Penang to identify land for new schools after closure of convents

The 167-year-old Convent Light Street is one of the oldest girls’ schools in Southeast Asia.

GEORGE TOWN: The state government will help to identify land for new schools to accommodate students of three iconic convents which will close in 2024.

This follows a report that the French-Catholic missionary operating the convents has sought to repossess the land where the schools are located.

The schools are Convent Light Street (CLS), which houses both primary and secondary schools, and Convent Pulau Tikus (CPT), which is a secondary school.

CLS had been nationalised in 1971 and CPT in 2005 and their operations are controlled by the education ministry.

The missionary that owns the land and the buildings – the Sisters of the Infant Jesus (SIJ) – has informed the ministry it wants to repossess the land, The Star reported today.

The convents stopped taking in students last year, after their impending closure was first reported in 2017.

At a press conference at Komtar today, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said he had received a letter from the landowners, who had requested a meeting.

He said he had proposed July 19 for the meeting.

Asked if the sisters were planning to redevelop the schools, Chow said CLS was within the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site and subject to stringent requirements.

He said the building was also listed as a national heritage by the federal government, so there was further development control.

In the meantime, he said, land surrendered by developers could be considered for use by the education ministry to build new schools to accommodate the students.

“This warrants a meeting between the Penang government and the ministry to discuss building (at least) a school for the sake of continuity for the students.”

In a statement in 2017, SIJ had said it had no plans to redevelop the land. FMT has contacted SIJ for comment.

CLS, which turned 167 years old on April 12, is one of the oldest girls’ schools in Southeast Asia. It was first started by the SIJ nuns from France.

The school started on Church Street, next to the original Church of the Assumption. As the number of students grew, they bought the home of first British settler Francis Light on Light Street.

The Government House and its 2.8ha surroundings facing North Beach have been home to the CLS since 1859. It became a top boarding school for children of prominent families and orphans alike.

SIJ opened Convent Saint Maur in Pulau Tikus (later renamed Convent Pulau Tikus) in 1922.