The bachelor society of the Chinese community had to wake up to the needs of women and children when they started appearing in the scene at the beginning of the 20th century. Earlier, when the numbers were small, women and even children learnt the basics of reading and writing from home or from private tutors. But soon the Chinese in Calcutta realized that if children were to be brought up as Chinese – with Chinese language and more important, with Chinese values and thinking it was important that they be sent to Chinese schools. Three schools with Mandarin as the medium of instruction was started for this purpose.
Under the patronage of the Naam Soon Huiguan (the club of the Cantonese Chinese), the Chien Kuo Chinese school was started in the forties in Pheares Lane and later shifted to its Damzen Lane (inside cheenapara) in the sixties where it stands even today. In its days of glory, 14 teachers taught at the Chien Kuo school where there were almost 700 students; the medium of teaching was Mandarin Chinese; history, social studies and even maths was in Chinese and books were brought in by ship from China and there were even special classes for teaching Chiense folk music. Supported by the Republican Government of Taiwan, the school thus prepared generations of mainly Cantonese students in Chinatown of Calcutta for the “proper” Chinese life and conduct.
Two popular schools run by the Hakka community were the Mei Kong Chinese school (on Meredith Street near Chandney Chowk) which ran classes till a high school level and the Pei May Chinese school (in Tangra) which went up till the higher secondary level. Each of these schools in better days boasted of almost a thousand student each. These schools having mostly Hakka students were patronized and supported by the Republican government (present day Taiwan). Though they functioned separately in day to day matters, all the three schools would gather during important celebrations like the Double Ten Day to commemorate the birth of Republican Taiwan.
The Communist government of mainland China also supported two schools – a primary school called Hing Wah and also a high school – which closed down after the 1962 conflict. The Sacred Heart Chinese school were also run for the Chinese by the Catholic church. This was highly popular with the Cantonese, the Hakka and the Hupei communities and it was one of the rare places where children of the different dialect groups could interact though Hakka was the language of communication. It was at the Sacred Heart Chinese School that many Chinese came into contact with the English language and also with the Christian religion. Many Chinese converted to Christianity and the school became one of the very important places of social organization for the Chinese community as it had a very active youth group made up of old students.
The present day Chinese schools
The Chien Kuo Chinese school has less than 70 students now (almost no Chinese students) and Chinese language is taught as a subject among the other subjects, the Mei Kong School closed down almost 7 years ago and is lying vacant since then, the Pei May School which once housed a thousand students has around 75 students at present and its premises is used mainly for social functions only, the Sacred Heart Chinese School ha been handed over to the missionaries to run and has over 350 students but only 20 students out of these are Chinese. The Chinese schools declined after parents realized the importance of the English medium for their children. Enrolment of Chinese children into Calcutta’s Chinese schools has been dropping for many years now and now they exist as Chinese schools in name only. Interestingly, some of the younger generation Chinese are showing an interest to learn the official Chinese language of Mandarin as they hope to migrate to Taiwan and for the commercial value of knowing the Chinese language. This could be important area for the Chinese schools to take on this role and some of them are already running such classes.