After ten posts about travel at the turn of the century with Kithsiri, I go back to my work while at the Universitiy of Sri Jayewardenepura. This post relates how I took on one of the most interesting tasks I have engaged in, coordination of an islandwide programme conducted by the University Grants Commission for pre-university students. It arose by chance, simply because my old friend A J Gunawardena was on the same flight back to Sri Lanka as I was. But fortunately too I knew all about the programme and had produced books for it at its inception.

I note too the irony of my having been aware earlier of the vacancy, and the personal problems that had caused one of my former students, now a power at the National Institute of Education, to think of moving to another organization.

The pictures are of two wonderful people who are peripheral to this article, Tarzie Vittachi and A J Gunawardena, both of whom feature in Luminous Lives, which Godage brought out in the first year of Coronavirus.

The origins of my work on the GELT

Next morning I set off on a long journey, getting back just over two months later, on Sunday July 11th. In England I had seen Tarzie Vittachi, for my father had told me he was dying, and I was glad I made the effort for he was his charming self though he knew he had not long to go. And then on the flight back I met up with A J Gunawardena who told me that he had recommended to Arjuna Aluwihare, Chairman of the UGC, that he ask me to coordinate the pre-University General English Language Teaching Course.

I knew about the GELT for, when it had been set up five years earlier, the Council had been contracted by the Canadians to produce readers, and it was that project that led to greater assistance from the Canadians, first to the Council and then to the English Association, to produce lots of low cost books, readers and textbooks.

A former student of mine at Peradeniya, Vijita Yatawatte, had applied for the position together with her husband, to resolve a problem that had arisen for they felt awkward about the impending vacancy for the post of Director of the Department of English at the NIE where they both worked. To obviate the unpleasantness of one of them being appointed – and she was the better qualified, they had wanted to move together to the GELT. But they had not been selected and AJ told me there had been no suitable candidates which is why he had recommended me, believing that what I had initiated for the AUCs could be adapted also for all pre-University students who had received very little English in their schools.

I was enthusiastic about the idea for it would fit in well with the work I was doing, and it was clear that the approach I had introduced would be the most useful for students. So next day, back at USJP, I told the Vice-Chancellor and, though he did not seem too pleased, I called up Arjuna who was delighted, but said he had asked Oranee if she could take on the position. I told her I could work happily with her, so he told me to come to the UGC with her the next day.