Hill schools face student withdrawals post 104 day long bandh
Darjeeling, October 9, 2017: Hill schools of North Bengal have started feeling the brunt of the recently concluded 104 day long bandh. Many of the boarding students have not returned with the schools having reopened.
Incidentally the Hills were on an agitation path with the party in power the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha having called a bandh since June 15.
The unrest in the Hills has dealt a major blow to the image of Darjeeling as an education hub. The boarders coming to these schools from all over the country and also from different parts of the continent, contribute largely to the economy of the Hills.
"Around 25 boarding students have not returned after the bandh.They have joined schools elsewhere. Out of the 25 around 7 are from Thailand. The rest are from Sikkim, Kolkata, Bihar and other parts of the country" stated Father Shajumon, Rector, St. Joseph's school, Darjeeling popularly known as North Point.
The school founded in 1888 has 485 boarders and 540 day scholars. "We are anticipating more withdrawals in the next academic session. As it was in the middle of the academic year many of boarders wanting to withdraw might not have got accommodations which could happen at the beginning of the next academic session" added Father Shajumon.
Majority of the schools have suffered similar fate. Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling has 35 withdrawals out of a student strength of around 230.
"Such bandhs have a prolonged effect. Political unrest has taken the toll on the Tea and tourism industry too. However the tea and tourism industry will recover in due course of time but it is very difficult for the education sector to recover the goodwill that has taken hundreds of years to build and a few months to disintegrate" stated Robindra Subba, Director, Himali Boarding School, Kurseong.
Schools are the economic mainstay of a town like Kurseong that boasts of 26 schools. Most of these schools have boarding facilities with students coming in from all over the country and neighbouring countries including Bangladesh, Nepal and even Thailand.
"Very few tourists visit Kurseong. The urban economy of Kurseong including Hotels, taxis and even employment are largely dependent on these schools specially the parents of the boarders" added Subba.
The Himal Boarding School which offers both ISC and Cambridge has a student strength of 1200 including 60 foreign students from Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand and Singapore. The school has around 26 withdrawals after the strike.
"I have no complaints against the schools. They have really done a commendable job in looking after our wards but imagine the agony the parents went through seeing the television footage of the clashes and the unrest. Earlier options were very few but these days most parts of India have excellent schools" stated a Doctor (requesting anonymity) who has withdrawn both his daughters from a Hill school after the unrest gripped the Hills.
Summing up the effect of the 104 day long bandh, Father Kinley, a renowned educationist stated "This strike will go down in history as the death knell of the boarding schools in the hills. The 80s agitation took away the erstwhile boarders and we saw a new breed of boarders. The 2007 agitation added fuel to the fire and the Siliguri schools who were vying for these boarders benefited from the loss of Darjeeling. This agitation will definitely put some schools out of the education map of Darjeeling. I am sure if the schools are run well, eventually students will return but no more are
we going to get back our former Darjeeling loyalist and Darjeeling lovers."