This might be the end of an era for two of Penang's oldest convent schools.
Former missionary schools Convent Light Street (CLS) and Convent Pulau Tikus (CPT) could be closing down in the next few years, with both schools already phasing out student intake from 2018 onwards.
As per a state education letter addressed to the two former missionary schools, Convent Light Street (primary and secondary) and Convent Pulau Tikus (secondary) have already stopped taking in students for Form One in both secondary schools and Year One for CLS.
As such, the current student body will be the last.
The reason for the closures is that the Sisters of Infant Jesus - owner of the lands on which both schools occupy - have decided to take back the land and put it up for sale
According to Pulau Tikus assemblyman Yap Soo Huey, who is also a CPT alumni, the schools affected are SK Convent Light Street, SMK Convent Light Street, and SMK Convent Pulau Tikus. SK Convent Pulau Tikus is not affected because the land it is situated on no longer belongs to the sisters.
According to Malay Mail Online, the three affected schools are expected to be fully closed and the lands returned to the Sisters of the Infant Jesus in four years’ time.
It is not yet known what will become of the lands after the schools are closed, though The Star reported that there are rumours that the schools will be converted to private international schools or the lands will be sold to developers.
However, in the latest update to this issue, the Penang Education Department has urged the public to stop speculating on the matter as the reported closures are not certain yet
Penang Education director Shaari Osman explained that the application by the Provincial Secreatariat of the Sisters of Infant Jesus to take back the land has yet to be approved by the Education Ministry.
“They are the landowners and they recently wrote to the ministry to request to take back the land,” he said.
“No letters were sent out to parents yet on whether their children will be moved to other schools. So please stop speculating as it has created confusion,” he added.
He also told The Star that the department “is preparing all possibilities for if and when the schools have to close, though no decision has been made yet.
Established by French Catholic nuns on 12 April 1852, Convent Light Street is the oldest girls' school in Southeast Asia and one of the most highly-regarded missionary schools on Penang Island
When the nuns first arrived, the school started out as an attap hut situated in Church Street within the vicinity of the original Church of the Assumption. At the time, the school also took in both male and female orphans regardless of their race and background.
To accommodate the growing student body, the nuns bought the Government House and the surrounding seven-acre compound in 1859, where the school still remains 'til this day. Interesting bit of history - the House served as the residence of Francis Light after he arrived and founded George Town and the British colony of Penang (then Prince of Wales Island) in 1786.
The school also functioned as a boarding school for daughters of the wealthy and elite, including princesses from the Thai royal family. However, boarding was discontinued in 1961, and the school stopped receiving orphans then as well. It ceased being a missionary school in 1971, when all missionary schools were absorbed into the national education system.
30 years later, Convent Pulau Tikus was founded by Reverend Mother Saint Hermine as the Sekolah Convent Infant Jesus in 1922
As with Pulau Tikus itself, Convent Pulau Tikus is one of several convent schools established in the district by Catholic missionaries who served the Eurasian parish of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. The school was initially located where SK CPT is currently located before a new building was built for the secondary school in 1950.
CPT became a government-aided school in 2005, hence relegating its missionary legacy to history.
Aside from CLS and CPT, these century-old schools have also left a lasting legacy in Malaysia's education system: