MRS. RUPA NANAYAKKARA (1962- 1972)
This decade is considered a very important period in the history of the school. All schools were vested in the Government according to the new educational policy. A few Missionary schools were given authority to function as private schools.
Southlands successfully managed by the Methodist Mission for nearly eight decades was declared a Government school and it was registered as Southlands Balika Vidyalaya on the 15th of March 1962.
Mrs. Rupa Nanyakkara, a Bachelor of Arts graduate and an experienced teacher with a Diploma in Education, was appointed by the Government as the first Principal after the takeover of the schools. Her period of service should be considered as an era of considerable importance since the administration was changed and the school had to be developed under the regulations laid down by the Government.
During this period, Southlands was a popular school in Southern Sri Lanka as a secondary school. However students had to seek admission to other schools to do higher studies after completing the Ordinary Level examination. Advanced Level facilities were not available for students at Southlands. Even though there were many setbacks, Mrs. Nanayakkara boldly inaugurated an Advanced Level Science stream at Southlands. She felt challenged to help the students who wished to continue their studies in the Science Stream at Southlands. There were no qualified teachers to teach the relevant subjects and no equipment for the science laboratory, but she took a courageous step forward introducing the Advanced Level science stream even though there were no room to accommodate the new classes. Principals of Richmond College and Mahinda College gave immense assistance to Mrs. Nanayakkara to fulfil her desire of upgrading the school with Science Education. The science stream was inaugurated in 1967. Pupils were fortunate to enter the science faculties of Universities as Southlanders in the midst of great difficulties. Mrs. Nanaykkara was able to see the results of her efforts when a student from a difficult area, Hambantota, entered the Dental stream in the Medical College in 1970. She enabled Southlanders to enter Medical College. As a result there are many Doctors who are serving our country as specialists in the field of Medicine today.
Advanced Level science classes were started in 1967 and students were fortunate to be the winners of the science quiz organised by the Shell Company in 1968. The children had the great opportunity to listen to Dr. Cyril Ponnamperuma, the world famous Sri Lankan scientist from the South, when he visited the school during this period. Mrs. Nanayakkara made every effort to improve the science education at Southlands and many children benefited from her efforts.
During Mrs. Nanyakkara’s tenure of office, for the first time in the history of Southlands College, an all night Pirith Ceremony was held, followed by an alms giving to bestow merit on all past Principals, teachers, past pupils and well-wishers who helped to make Southlands an outstanding Educational Institution in the Southern Province. This significant ceremony continues to be held annually now.
Though Southlands was a Methodist missionary school for many years, the majority of the students were Buddhists. During the colonial era, there was no provision given to teach Buddhism or any other religion other than Christianity. The educational policy of the government was changed in 1962 and religion was made a compulsory subject keeping with the new administration. Buddhist children had the opportunity to participate in Buddhist activities in the school and Pansil was observed at school assembly for the first time.
The Buddhist union was formed in 1962 under the patronage of the Principal and accordingly, Buddhist sermons were organised and children were fortunate to listen to the sermons of eminent Bikkhus like Ven. Madihe Panngasiha thero, Ven. Piyadassi thero and Sudharma Dasa Sil Matha and a religious atmosphere was created in the school. Developing more religious activities, a Sil programme was also organised and senior students observed Atasil for the first time in the history of the school. The unity in the school was such, Christian students too participated in the helping and organising the alms giving for those who observed Atasil. The most significant religious activity during this era was an all night Pirith ceremony in the school followed by an alms giving to give merit to all past Principals, teachers, well-wishers, who had assisted to make Southlands a major Educational Institute in Southern Sri Lanka, irrespective of their religious beliefs. For the first time, Wesak was celebrated in school and a “Bakthi Gee” recital was organised inside the school premises as well as outside and children went round the city in a decorated float reciting Bakthi Gee.
In 1969, Home Economics which had been taught in the school from the inception was included in the school curriculum as a subject for Advanced Level students. So a well- equipped Home Science block was built on the school play ground. It was the play ground where we had held all sports meets in the early years. The school lost one facility to gain another. Home Economics now became a very popular subject among the Advanced Level students.
To overcome the handicap of losing the play ground in the school premises Mrs. Nanayakkara was able to secure piece of land inside the fort, close to the school to be used as the play ground on a temporary basis. The play ground which was used by less than thousand students during the missionary regime was insufficient for the student population which had increased immensely with the take over of the school by the State.
Mrs. Nanayakkara made some necessary changes in keeping with the new educational regulations to suite the new atmosphere. The school song which we sang during the missionary period was changed and a new school song was introduced. The lyric of the new song was written by Mr. Kithsiri Kumarasinghe, a teacher by profession. It was composed to music by Mr. Herman Perera, the visiting music, singing and dancing instructor from Payagala.
A taste for indigenous arts was created in the minds of Southlanders from the beginning of 19thcentury. Mrs. Nanayakkara also took steps to start an Oriental Orchestra and also a Western Band in the school. During this period Sinhala drama was encouraged. Three stage plays, ”Dittamangalika” (1965), “Wessantara” (1967) and”Kusa Jathakaya” (1970) were staged by the school. Mr. Herman Perera directed the plays very successfully. For the first time in the history of Southlands, School was fortunate enough to bring “Kusa Jathakaya” on boards at the Lumbini Theatre (well known as the Mecca of Sinhala drama) amidst a full house being the last Sinhala stage play produced by the school. Many variety entertainments too were held annually to display the talents and skills of children during this era. An oriental music teacher joined the staff for the first time and an oriental orchestra was formed. The school oriental orchestra supplied the music with the assistance given by Miss Sumana Dhammika Hapugoda the oriental music teacher and Mr. Herman Perera for the stage play ”Kusa Jathakaya” in 1970. School was able to maintain a high standard of indigenous arts during her period keeping the old tradition of the school alive and immense assistance were given by the tutorial staff very specially by Mrs. Padmini Koralage with costumes and stage sets and all other activities needed. The famous artists from the South, Mr. Jayasiri Semage and Mr. Upasena Gunawardena assisted the school with their art work to make the plays colourful. The play ”Kusa Jathakaya” was a tremendous success with five public performances in Galle and Colombo in 1970. The O.P.A. (Colombo branch) gave immense assistance in organising the play in Colombo.In 1969, the country celebrated the Centenary in Education in Sri Lanka and Southlands took a major role in Southern Province. The starting point of delivering the “Siyawasa Message” was at Southlands and two Southlanders handed over the message to the neighbourhood school, Galu Madya Maha Vidyalaya at first and it was continued to be handed over to other schools in Galle. A large number of ceremonies were held to commemorate ”Siyawasa Revelry”and an island-wide western band competition was organised for the event. School children participated from all corners of the island which was held at the Colombo Royal College grounds. Mrs. Nanyakkara formed a Western Band in 1968 and after a mere training of few months Southlanders participated in the competition being the only girls school band from the Southern Province. Southlanders were able to gain the fourth place in the event where about 500 children participated with Senior and Junior bands from many schools.
Along with the change of Educational Policy, many activities were introduced in the field of Education. English and Sinhalese activities were revived and children had to participate in many extra curricular activities in many fields. Thus ”Sinhala Sahitya” day and English day came into vogue and many competitions were held among schools provincially and Island wide by the Department of Education. Southlands became Southern Province champions many times during this period. Children carried a large number of awards in oratory, essay, recitation, story telling, general knowledge, spelling and drama, in both English day and Sinhala day competitions.
Special attention was given to improve the knowledge in English and a band of dedicated teachers rendered an admirable service in the English Department. Southlanders obtained the highest marks and emerged champions in the division at the schools English Day competitions in 1969 and became champions again in the Galle District English day competitions in 1970 too.
Sinhala day activities too were given an important place in the Government curriculum and many competitions were conducted at District level. Southlanders obtained the highest marks in many age groups. All Island Sinhala day was celebrated at Rahula College Matara and the special song composed for the event was sung by Southlanders, and our oriental orchestra supplied the music for the song. Seven years old Varuni Paranavithana of Southlands won the all island first place in poetry recital.
Mrs. G. Munasinghe, as Vice Principal, devoted her life training the students for all the competitions in the field of Sinhalese literary activities.
According to the recorded history in the past school magazines, Southlanders had participated in many educational tours, mainly one day trips during the missionary period. Mrs. Nanayakkara organised long trips among the hostellers and day scholars. Educational trips were conducted to Anuradhapura, Mihintale, the Hill Country, Nuwara Eliya, World’s End, Mahiyangana, wild sanctuaries, and children had the opportunity to visit the Veddha chief, Tissahamy and the clan too. All these trips were well organised with the immense assistance given by Miss L. Samarasinghe who completed 40 years of service as the matron of the Southlands hostel.
After the school was vested in the Government the number of students sought admission to the school increased rapidly. The accommodation available was inadequate to house the Primary and Upper school together. Even though it was not a good solution, Mrs. Nanayakkara took a decision to divide the school to two sessions to ease out the difficulties and the primary classes were conducted in the afternoon due to lack of accommodation and it lasted for many years until the problem was solved by the Principal Mrs. Daniel in 1984.
She rendered 10 years of devoted service to uplift the school in the field of academic as well as in extra curricular activities, and left having been appointed Principal of Ananda Balika Vidyalaya, Colombo 10, in 1970.