Long shutdown leaves Darjeeling school authorities apprehensive about the future
The record 104-day-long bandh and political uncertainly have triggered extreme uncertainty in the schools of north Bengal hills as many educationists have started looking for greener pasture elsewhere.
With its cool climes, the picturesque Darjeeling hills host an education hub with many residential schools, some of which are well over 100 years old. Some like St Paul’s School was set up in 1864 and St Joseph’s School in 1888. Hill schools continue to attract students from different parts of the country and even from Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Authorities of schools in the hills are worried after some students did not return to the hills after the bandh was withdrawn and the puja holidays were over. Authorities of reputable schools in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong told HT that they are worried about how to rebuild the damaged image and find ways for survival.
“Though the immediate impact of the bandh and political uncertainty is negligible, we are worried about the long term impact,” said Chetan Tewari, principal of St Anthony’s School, Kurseong. He disclosed six of his day scholars have already taken admission in Siliguri while 10 out of 380 boarders did not return when classes resumed.
Bobby Chachan, the proprietor of Bethany School in Kurseong said, ”Two percent of the students did not return. Though the figure is negligible, many parents are scared to send their children to the schools of Darjeeling hills as political uncertainty prevails.”
Prakash Pradhan, director of Rockvale Academy, Kalimpong said political uncertainty was the biggest uncertainty.
“Now parents would think 10 times before admitting their kids in the schools of the hills,” Pradhan said pointing to the growing alternatives elsewhere.
Sources said around 25 boarding students have not returned to St. Joseph’s School, Darjeeling after the bandh. Of these 25, seven are from Thailand.
“The rest are from Sikkim, Kolkata, Bihar and other parts of the country,” stated Father Shajumon, rector, St. Joseph’s school popularly known as North Point. The school has 485 boarders and 540 day scholars. “We are anticipating more withdrawals in the next academic session,” he remarked.
The first chapter of Gorkhaland agitation took place in 1986-88. Educationists pointed out there were not many reputed schools elsewhere, but the scenario is different now. Good schools have also come up in neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan from where a number of students used to study in Darjeeling.
The authorities are unanimous in the opinion that unless confidence building measures are taken up immediately, the school industry in the hills is going to suffer irreparably.
Pradhan also informed that many school owners have started planning to diversify into other businesses elsewhere as their fear about the future.
The schools most affected are in proper Darjeeling, which is ground zero of the Gorkhaland movement during which 12 people were killed since June 15, when the indefinite bandh began.
The Himal Boarding School, Kurseong that has about 1,200 students including 60 foreign students from Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand and Singapore has suffered 26 dropouts.
Father Kinley, a renowned educationist stated “This strike will go down in history as the death knell of the boarding schools in the hills.