Appreciating veteran educator ‘Mrs. PS’
By Prof. Samitha Hettige
Padma Samaraweera (Mrs. PS) was teacher at Royal Junior School (RJS) for close to three decades along with personalities such as Rohini Alles, Somasunderum and Jalaldeen.
After laying the primary education foundation for more than 1,000 students, she passed away peacefully ending a journey of more than 80 years in April 2021. This is written to pay gratitude for the guidance she gave 45 years ago in 1976. Sri Lanka was governed by Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike who chaired the Non-Aligned Summit held in Colombo that year (NAM).
The Summit Flats at Police Park were constructed, Hotel Intercontinental was opened and Peugeot 504 and Leather Top Holden cars were first imported at that time. At the beginning of the year, 40 students were admitted to class 1E of RJS in January. The Head Master of RJS was late Bonnie Wijesuriya. RJS was a Government primary school with classes till grade 8. Those who passed the Royal College entrance examination could enter Royal College for secondary education while others had to find other schools after completing 8th standard.
After a brief welcome speech, new students were lined up to go to their classes. Mrs. PS was in charge of class 1E. Bonnie W glanced at the 1E row & told her that she looked like PM Sirima at the upcoming NAM meeting flanked by Heads of State. Not many understood what the Head Master meant. Later they got their first opportunity learn more about the upcoming NAM conference through elders. Mrs. PS very much resembled the Prime Minister in her iconic Kandyan saree and hairstyle. With 40 differently shaped boys in brand new uniforms, Bonnie W surely must have visualised the upcoming NAM conference to be chaired by PM Sirima. The boys indeed were a rainbow mix of shapes, sizes and colours.
After few days together in 1E the fattest was named ‘Bada’ and thinnest ‘Kiri Panuwa’. The rest included; Nelli, Ala Buriya, Nakiya and Patty among others. 1E was the largest classroom in the British-era block which got replaced with the MAS Arena later. 40 boys had a memorable year with Mrs. PS while enjoying life with simple options as there was no rat race as at present.
There were no term end exams or awarding of prizes to the best. Every child was considered best (vision of late H.D. Sugathapala, former Head Master at RJS, Founder of Nawarangahala and renowned educationist who authored the Nawa Maga book series). Mrs. PS walked with the boys to the National Museum and to SLBC to see live broadcasting, taught them to write letters, numbers, draw pictures and sing little songs. 12 years after she laid the foundation, 40 youth left school taking various walks of life. 1976 is special to Sri Lanka as the NAM met under PM Sirima.
1976 is more memorable to the 40 boys who first met at 1E under Mrs. PS. Among them are Buwaneka Colonne, Moraj Devasurendra, Ranil Vitarana, Prashan Fernando, Madava Chandrasekera, Thilan Senaratna, Janoda Thoradeniya, Hasantha Opatha, Nilhan Jayasinghe, Sihil Piyasiri, Bilal Mohammad, Sohan John, Dilan Ratnayake and Nishan Wickremasinghe etc. Mrs. Samaraweera will always occupy a special place in the hearts of the 40 boys whom she focused on 45 years ago. May she attain Nirvana!