GEORGE TOWN: Three iconic convent schools here are facing an uncertain future, although the landowners insist that the buildings will be maintained for education.
Talk about the possible closure of SK Convent Light Street, SMK Convent Light Street and SMK Convent Pulau Tikus was sparked after a letter from the Northeast District Education District went viral. The letter said the schools would not take in new students from 2018. The letter has since been withdrawn, according to Penang Education director Shaari Osman who said that any such a directive had to come from him.
All three schools are housed in heritage buildings. Convent Light Street, which was started in 1852, is the oldest girls’ school in South-East Asia. It moved to its current building in 1859. Convent Pulau Tikus was established in the early 20th century when the area called Pulau Tikus first came into being.
Shaari said the Sisters of the Infant Jesus, the landowners, wrote in recently to the Education Ministry asking to take back the lands where the schools were located.
He urged the public to stop speculating about the closure of schools as the ministry has not granted approval on the matter.
Sister Celina Wong, the spokesman of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus Malaysia, gave an assurance that they had no intention to sell the land and buildings for redevelopment.
“We hold a very long history here in Malaysia and preserving our history, be it the trust of educating young people and the conservation of the heritage buildings, is dear to us,” she said, quelling rumours on plans to sell the land to developers.
She said they stood by their “initial objective of providing a wholesome education in our mission schools”.
Some sources here said there are plans to convert the schools into “affordable” private international schools, partly due to the drop in enrolment.
It has been reported that the enrolment at SMK Convent Pulau Tikus dropped because parents were more interested in sending their children to Chinese vernacular schools.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the state government would not approve any building plans on the lands of three convent girls’ schools.
“The state government may not have a say in this matter but we will not approve any new development on the land,” he said.
It was reported two years ago that the 126-year-old mission school SK Pykett Methodist would be closed down in 2019. The intake for Year One pupils has been stopped since 2015.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon urged the Sisters to use the land for education.
“The ministry feels sad whenever mission schools close down. The land does not belong to the government, landowners can reclaim it whenever they want,” he told reporters after officiating a new building in SJK (C) On Pong in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur.
He made it clear that it was not the ministry’s decision to close the schools.