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4 Aug 2017

Worried parents of Hills students eye safer options

Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey | TNN | Aug 4, 2017, KOLKATA: Parents of students who go to schools in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong have had enough. With the Gorkhaland agitation entering its 50th day and showing no sign of ending, many of these parents have started making enquiries with residential schools in Siliguri, in the northeast and even farther-away Shimla and Delhi to check for vacancies so that they can shift their children away from the troubled zone.
Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts boast of several reputed schools, like North Point, St Paul's, Goethals, Dowhill, St Helen's, Mt Hermon, where students from Bengal and Kolkata as well as other states and neighbouring cou-ntries come and study as boa-rders. The schools remain popular destinations, with several generations from many families graduating from these institutes.
But the longest continuous shutdown of life in the Hills now threatens that. Heads of these schools say they would not be surprised — going by the number of calls they have been getting from increasingly desperate par-ents — if "a significant percentage of our students do not come back to study here". More than 6,000 students go to these schools.
School authorities say they are asking parents to hold on till end of August and then take a decision but, with the agitation heading nowhere, admit they would not be surprised if "even 3,000 boarders" do not come back.
"Remember what GJM leaders said a few days ago, that 'schools are our bargaining chip'? The agitators have deliberately kept schools within the net of the agitation and, in the bargain, may have crippled them," a teacher of a missionary school in Darjeeling said.
Take the case of Shankar Kumar of Patna, who had both his daughters in Dowhill, Kurseong. The eldest is in class X. "I have put her in coaching classes in Patna so that she can complete her syllabus. I have decided to pull out my younger daughter, who is in class VIII," he said.
The same is the case with Sushmita Singh, whose daughter, Garima, too, is scheduled to write her board exam in March 2018. "We have been facing this since she was six years old. We have decided not only to quit Darjeeling if she passes her boards but not to go back to Bengal for her education again," the frustrated mother said. Anil Kumar, father of a class-IV boy at Victoria's Boys' School, has decided to keep his fingers crossed till the end of the month. "He is in junior school and admission in another school will not be a problem," he said.
Parents of Hills school boarders have formed WhatsApp groups for themselves to stay in touch and look for new schools. They are about to form a platform and meet by the end of the month to take their case to state education minister Partha Chatterjee.
"The number of phone calls from worried parents is increasing every day. This reminds me of the 1980s agitation, when we saw students from Canada, Italy, Australia, Spain and Czechoslovakia pull out. Darjeeling schools lost their international repute at that time and we never regained that lost glory. The spate of helpless calls from parents across schools is a clear indication that we may lose even 50 per cent of our 6,000 boarders," said Father Kinley Tshering, provincial of Jesuit schools in Darjeeling.
School heads said that they got to know from parents that some of them had already visited schools in Siliguri, in the Northeast, Shimla and Delhi. Most schools have completed the first quarter of their academic year and that is causing some hindrance. Some special tests are being arranged for mid-session admissions but most schools that have been approached have told parents to come back for admission the next session.
"We have taken some kids in junior school but have told parents of older kids to wait till next year. We are a CBSE school and there are some technical complications because most Hills schools are affiliated to the ICSE board," G D Goenka School principal Sonika Sharma said. St Michael's, Siliguri, too, has received a large number of inquiries. "But we cannot take in kids in class IX because board registrations happen by then," school head Robin Chakraborty explained.
(with inputs from Sneha Kumari)

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