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A jewel in the crown of girls' education

Gampaha Ratnawali Balika celebrates 60th anniversary :

by Lionel Yodhasinghe

Ratnawali is the name of the queen mother of King Parakramabahu the Great, who was expectant with her baby son, living in hiding protecting the unborn child from the enemies, who later defeated local and foreign invaders and united the whole country.

Colonel Henry Steele Olcott Late D.D.Karunaratne Principal Mrs. Hema Jayawardena

But in Gampaha and its surroundings, Ratnawali is the prestigious name of a girls' school to which many eager parents are yearning to get their daughters admitted, for its quality of education, historical background and the prestige.

However, it is encouraging to note that an American national was in fact instrumental in the birth of the Ratnawali Balika Maha Vidyalaya. He was Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, a household name in our country following his noble and daunted service to the nation at a time when fundamental rights were denied to the ordinary people by the colonial rulers and their clique of local agents before the country gained Independence.

Therefore, Sri Lankan still commemorate the name of Colonel Olcott with great respect and love as his patronage extended to the Sinhala Buddhist society to propagate Buddhism and upgrade the social status of Sinhala Buddhists who were marginalized by the then colonial rulers and their stooges.

First school building

The arrival of Colonel Olcott therefore was a beginning of a social revolution in Sri Lanka, where education, health and employment were denied to the ordinary masses.

Such privileges were limited to a selected class of people who served obediently to the colonial administration. English language was chosen as the medium of instruction, and education was limited to Christian schools.

Ordinary people especially girls, as they had no access to such schools and facilities to learn English were deprived of proper education were later deprived them of positions in high echelons in the colonial rulers administration system.

This discrimination against the majority Sinhala Buddhists has become a social frustration at that time which also provided courage and support for local politicians to raise a voice against the colonial rulers and press them to declare independence to the country in 1948.

Sri Anagarika Dharmapala was one of the local activists who joined Colonel Olcott to carry out his noble service in the country and providing education to thousands of children in the backwards especially promoting girls' education was given priority in Colonel Olcott's agenda.

Rural children received an opportunity to gain better education and other social status, which was earlier, a distant dream under the rule of the colonial masters.

Christian missionary had capitalized the educational field, confining education to English medium where the majority rural people had no access and thereby depriving the right to education for thousands of children. Therefore the birth of Ratnawali for the girls in the area to learn in English medium opened new vistas for them to vie for higher positions in the administration system.

After a two and quarter acre land was purchased at a cost of Rs. 6,000 in the name of Parama Vinnanartha Company on December 31 1941, the following were selected as the members of the first school development committee: justice of Peace D.D. Karunaratne, P. Appu Singho Appuhamy, G.G. Jorish Appuhamy, P.S. Seram, Physician A.D.P. Ranasinghe, D.P.C. Samaratunga, L.A.D. Gunawardane, A.P. Gunetillaka, Percy Jayakody, A. Senanayake, S Gunesekera, E.R.D. Seram, D.F. Athukorala, N.L. Wilmot, G.G. Francis, Physician P. Arnolis, Physician B.S. Wickramarachchi, D.E. Weerasinghe, S.E.R. Gunesekera, P.P. Jayawardana and M.A. Jayasinghe. During the last 60 years, the following teachers have served at the Ratnawali Balika Vidyalaya, as lady principals. A. Denagama (April 1948 to August 1953), M.M. Meegoda (September 1953 to March 1957), W. Rodrigo (March 1957 to January 1974), P. Sarathkumara (Jan. 1974 to Jan. 1978), R.A.K. Ranasinghe (Jan. 1978 to October 1979), C.M. Senanayake (October 1979 to July 1983), S.M. Udugampola (May 1983 to Feb.1989), H.D.S. Gunesekera (Acting Principal) during September 1987 to Jan, 1989), W.P.L. Athauda (Jan 1989 to July 1989), S.M. Perera (July 1989 to August 1991), H.D.S. Gunesekera (Acting Principal) during August 1991 to November 1991, K. Ranwala (November 1991 to July 2000), R.H.S. Rajapakse (May 2000 to July 2001). Mrs. Hema Jayawardane is the present principal.

The inaugural ceremony was held on December 17, 1947, and among the participants were the then Education Minister E.A. Nugewela, Health Minister M.D. Banda, Justice of Peace D.D. Karunaratne and General Manager of Parama Vinnanartha Buddhist Company A.P. Jayasuriya.

Sixty students were admitted to the Ratnawali Girl's School on the first day, and Mrs. A. Denagama assumed duties as the first principal. Principal of the Gampaha Boys School H.A.Jayasinghe proposed a name and a motto.

The name Ratnawali was the humble suggestion of D.D.Karunaratne's name, as he was highly instrumental in setting up of the school. "Act according to the Triple Gem" (Karotha Buddhasasanam) was unanimously accepted as the motto of the school. An eminent artist K.P. Abeysinghe designed the school logo.

Social stakeholders

During the past 60 years, all principals served in the school have taken untiring efforts to develop the infrastructure facilities in the school while maintaining the highest standard of education.

They have worked in harmony with all social stakeholders such as politicians, administrative officials and other influential parties to get their support to uplift level of the school and moral standards of its girls, which it is today.

The school which started with 60 girls and two teachers have increased up to over 2500 students and 111 teachers, and many those passed out from the school are holding responsible positions in various spheres of society today.

Under the present principal Hema Jayawardena, the school has been given a boost specially to provide a quality and practical education to prepare the girls to face the new challenges in the 21 century.

Information Technology is a must in modern day for every child and having realized this, the principal took special interest in this requirement and as a result, a fully equipped computer unit was set up for the use of the girls. Her constant efforts also resulted to construct a three-storied new building and purchase a new sprawling land to expand the school premises.

New blood was infused to the units of aesthetic studies, commerce, arts, science, media and audio visual. Information technology unit and sports received special attention during this period and profiting out from these new facilities, Ratnawali girls have excelled in education as well in other curriculum activities such as inter school competitions to reach national level and win a name in the field of education in the area.

All over 111 teachers and non-academic staff of 30 serving today at the school have immensely contributed their share of service and commitment towards the success of Ratnawali and this is reflected upon the examination results of Ratnawali girls in the recent past.

The majority of the applicants who sat for the GCE Ordinary and Advanced Levels have got through their examination with best results in the past and in 2005, 286 students have sat for the O/L and all of them were qualified to enter A/L classes.

Since 2001, 100 percent O/L students have passed their examination and the percent age of obtaining distinction has been increased from 54 in 2000 to 94 in 2005. In the same period, 519 applicants out of 660 students who sat for the A/L were qualified to enter Universities.

The percentage of this has also increased tremendously and 218 students have entered Universities in 2005. Among them, seven were selected to Medical Faculty, six to Engineering Faculty, 13 to Biological Faculty, 15 to Physical Faculty, 15 to Commerce and Business Management Faculty and 27 to Arts and Aesthetic Faculties.

Majority of the others entered affiliated Universities. These outstanding results are themselves reflected upon the quality of Ratnawali's educational standard. These achievements are not mere gains but the dedication and commitment of all principals and teachers who served Ratnawali during her 60-year history since its inception in 1947.

This demonstrates that the objectives of the founders of this institute have been well achieved.

Future challenges

Among the various school Associations which give ample opportunity to students to brush up their talents and develop skills to face the future challenges and sit on par with the others in high echelons of the society are Sinhala Literary Association, Speech and Debating Guild, Buddhist Association, English Association, Commerce Association, Science Association, Students Counselling Service, Information Technology Unit, Environmental Pioneering Corps, St. John Ambulance Service, Scouts Union, Cadet Corps, Unesco Society, Media Unit, Saukyadana Service, Health Society, Prefects' Guild, Sports Society, Volleyball Association, Chess, Badminton, Swimming, Athletics, and Netball Associations and Cooperative Society.

There was a remarkable infrastructure development took place in the school during the last five years to help immensely improve the level of education of the students in Ratnawali.

The credit of such a massive development should no doubt go to the present Principal, the teachers and the parents who continuously engaged in this task giving constant touch to ensure the success towards the educational standards of Ratnawali.