Friday, 24 February 2017

St. George’s School , chennai - oldest western school in Asia

Lord William Bentinck, the then Governor-General of British India, impressed upon the  East India Company to allocate funds to promote education and literature in India. Then traditional methods of Hindu and Muslim education was in practise and the publications were mostly  in the native  tongues (Sanskrit and Persian/Urdu). A decision had been made  to support the establishments teaching Western curriculum with English as the language of instruction. This way they gradually introduced English as the language of administration and of the higher law courts (replacing Persian/Urdu). Ultimately  English became one of the languages of India, rather than simply the native tongue of its foreign rulers. The English Education Act was a legislative Act of the Council of India in 1835 giving effect to a decision in 1835 by Gov. Gen. Lord William Bentinck.

Thomas Babington Macaulay's remark that 
Western learning was superior was received by the natives with reservation because India holds the distinction of having two highly advanced well structured languages Sanskrit and Tamil and many Indian languages evolved from them. 

Across India in  the past two  decades  greater emphasis has been placed on the English medium schools and parents want to see to it that their children study at such schools so that it will help them if they go for higher education either in India or abroad. Yet another advantage is, as English is widely spoken globally, there is an ample  scope for employment opportunities at the MN companies in India and abroad.
St. George’s School , chennai thehindu.com
A surprising fact is  before the introduction  of "The English Education Act" in 1835, the English medium schools were introduced in South India, in particular, parts of Tamil Nadu. In 1619, though the English had a factory in  Masulipatnam, now in Andhra,  no English school was opened there. Can you make a guess as to  who first introduced an English medium school in India?
It was none other than  a French Capuchin priest Fr. Ephrem  de Nevers. He was a man of affable disposition and loved by everybody around him. The French missionary was a dedicated  worker and loved children very much and that ultimately led him to open a public school for them.  However, de Nevers took the honor  of having started  the  first English school in India and it functioned  right here in Madras (Chennai). The school came up at his priestly quarters in St. Andrews, a Roman Catholic church which he established in 1642 within the prescient  of fort St. George, Madras. The French priest got the  necessary permission from the English Company to establish the free English school. Besides, he also ran  another school and taught Tamil, Portuguese and Latin to the students. Europeans and Indian students were benefited by this school.

After the closure  of St. Andrews Church (1658) for political reason by the English company in the wake of the liberation of St. George fort from the French occupation, Fr. de Nevers was given permission in 1658 to build a  second church and a school on a land in the place  now called  George Town. The Capuchin Preacher Pringle in 1673 started the Portuguese and English language free school to cater to the needs of the  English, Portuguese, other Europeans and Indian children resident in the Fort. The Council of Fort St. George in 1678 gave a formal recognition and one  Ralph Orde became the  ‘Schoolmaster’. Later this school was taken over by St. Mary’s and  its name changed to St. Mary’s Charity School and functioned under  the Rev. William Stevenson, the Chaplain of Ft. St. George  from 1715.  Thus. this school earlier functioned in North Black Town, Broadway, Chindaripet and finally shifted to the present location in Shenoy Nagar. In 1787, the school was called  the Male Orphans’ Asylum and was meant for orphaned children of  British soldiers who had died in India. Under  the Rev Joseph Carew in 1839, it became St. Mary’s Seminary. 

In 1882, it became  a second grade college of the University of Madras carrying the name of St. Mary's college. It became St. Mary’s European High School in 1906. After independence, again the name changed to  St. George’s Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary School.
Special Cover was released on 23rd April 2015 aRainbow Stamp Club
1954 the name  again changed to St. George’s School and Orphanage. By virtue of its continuous existence  since 1715 without any break  in between, it is considered   the oldest English medium school in Asia. It is on a plot of 21 acres of prime land in the heart of Chennai city (Shenoy Nagar) and has a  red-colored  building made of brick and lime mortar with pillared rooms, stone stairways, wooden windows and partly rusted bell. All these odd architectural features that remain unchanged take us back to a  different  era. In 2015, this school stepped in colonial history  celebrated its the tri-centenary in 2015.

Some Facts of St. George's School:

01. Being the oldest existing western school in South Asia, St. George’s School, in December 1715 started with just 18 boys and 12 girls.

02. This charity institution had a humble start in a house called  Jersey House. 


03. In the school, now part of  the oldest Anglican Church in the city, you will be surprised to find names like Clive, Warren Hastings and Wellesley in its minutes book.

04. The school was shifted in 1904 into a building in the present site. In 
1838, the Female Orphans Asylum was shifted to a spacious building of Conway Gardens, The building was known as Conway House (on Poonamallee High Road), where Brigadier-General T.H.S. Conway lived.The school used to be called Conway school. The top military officer  died in 1837 and there is a  statue in St. Mary's in the Fort in memory of him.
St. George’s School, Chennai. amil Now
05. Part of the place used  as stables as the place was once owned by a Muslim ruler. .During the war time, WWII, the stables were used by the American soldiers.


06. The school functioned in Coimbatore (1942-1946) during the war time and  Stanes  School provided accommodation for the students.

07. Catering to the uplift of weaker sections as well, the school has 1300 students and the school still functions as an orphanage for Angelo-Indian children.

08. Following the Angelo-Indian traditions, the school follows Anglo-Indian syllabus and encourages dancing and  piano lessons on the sideline.

Ref: http://firstenglishschoolinindia.blogspot.in/ 

http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/the-earliest-schools/article6044471.ece 

 http://www.thehindu.com/arts/survivors-of-time-the-bell-still-tolls/article2221434.ece