Sirancee Gunawardana B.A. Principal 1968-1998
When Mrs. Sirancee Gunawardana, a second generation old girl, was appointed Principal in 1968, a new era began – the era of Sri Lankan Old Girl Principals. Though she had been Vice Principal from 1963, the prospect of taking over the principalship must have been an awesome one. However, simplicity and service were the keynotes of her life.
The decade following Mrs. Gunawardana’s appointment as Principal witnessed a further change of course in the country, to a policy of increasing State control. It was followed eight years later by an about turn to a liberalized economy that encouraged private enterprise. Despite the radically different stance that each government adopted, both continued to focus on the provision of education to the less privileged on an island-wide scale.
In a period when legislation was increasing the power of the government, it appears that at Ladies’ College, the democratic processes were consciously continued and even strengthened. She said, “Our school is a natural place for thinking anew and we owe it to our country to make a determined effort. If we gave of our ability to create a new order, Ladies’ College would have played its part in the building of Sri Lanka.”
As the first Sri Lankan Principal, she was always conscious of the need to integrate the school into the larger social and cultural life of the county. Hence, the school’s 75th anniversary was celebrated with a service of thanksgiving which was heralded with oriental splendor, a perahara with hundreds of students participating, the lighting of the 75 oil lamps at assembly and a spectacular fire drill in the evening.
In 1975, she took the initiative to diversify the education that Ladies’ College had hitherto not provided. She built the Department of Vocational Studies, which even today caters to the national need for technically and vocationally trained personnel.
The bomb blast in 1991 was a catastrophe of great magnitude as it resulted in damage to many buildings; especially the Chapel and Nursery. With courage and “empowered and protected by the love of God and God alone”, she ensured that in record time, normalcy returned and the catastrophe was put behind us.
In 1993, in addition to building the swimming pool – making Ladies’ College the only girls’ school in Colombo to have a pool at the time – she also introduced IT education and the London Advanced Level classes long before any other schools had even thought of it. A Multimedia Centre was incorporated in the Gunawardana Block which was built by her in 1995 and named after her in 1998.
Having always been conscious that money should not be spent lavishly and having set the example of organizing any occasion in a simple, dignified manner, she conveyed to us the message that unnecessary wastage had no place at Ladies’ College. She saved money for the school and it was due to her thrift and foresight that it was possible to re-build Willis hall, when its roof collapsed, as a three-storey block of classrooms in 2003, and also to build the cafeteria building with more classrooms in 2004.
Together with the encouragement of sports activities, there was the development of aesthetics. A rich tradition of Music, Drama and Singing in English and more recently in the second half of the century, in Sinhala and Tamil was encouraged by Principals and Vice Principals alike. Whilst the need for English was downgraded in state schools, Ladies’ College saw fit to continue to view English as a modern living language and as the link language of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual family from varied social and political backgrounds. English, therefore, continued to be used as the medium of communication at all gatherings. [Excerpts from Ladies’ College a centennial narrative 1900-2000]
“I don’t think any of us dreamed then of the changes that have taken place in school – Sinhala and Tamil oratorical contests every year, Sinhala and Tamil choirs, an oriental orchestra, Kandyan dancing being taught, Sinhala and Tamil drama of the same high standard as the English plays, regular Sinhala debates with other schools and other religions being given a place ….. Ladies College has been able to keep up with the times, thanks to the sensitivity and imagination of its present Principal, Mrs. Gunawardana.” – Sylvia Gunatileka, (Ladies’ College Souvenir, 1975).