit in 1902 and 1903.

He represented Galle CC and Gymkhana Club.

While at school, he played for Galle CC. This helped him to improve his batting skills. The man who guided him at Galle CC was the legendary ‘grand old man of Galle Cricket’ E. M. Karunaratne.

First in Maths-Cambridge senior

C. W. W. Kannangara became a ‘star student of Richmond’ and was named the Head Prefect.

He sat for the Cambridge Senior Examination in 1901. He scored the highest marks for Mathematics and came first in the British Empire. He brought honour and glory, not only to Richmond College, but to the entire country.

He was a versatile, complete student. He took part in all school co-curricular activities. He was the leader of the debating team. He was a fine speaker and a vociferous reader.

In 1904, Rev. Darrel asked Kannangara, the cricket captain, to teach Mathematics in the school. Rev. Darrel was like the ‘God Father’ of C. W. W. Kannangara. Rev. Darrel passed away at the young age of 34. It was a big shock and a blow, which made Kannangara leave Richmond and join Prince of Wales. He later taught at Wesley College, Colombo. While teaching, he attended Law College and passed out as a lawyer.

Thoughts on education

Education is sweet. The roots of education are bitter, stated Aristotle. The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.

At the back of his mind, he had a dream, which was to help the poor and needy, to give equal opportunities to them. The birth of ‘Free Education’ came into being, as he knew the circumstances and the environment he grew up and underwent as a poor child. Kannangara, this great man brought about the biggest intellectual revolution in Sri Lanka, by introducing FREE EDUCATION. He must have been deeply influenced by English Literature. He must have studied the beautiful poem – Thom Greys ‘Elegy’ – written in a country churchyard.

The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear,

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,

And waste its sweetness in the desert air. ‘Yugapurusha’ – ‘Man of the Era’

With the introduction of Free Education by C. W. W. Kannangara – Mathematician, Educationist, Lawyer, Cricketer, socceriter and an honest politician, the great ‘Yugapurusha’ took a bold step; not to allow ‘Flowers to Bloom Unseen and Waste their Sweetness in the desert air’.

Faced many bumpers

The lessons he learned in the playing field at Richmond College and Galle CC was a fine ‘Transfer of Training’ in his life. He was always an excellent team man. He always put the country before self. He faced many ‘Bouncers’. He faced them boldly. Some did not like Free Education. Some individuals were jealous of him. He always maintained a cool temperament. Two things he never gave up – studies and sports. Added to his cricket, he was a fine bridge and poker player. He played tennis too. He was a fine athlete. He was always bubbling with enthusiasm. Added to all this, he was a good conversationalist and a brilliant orator.

Enters political arena

C. W. W. Kannangara took to politics in 1923. It was to serve the people genuinely, not to earn a quick buck. He sacrificed everything for the sake of the people. He contested for the council, to represent the Southern Province.

This was the beginning of a long journey. The pathway proved difficult. under the Donomourgh Commission, Sri Lanka was granted Universal Franchise. Kannangara contested Galle in 1931 and was elected to the State Council.

He was appointed Minister of Education, by virtue of being elected Chairman of the Education Committee.

Free Education Bill

C. W. W. Kannangara was personality aware of the problems he faced. Therefore, he knew the plight of the poor needy children of this country. To give equal opportunities to all children, Kannangara presented the Free Education Bill to the State Council on July 11, 1944. He made a brilliant speech in the House, presenting the Bill, in his own inimitable style.


"When I came to Rome, the Walls of the City were built of brick. When I was leaving the city, it was built of Marble." Kannangara, in his eloquent speech, added; "when I came here, education was very costly," Kannangara stated in his speech.

This great sportsman and politician of honesty and integrity, presented the Free Education Bill on June 6, 1945. It became effective on October 1, 1945.

After he completed his brilliant speech, an Indian diplomat, H. M. Annay, expressed his sentiments to C. W. W. Kannangara.

Quote: "Sir, if you were born in our country and if you presented a free education bill in the Indian Parliament, for our country, you would have been honoured by Indians, throughout India, forever, like a ‘god’. You were brilliant, fantastic. Your delivery is simply excellent. I will never forget your brilliant address. Kindly accept my good wishes. Congratulations."

Due to the efforts of the great son of Sri Lanka, C. W. W. Kannangara, the ‘Father of Free Education’ many had free education from Grade 1 up to University level.

The writer was fortunate to have enjoyed Free-Education at Nalanda Vidyalaya, Colombo, from Grade I up to University level.

For that Sir, we are all grateful to you!

Conferred Honourary Doctorate

He got the University Bill passed in the State Council on March 1, 1942. The new university was sited in Peradeniya. Its majestic, beautiful construction was completed in 1952.

The first Vice-Chancellor was the eminent, reputed erudite scholar, the brilliant Sir Ivor Jennings.

At the first Convocation of the University of Ceylon, C. W. W. Kannangara was conferred an Honorary Doctorate (PhD), in recognition of his services to education.

This great National Hero, who provided all Sri Lankans with Free Education, Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara lost his Parliament seat, (Matugama) in 1947. The greatest ever Prime Minister of Great Britain, the late Sir Winston Churchill, who saved England, lost his seat in the 1940s.

Later, he served as an Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Indonesia. At the 1952 elections, he returned to Parliament and was appointed Mister of Local Government and Home Affairs. In 1956, he did not contest and gracefully retired from politics.

Dr. Kannangar’s ‘Brainchild’

There are more than 50 central schools and Madhya Maha Vidyalayas, in Sri Lanka. The central school concept was the ‘Brainchild’ of Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara. He first started three central schools – Akuramboda (Matale), Weeraketiya (Hambantota) and Matugama (Kalutara).

Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayaka, Central Schools’ concepts highest product

The newly appointed Chief Justice of Sri Lanka Dr. Shirani Bandaranayka is the proudest product of the Central School Concept up to date. She created history by being appointed as the first woman to hold this prestigious position in Sri Lanka.

I understand her beloved father, Wilson Bandaranayaka, was an eminent educationist who served the education sector at the highest level as a Provincial Director of Education. Dr. Shirani Bandaranaike, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson Bandaranayka. I presume, according to a TV news telecast, she studied at Ginigathena, Tholangamuwa and Anuraadhapura Central Schools and entered the University of Ceylon, Colombo.

Congratulation Dr. Bandranaika. You, your beloved husband and son.

Heavenly abode

I believe, for the great meritorious act, ‘Lighting the Lives of the Children of Sri Lanka’, by granting Free Education, Dr. Kannangara must be presently residing in a heavenly abode. When he heard the news, regarding Dr. Shirani Bandaranaika’s appointment, Dr. Kannangara must be the happiest, as he was instrumental in introducing the Central School Concept to Sri Lanka.

Over to you Minister Bandula Gunawardana

As an individual, who served the education sector for nearly four decades as a graduate teacher and as an official attached to the Ministry of Education, I strongly believe, to solve the problem of education, the MoE should give top priority to improve the infrastructure, grant all facilities, appoint principals and teachers, who can produce productive citizens, who will love this country and its culture.

If you provide a complete education in the Central Schools, the clamour to enter the so called ‘big-schools in Colombo’ can be stopped, gradually. Of course for this, there should be a social and cultural revolution in the country.

Parents naturally like to see their children in schools, where they get a ‘complete education’. Therefore, their mind-set of wanting to send their children to schools where they love proper facilities, laboratories, computer labs, grounds, playing fields, knowledge in IT and English, is quite reasonable.

Improve facilities and up the standard of Central Schools in Sri Lanka. This will be the greatest tribute and honour the MoE can pay to Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara.

Dear Dr. Kannangara, as a son who has benefited due to your ‘Free Education Policy’, I end this article with the following lines:

The lives of all great men remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And departing, leave behind us,

Footprints on the sands of time.

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