Devi Balika Vidyalaya, Colombo 8 Looking back with pride

60th Anniversary


by Lillian Somalatha Ratnayake

Devi Archives

Sixty years ago on 15th January a centre for learning was opened for girls in a modest looking cluster of buildings set in not so pleasant environment in the heart of Colombo. It was called Government Girls’ College, Castle Street.

It had no science lab, although the primary objective of the school was to give a strictly science oriented education to girls. It had no library, not a single book, although SSC and HSC (O/L and A/L) students were to be equipped to face two competitive Government exams. It had a newly filled stretch of land called the playground but nothing to call sports equipment. One of the filthy drains of Colombo 8 ran across the premises sneering at the new principal’s efforts to teach personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness in school.

Against this physical background 53 girls were selected through a very strict admission test held at Royal College. A team of five young teachers were also selected by interview, to teach Arts and Science subjects in the English medium. These two teams -the five teachers and the 53 Students- were going to spell out "Education" in terms of the unique vision of the energetic principal, Dr. Mrs. Wimala de Silva. She breathed life to her vision although it was too early to visualize how it would take shape within the scope of higher education.

The principal worked out and activated the mechanism of every detail interweaving the small group of students and the teachers with the silken stand of understanding and trust. The teachers and the students were bent on gathering together the scanty physical resources positively, to fly their maximum height. And the staff had their lenses always turned towards moulding of the girl child, and never on the bricks and mortar or the lawns and the landscaping around them.

On the second day of school while the time table was being followed, the special subject under discussion was personal hygiene and health. This subject was discussed in all its detail with stress on the practical aspects. Every Friday afternoon, educators and doctors were invited for talks, to widen the knowledge of the girls, always with the emphasis on the practical aspect.

Cleanliness of the environment was taken up as the next special subject. A spotlessly clean environment was the target. The principal herself set an example, picking up scraps of paper and in no time, drove the message home with 100% success. Cleanliness, propriety in dress and refinement in taste were the other lessons taught at the outset. The principal and the teachers always dressed elegantly but were never overdressed. They always displayed an eastern sense of decency for girls to follow.

Work in school was planned with such foresight and wisdom that the girls learnt not to be deflated or offensive regarding facilities they didn’t have, but to make the most of what was available. They learnt to work out strategies free of exploitation to achieve what they needed, while pursuing studies with a balanced mind.

Due to the hard work put in by Mrs. de Silva and the close knit team of teachers, the new school with minimum facilities gathered momentum and made its mark within half a decade by achieving impressive exam results, while at the same time transforming the school into a hive of activity in sports, guiding, drama, dancing, music, debating and many other activities.

Above all these activities, the invisible process of character building was ever vibrant, with the principal holding high the torch as it were, with the teachers guiding the young people up the steps to disciplined wisdom. (Those disciplined in mind are indeed wise says the school motto)

The new school unfolded itself in many a different hue giving shape to strong personalities content with a simple life, able to give of their best to the country and also to stand on their own in the face of odds. Thus they were able to enrich the country, whether they be intellectuals, academics, artistes, wives or mothers.

The school was named Devi Balika Vidyalaya in its 10th year.

At Devi Balika the responsibilities of the teachers and the principal did not end with the last bell at 3.30pm. Whenever there were inter school competitions, Mrs. de Silva was present at practices till 6.00 pm if need be, suggesting improvements in the voice of the singer, in the facial expression of the actor, or the gait of the dancer, which effort of course brought the first place to the school very often. She insisted on simple costumes made of down to earth choice of material, so that the girls could use them later. Her involvement in extracurricular activities went a long way in teaching the girls two important lessons in life. One was the importance of attaining perfection in whatever work they undertook. The other was the value of simplicity and elegance. The principal with her dynamism kept the teachers on their toes as it were, from 8.00am to 3.30 pm and further towards the late afternoon to involve the girls in a multitude of activities to give expression to their talent. And the teachers broadened the vistas of the young girls to blossom with wisdom to face the challenges of the world.

Mrs. Kalyani de Zoysa, when she succeeded Mrs. Wimala de Silva as the second Principal, had already served the school for 12 years from its inception. She held the reins for 19 years consolidating the Devi traditions and making the dream of the founder principal and of herself, a reality.

The school was fortunate to have principals of the calibre of Mrs. Mercy Edussuriya, Mrs. Soma Subasinghe, Mrs.Jayanthi Pinnagoda, Mrs. Kalyani Lakshman and Mrs. Sandhya Malalasekera, who continued to keep Devi Balika in the limelight. They steadily but slowly expanded the physical dimensions of the school in response to the pressure for admission, always maintaining the level of distinction and upholding its high values.

Going through 60 years of activities at Devi, the Past Pupils’ Association and the School Development Committee deserve special mention, for the unwavering support they have extended to the different principals and the staff in all their ventures. When expansion projects were undertaken by the PPA it was a hazardous journey they went through with meager funds at their disposal and sweating for every rupee they earned.

Among the several landmarks in the process of physical expansion of the school, the most welcome addition was the Devi hostel, gifted by the well known philanthropist Mrs. Daya Hewavitharana. The PPA which felt the urgent need for a hostel had taken up the challenge of buying land in Colombo 8 and constructing a building, knowing fully well that it was indeed a distant goal. In the course of this process, as luck would have it, an avenue opened up, to obtain "Sarana" from Mrs. Hewavitharana as the Devi hostel.

The sophisticated buildings, the library complex and the modern auditorium that have sprung up in the course of expansion indicates that Devi Balika has stepped gracefully into the 21st century, never losing sight of it major task of arming the girl child with disciplined wisdom. The transport facility at her door step which was acquired by the ingenuity of the different principals from time to time is an indication that the school keeps pace with the fast moving world, to consolidate its place in the forefront.

The present principal of Devi Balika, Mrs. Pradeepa Samarasinghe has maintained the intricate balance between curricular and extracurricular activities while steering the school towards her goal " The sky is the limit" At Devi Balika, wisdom unfolds itself more radiantly than ever before to enrich the young lives, with the foundation of discipline stronger than ever to mould their character.

Let every Devian today, gather the riches of education at her disposal and climb to the summit of life’s refinement and wisdom as her forerunners have done and in return "strive to transmit the school greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to her" as our School Oath says.

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