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Kamala J Peiris’ Midas touch in education

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Miss Kamala J Peiris was one of those very rare individuals, who worked away from the limelight, but made a revolutionary and lasting contribution to the advancement of the formal primary education system of this country. The children in our primary schools, their teachers and schools, were part of her life. She lived and worked for them. She started on her monumental work in the late 1960s, after returning from post-graduate studies in Cornell University, the USA. She operated from the then Curriculum Development Center (CDC) on  Bauddhaloka Mawatha. The CDC was completing a revision of the GCE (OL) science curricula.

It fell on Ms. Peiris to lead the curriculum revision for the primary. To change an entrenched system was no easy task. But she had a vision. It was a vision in which children were very active learners, manipulating materials, carrying out activities within and outside the classroom, sensitive to the environment and not mere receptacles into which ‘teachers’ poured ’knowledge’. The classroom was not a set of desks and chairs arranged in neat rows with the ‘all knowing’ and ‘all powerful teacher’ sitting at the elevated table in the front of the classroom. The desk with a sloping top was replaced with a flat top desk.

The flat top desks were arranged in groups for the children to work on. She was able to unleash the creative talents of both students and teachers. Changing the classroom in this manner required changing the teachers and also the heads of schools and the administrative heads. She designed, and launched massive in-service programs to educate the primary teachers. There was, at that time, no dedicated field staff for the primary system. She made use of the existing field staff to assist in the implementation of the primary reforms by organizing and conducting in-service education sessions for them also.

If someone were to visit a primary classroom today, what he/she would see is a set of very active children working in groups, manipulating materials, talking with each other, engaged in a variety of activities, drawing and writing and may be seeking some assistance from a teacher who is with the students and not on a pedestal. It is Kamala who was instrumental in making this revolutionary change in our primary classrooms.
DA Perera

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