century and quarter of St. John's College... : Its great contribution for
the development of education in Sri Lanka
News – Sat June 22 2002
the Old Johnians consider it most opportune to trace the history of St.
John's College, Panadura on the occasion of the visit of Minister of Human
Resources Development, Education and Cultural Affairs Dr. Karunasena
Kodituwakku to the College today (22) for a felicitation ceremony for
distinguished Old Johnians.
John's and schools were the offspring of the 'State School for English'
established by the British Government in Panadura in the year 1832.
the British rule in 1834, the Colbrook Commission made a remarkable
recommendation that English should be taught as a compulsory language in
state schools. Further, the other recommendation was to appoint a 'Schools
Commission' for the purpose of administration. Later in 1841 that
Commission was abolished and in its place the 'Central Schools Commission'
was appointed. That Commission paved the way for the creation of an
'Assisted School System' by granting financial assistance to
non-governmental schools administered by Christian Missionaries and others
who owned privately run schools. During this period 'Primary English
Schools' were established in various parts of the country. The students of
those small schools with a medium of 75 students had to pay a school fee,
and the medium of education was English. The subjects taught were English,
Maths, History, Geography and Christianity.
was one of those primary schools established by the British government
which was the origin of the present 'St. John's College' in Panadura.
1867 Morgam Committee, having done an indepth study on the education
system of Sri Lanka, recommended that the Government must encourage the
vernacular education. Hence the state gradually withdrew from its
commitment in English education and that paved the way for the missionary
organisations to take up that responsibility. The various Christian
Missionaries conducted education in keeping up with the traditional
British system. Accordingly, the establishment of St. Thomas' College
(1876) at Mount Lavinia, St. Benedict's College (1868), Wesley College
(1870) in Colombo, St. John's College (1877) in Panadura and St. Michael's
College (1872) in Jaffna.
John's College was initially known as 'Primary State English School'. The
British having heavily committed to the second world war, handed over the
schools run by them to Christian religious organisations and accordingly
St. John's was handed over to an Evangelist Society called the 'Society
for the Propagation of the Gospel'. Thereafter the school was named 'SPG
English Boys School' and it existed in the premises of the Anglican Church
which was located by the side of the Panadura river.
1876 Mudliyar Susew de Soysa who hailed from a well established 'Walauwa'
in Panadura, constructed a new church and a building to house the school.
Both the church and the school were consecrated and dedicated to the
church by Bishop R. S. Copelston and ceremonially opened by the Governor
Sir William Henry Gregory on 14th June 1876 and the same day was the
opening of the 'Prince of Wales' College in Moratuwa. The building was
donated by Mr. W. Charles Henry de Zoysa, the son of Susew de Soysa's
brother, Jeronis Soysa.
the consecration, the school was named 'St. John's College'. On 9th June
1882 a new era dawned upon St. John's, as Mr. Cyril A. Jansz assumed
duties as the principal.
by the problems created by the Second World War the SPG, mother body in
London was compelled to reduce the grant to its branch organisation in Sri
Lanka and the school administration was unable to meet the salary bill of
the staff. The parents who were vigilant to this crisis led by a
representative deputation comprising members of the Bar Council and
leading Buddhists to meet the Bishop of Colombo and requested him to hand
over the school to the principal, Mr. Jansz to run it as a private school.
Finally the Bishop agreed and with the support of affluent parents and
leading Buddhists, Mr. Jansz took the challenge with confidence. His first
move was to pay a courtesy visit to the Venerable Migettuwatte Gunananda
Thera and pledged that he would conduct the school without any bias
towards any caste, creed, nationality or religion. He was such an upright
personality and was able to win the goodwill of the Buddhist clergy and
the laity. The Buddhist leaders who decided things for Panadura, the
renowned Buddhist town gave all encouragement and support to Mr. Jansz.
John's which was established with 82 students and 6 teachers in 1882
increased to 150 students and by 1886 had classes from form 5 to Senior
1886 Mr. Jansz married Miss Emelia Jansz who hailed from a well known
family in Galle. Soon after the marriage, Mrs. Jansz started a private
class with two girls but within a very short period the class was so
popular that she had to rent out a house for further expansion. In 1914
she was able to start a Girls' School in a newly constructed building. The
persevering lady later purchased two houses one to house a girls hostel
and the other for a boys' hostel.
was a period of prosperity to the Jansz family and in 1915 they purchased
a 12 acre block of land at Udahamulla and constructed a bungalow for the
Principal and a two storied building for students in higher forms,
Cambridge Junior and Senior, London Matriculation and London Intermediate.
St. John's which had a Boys' school only initially; with the passage of 33
years grew up with a complex of schools viz: Boys and Girls schools, a
Primary and the College at Udahamulla. By 1924 the student population had
increased to 1400 with a teaching staff of 82 teachers.
Jansz retired in 1928 but for few more years he was involved in
administrative work. He was not only a Principal but a parent to the
students. He was much concerned of the bright students who were not
fortunate to spend for higher education. He introduced a free Scholarship
Scheme to assist such students and encourage them to continue their higher
studies. He went a step further and did not hesitate to assist the
families of such students when they were in distress.
was a strict disciplinarian and it would not be out of place to mention
that once, he sacked his own son from the school on a minor disciplinary
charges. He was also a pioneer in co-education Vocational Training and
even kept a Botanical Garden where students could attend to their
practicals in Botany.
was a person of principles and the past records say that he had mention in
his last will that the school, if it is to be handed over, it should be to
the Government Only and not any religious organisation. Having devoted his
whole life to education and having successfully accomplished that mission
he passed away in June 1940.
is desirable to mention some of the outstanding Johnians who had earned
reputation and recognition here and abroad. They are Gate Mudliar Edmund
Peiris, Dr. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Dr. G. P. Malalasekera, Dr. B. C. P.
Benaragama, Dr. Punchibandara Sannasgala, Mr. Peter P. Abeysekera, Dr.
Colvin R. de Silva, Dr. M. V. P. Peiris, Mr. V. S. Jayawickrema, Mr.
Leslie Goonawardena, Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali (all past Ministers of
State) Mr. Bennet Soysa (formerly a Mayor) Mr. Stanley Senanayake
(formerly IGP), Prof. Nandasena Ratnapala and Mr. Premasiri Khemadasa.
Douglas Ramanayake, Mr. Neil de Perera (formerly Secretary to the Board of
Control for Cricket of Sri Lanka) are two senior Old Johnians whose
services to the School are unforgettable. Another Johnian who had lavishly
spent for the School is Mr. D. K. Subasinghe.
Cyril A. Jansz (Junior), Mr. Jansz's son succeeded him as the Principal
and continued the hard work done by his father, but without much luck and
before the implementation of the Bill for Schools take over, Mr. Jansz
handed over the School to the Government on 1st January 1957 and St.
John's thus became a State School.
a longstanding master Mr. C. P. P. Samarasekera was appointed the
Principal. It was during this period that a White Paper based on the
Educational Reforms of Mr. Iriyagolla became effective by categorising all
schools in the Island as 'Junior' and 'Senior Schools'. The senior schools
to have classes above form 5 and the Junior schools to retain forms upto 5
and to serve as feeder schools.
scheme did not work well as far as St. John's was concerned; as the feeder
schools did not transfer classes above Form 5 to the school but our school
handed over its classes up to Form 5 to the junior schools in the
vicinity. This created an imbalance where the school lost its numerical
strength. The past pupils and the parents carried out a protest campaign
and took up the issue to the Ministry of Education. A strong deputation
met the Director General of Education and having given a patient hearing
he approved the establishment of a primary in the school premises and
named it as 'Udahamulla Kanishta Vidyalaya'. Later it became the primary
school of St. John's College.
done an unforgettable service for the development of English education in
Sri Lanka, the members of the Jansz family left the country for Australia
in 1969 and the past pupils, parents and well wishers bade them farewell
at a garden party organised by the Cyril Jansz PPA. That was a memorable
day for all Johnians and the people of Panadura.
becoming a Government school she had undergone many a change during the
past four decades under ten principals. Just like any other school she too
had her share of ups and downs.
two organisations namely the association of Old Johnians and the Cyril
Jansz PPA had nurtured the school during the long period of a century and
quarter. They have been responsible for the development of the school in
many a field. The infrastructure of the school had undergone many
improvements with the assistance of the Ministry of Education. Today it
has a complex of buildings, a principal quarters and three science labs.
playground has been constructed by the Old Boys with the assistance of the
Sri Lanka Army Engineers and it is in its final stage of completion. Today
with the amalgamation of the two past pupils organisations, there emerge a
powerful 'Association of Old Johnians' who perform the function of the
'Guardian of the School'.
Johnians we have no doubt that St. John's will emerge as a great
educational institution in keeping with her motto 'Nihil Amanti Difficile'.