Vidya Jyothi Professor V. K. SAMARANAYAKE
(1939 – 2007)
Vanniarachchige Kithsiri Samaranayake was born on the 22nd of May 1939 and had his early education in Hewavitharana Vidyalaya, Rajagiriya, where his father was the principal and his mother, was a teacher. He entered Ananda College in 1948 and then royal College through a competitive examination in 1950.
Prof. V.K.Samaranayake entered the University of Ceylon to read for a degree in Science in 1956 having completed his secondary education at Ananda and Royal Colleges. He was selected to do a Special degree in Mathematics and obtained a First Class Honours degree in 1961.
Prof. Samaranayake entered the Imperial College, London in 1963 on a state scholarship for his postgraduate studies and then moved on to University College, London to complete his Ph.D. in record time before returning home in 1966. At the age of just 35, in recognition of his great scholarship, the University of Colombo appointed him to its highest Academic position of Professor of Mathematics in 1974. He was subsequently appointed Senior Professor of Mathematics in 1984, invited to be the first Senior Professor of the newly created Chair in Computer Science in 1996 and appointed Emeritus Professor of the University of Colombo after his retirement in 2004. In recognition of which the University honored him with the title Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, and conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa at its subsequent Convocation.
As it is not possible to confine the appreciation of his enormous service to the nation and his illustrious career as an academic and an administrator to a few pages, some of the significant milestones of his illustrious career are outlined below.
- 1987- He was appointed as Chairman of the Computer and Information Technology Council of Sri Lanka (CINTEC), which he served for 12 years. During this period he was also tasked with chairing the Presidential Task Force on Integrated R & D in Science & Technology 1997-2000 and the National Y2K Task Force in Sri Lanka 1998-2000.
- 1992 – He initiated the participation of Sri Lankan school children in Computer Programming by committing CINTEC funds for sending teams of 4 to the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). Sri Lanka has been able to secure 3 Gold, 5 Silver and 13 Bronze medals at successive IOI’s with a record of never returning without a medal since 1994.
- In 1995 he was instrumental in setting up intensive discussions with Sri Lanka Telecom, to commence Internet services in Sri Lanka. These discussions eventually brought LEARN and Internet connectivity to Sri Lanka in 1996.
- He was instrumental in forming associations for Computer TrainingOrganizations(ACTOS), for the Software Industry (SLASI), and the Computer Vendors (SLCVA). He also created the umbrella organization for these associations in the form of the Federation of IT Industry Associations (FITIA) which recently hosted the largest ICT event in Sri Lanka – the ASOCIO ICT Summit. He has also been involved with the well known ICT Trade Exhibition organization, INFOTEL whose Chairmanship he has held from 1997. INFOTEL has in turn been the major funding organization for many industries and human resource development efforts in the field of ICT.
- In 1984 he had his first major breakthrough with the full backing of the then Chancellor, Dr. P. R. Anthonis, and Vice Chancellor Prof. Stanley Wijesundera in the form of a substantial JICA grant from the Government of Japan. Almost simultaneously, the UNDP provided some much-needed research funding to build up Academic Faculty in Computer Science at theUniversity of Colombo. Starting with the Statistical Unit and the Statistical Computing and Data Processing Centre within the Mathematics Department, Prof. Samaranayake first convinced the University to set up a Department of Statistics and Computer Science in 1985, the first of its kind in Sri Lanka, and then went onto create the first School in the university system in the form of the University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC) in 2002.
- Commencing in the year 2000, Prof. Samaranayake initiated another major milestone in ICT HRD in Sri Lanka with the launch of the innovative Bachelor of Information Technology (BIT) External Degree programme which provides an ultimately scalable mechanism for affordable ICT education in a way that incorporates the private sector – a feat no other degree programme has been designed to do.
- Prof. Samaranayake’s involvement in the scientific community has been no less impressive with the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) electing him to the office of General President in 1994 and the National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka electing him as a Fellow of the Academy, its Vice President and finally its President for 1998-99.
- Commencing with the meager funding resources extended by donors in the 1970’s in an era when the developed countries themselves were just getting into the area of serious ICT human resource development, Prof. Samaranayake commenced his quest of directing all local and foreign funding to develop ICT Human Resource development at the University of Colombo.
- Prof. Samaranayak has been bestowed with several national awards in the form of the Lions’ Club Gold Medal for the Most Outstanding Citizen of Sri Lanka in 1986, the Vishva Prasadini Award in 1996 on the occasion of the 80th birthday of the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the Vidya Jyothi Presidential Award in 1998.
- Prof. Samaranayake’s characteristic skill at excelling in multiple tasks is also demonstrated by his continuing involvement in research, being named a Fellow of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, USA in 2001, Research Fellow at the National Centre for Digital Government at Harvard University, USA in 2003 and the impending appointment as Visiting Fellow in the Digital Vision Programme at Stanford University, USA in 2005. A particularly high point of this role was when he simultaneously chaired two International Conferences while playing a key role in the whole of the Government declared Information Technology Week in December 2004. He also continued as Chairman of the International Information TechnologyConference till his untimely demise.