Published On : Tue, Aug 5th, 2014

Bravely, Bishop Cotton School goes on with ambitious plans on the anvil

schoolNagpur News.

“We plan to make Bishop Cotton Nagpur, into a premiere school of Central India again by ‘repositioning’ it as a Sports academy as well as a school offering both CBSE and State Board education up to High School. We have the facilities like city’s biggest play grounds located in the heart of the city and a credible reputation already for having good teams in a number of games like Cricket, Football and Throw ball” disclosed Ms. Rachana Singh, chief Trustee of  The Maharashtra Regional Board of Education belonging to Church of North India trust that runs 18 schools of Nagpur including Bishop Cotton. The school has always enjoyed a good standing in the city and has a distnguished history.

It was in the mid 1800s that Bishop Cotton George Lynch Cotton, a clergy man and a ‘Metropolitan’ of India, a very important adminstrative post then, decided that Nagpur as capital of the Central region deserved a good school to be located here. Three Bishop Cotton schools were established in 1865 – in Shimla, Nagpur and later Banglore. This project was supported whole heartedly by the Viceroy, Lord Canning. These schools were mooted for children of European and Eurasian people with limited means. (In other words, for those Britishers who could not afford to send their children ‘back home’ to UK for studies.) Bishop Cotton, Banglore, is still known as the ‘Eton of India’ and is ranked the number one among all metro schools of India.

There was a time, when Bishop Cotton school of Nagpur too enjoyed the status of being a very sought after school for the children of the rich and creamy layer post independence. When the undersigned studied there, it enjoyed ICSE / Cambridge affiliation and all text books were imported from UK. It has a corpus of distinguished alumni like chief Justice J.Y. Patel of the Calcutta high court, Mr. Ruben Jadhav ex C&MD of Air India, cricketers, politicians and others.

But today, BCS Nagpur is in the news for very different reasons. It has been in the eye of a storm for the strict ‘closure order’ its newly opened CBSE Primary branch had received from the Education Department.

The deadline for ‘closing down’ the Bishop Cotton newly started Primary School was July 25th – if this order was not obeyed

it was to entail the school paying Rs. one lakh fine and Rs. 10,000/ everyday the school continued running. The reason for the harsh order? The 150 years’ old school, that is still unaided by Government grants, had allegedly not obtained an NOC from the Education Department of the state for running a CBSE   primary school.

Well, 25th July has come and gone. All six sections of the school, from Standard one to standard 6th have been running with good attendance; what is Mr. Ramteke, the Primary Education Officer, who issued the order going to do now? Is he going to make good his threat; and if he does so, will it have any legal standing? As matters look today, this is unlikely to happen. Over ten days have passed and there is status quo – the school administrations says it has written to higher ups in the Education Deptt. in Mumbai and their reply is awaited.

So what brought things to such a pass? When there is a list of THIRTY SEVEN unauthorized schools in the city that urgently need looking into, what made the State Education Dept. single out Bishop Cotton for disciplinary action on grounds that appear more and more slippery? Consider also the ‘efficiency’ and ‘speed’ they demostrated : a team of the dept. goes to this primary school for ‘inspection’ – before tackling any of the other unauthorized schools – it has five points it has to look into. The school satisfies all of them, except it does not seem to have stipulated CBSE affililiation, but it has definitely been applied for and is in process. Also, a CBSE violation is not within the purview of the state department to take action against, it is the Central Board’s prerorgative. So they come up with the reason that under the ‘Right to Education’ RTE act, the school has not taken an NOC to start CBSE. All this the team comes up with within an hour of the inspection, the findings are ‘reported’ and order issued for closure – all within a few hours! Now if only ALL Government officers would be so efficient and fast all over the country, we could leave China behind in no time! What this actually smacks of is that a decision was first taken to take action against BCS and then a process set into motion to justify the action.Only one tiny detail could derail the plan – the school had applied for NOC two years ago, on October 4, 2012 to be precise! It was only after that onMay 29th the school applied to CBSE for affiliation and it was given a Registration number for its application by the board after waiting futilely for response for their NOC. Meanwhile, CBSE, in a circular dated July 8th 2013, has waved school’s responsibility after applying for NOC. If any state education dept has any doubt about a school, it is to approach CBSE directly.

So, the question remains, why was BCS being targeted specifically? 

Let’s look at some other facts of the education scenario of the city. As per Mrs. Manjusha Stephenson, the Headmistress of the school’s secondary division, which remains affiliated with the state board, there are five ‘Christian Mission’ run schools walking distance from BCS. These are : SFS Boys’ School, St. Joseph’s girls’ convent, St. Johns, St. Ursula and Mount Carmel not much further down, and all these schools get state Govt. grant except BCS. The reason quoted for BCS not getting the grant is that by a decision taken by the Education Dept. some years ago it was decided that schools run by Christian missions and / or  English medium will not be given grants. The other schools were in the aided status since before that.

Despite being unaided, it is one school located in a prime area of the city, just a kilometer away from the Nagpur Railway station, and is still one of the most affordable schools of the city. Even their newly opened CBSE – against which the closure order was given – charges a paltry fee of Rs. 400/ per month approx. while other CBSE schools charge in thousands.

As per Mrs. Stephenson, even as an unaided school, BCS teachers were among the highest paid teachers among Nagpur schools for a long time and thus attracted the best talent as its faculty.

All this changed with the 5th and 6th pay commision which has seen salaries of school teachers sky rocket, specially for schools with grants.

Added to that was the onslaught of CBSE medium schools that came to Nagpur about two decades ago. Bhavans, then Centre Point, Modern School and now a string of them are vying for children from upper classes and educated elite. BCS, has gradually lost its status of school for the elite and turning to the CBSE board was its strategy of luring back this class. This plan seems to have upset some vested interests.

But as of now, the plan to cause trouble for the school has not impeded its plans and even the Education Department’s intervention seems to be on hold. Will the school’s and the CNI trust’s strategy for putting it back on the list of Nagpur’s most distinguished schools pay off?

BCS Football and cricket teams have brought many laurels to the school, as has the girls’ throw ball team. It has had the honour of contributing one player to India under 19 team in the form of Himanshu Chaddimalay.

Historically, even the All Saints Cathedral was a part of the school complex and a hostel for boys’ was housed there.

The plan is now to convert BCS into a Sports academy and focus on education along with sports. This plan is sure to bring cheer to the many alumni of the school who still vouch for the ‘quality education’ they obtained there. A school that in the face of brutal competitiveness that was fostered by CBSE schools still treated each child with compassion and personal care that inspired him/ her to give her best. The school welcomes with open arms all ‘casualties’ of the CBSE schools – the ‘weak’ students who fail to score impressive marks in the 9th standard and are then told politely by their respective schools to take a TC and shift to another school at that late stage – just so that the school’s 10th class ‘success story’ is not spoilt.

Will Bishop Cotton also gradually turning to CBSE board itself, change this, as some alumni fear it will?

Time will tell, but meanwhile life goes on for the school students and teachers despite harsh endeavours to put road blocks in their path.