One may ask why the first schools of Bengal were built in the same area. Was this area an educational hub?
If you try to search for the oldest schools in Dhaka on Google Maps, you will find that most of them are in the same area. The first five schools of Dhaka are still in Lakshmibazar and Sadarghat beside the Buriganga river, almost beside each other.
These old schools have been here for more than 150 years now. Most of them have been here from the time they started, while many have been relocated. These schools have their own legacies that play a big part in our history.
Naturally, one may ask why the first schools of Bengal were built in the same area. Was this area an educational hub? Or was there something special here? If you dig deep into our history, you will definitely find the answer.
Historian Dr Sharif Uddin Ahmed, professor of history and philosophy at North South University and author of "Dhaka: A Study in urban History and Development", told The Business Standard that most of the oldest schools were founded in the Lakshmibazar and Sadarghat areas because they were very popular with the elite class from the very beginning.
"These densely-populated uplands had good communication systems, which is why they were popular among the British too. When they thought of opening schools in Dhaka, these areas were the best option," he explained.
A look into the background of these schools will explain the internal connections between them, and how these institutions affected our culture and history.
Dhaka Collegiate School is the first government high school of undivided Bengal. In 1835, the General Committee of Public Instruction submitted a proposal to Lord William Bentinck, the then governor-general of India, to establish an institution that would teach English literature and science. As a result of the proposal, Dhaka Collegiate School was established in 1835 as an English seminary by the British rulers.
The 184-year-old boys school first started up a couple of blocks away from its current location on Loyal Street in Sadarghat. A British colonial bungalow was first used as the school's academic building, and later the school was moved to a new building which was built at the site of an indigo factory in Lakshmibazar.
Dhaka Intermediate College, later renamed Dhaka College, was established on the Dhaka Collegiate School premises in 1841. In 1873, it was separated from Dhaka Collegiate School.
Historian Muntasir Mamun says that 99 students were suspended from Dhaka Collegiate School because of their inability to pay extended fees. After that, a former principal, Dr AT Wise, came forward to help students like them and opened a school named Union School. It was mainly opened for poor and underprivileged students, but closed down two years later due to a lack of funding.
Armenian merchant Nicholas Nicky Pogose, also a former student of Dhaka Collegiate School, re-opened the school and ran it at his own expense. He renamed it Pogose Anglo Vernacular School.
Pogose School was established in 1848 as the first private school of Bengal. The school started on the ground floor of the Pogose residence in Old Dhaka's Armanitola area.
In 1855, the school moved to a rented house owned by JC Panioty of Armanitola. Five years later, it was relocated to a two-storey building in Sadarghat.
The school was managed by Nicholas Pogose until his death in 1876. In 1878, the school was taken over by banker Mohini Mohan Das who continued to run the institution under its original name.
After Mohan's death in 1896, his estate maintained the school and moved it to its present location on Chittaranjan Avenue, next to Jagannath University which is also near its original location, the Pogose residence.
In 2015, Pogose School signed an agreement with Jagannath University to have the school run by the university. The school has been renamed Pogose Laboratory School and College, Jagannath University.
In 1874, Dhaka Madrasah was established as a branch of Kolkata's Alia Madrasa (Madrasa-i-Alia) at a rented house in Patuatuli to educate conservative Muslim students of the area.
In 1880, the madrasah was moved to its own building near the Victoria (now Bahadur Shah) Park. To compete with other schools, Dhaka Madrasah opened an Anglo-Persian department in 1906. Arabic, Persian, Bengali and English were taught at the institute.
The Anglo-Persian department was separated from the madrasah in 1916, and the new institution was named Dhaka Government Muslim High School.
Dhaka Government Muslim High School had to start operation in a colonial bungalow inside the Dhaka Collegiate School compound for lack of space. In 1945, it moved to its present location near Bahadur Shah Park in Lakshmibazar.
After the partition, Alia Madrasa (Madrasa-i-Alia) was shifted from Kolkata to Dhaka Government Muslim High School, and later it started academic activities at Islamic Intermediate College (now Kabi Nazrul Government College) in Lakshmibazar.
Finally, the madrasah was shifted to its present site in Bakshibazar in 1961 and got affiliated with the Islamic University in 2006.
Another renowned old school is St Gregory's High School. It was first established in 1882 by Father Gregory De Groote, a Benedictine priest, for Eurasian students of Dhaka in Lakshmibazar. De Groote started the school, named after Pope Gregory I (590 to 604 AD), with a handful of boys in the beginning.
But in its early years, the school was shut down twice for different reasons. It resumed operation in 1889 and Father Francis Boeres CSC took charge.
The school was initially open to only Eurasian and European children, both girls and boys. Local students were allowed admission only with special permission and strong references. In 1912, the school separated the girls section and named it St Francis Xavier's Girls High School.
Technically, St Francis Xavier's Girls High School was the first school for girls in Bangladesh. Though it started under St Gregory's High School in 1882, it was established as an individual institute in 1912. The initiative was taken to attract girls from conservative Bengali families.
In 1912, Most Rev. Bishop Fredrick Linnborn CSC invited the RNDM Sisters (RNDM from the French name Religieuses de Notre Dame des Missions), a Roman Catholic religious' congregation of women, to take responsibility of the girls from St Gregory's High School.
The RNDM Sisters started the St Francis Xavier's Girls English Medium School just beside St Gregory's High School.
After the independence of Bangladesh in 1972, according to a government order, all the schools in Bangladesh, including St Gregory's High School and St Francis Xavier's Girls High School, were converted to Bengali medium institution. The government later granted permission to run St Francis Xavier's Girls High School as an English medium school under the name St Francis Xavier's Green Herald International School. The school is now located in Mohammadpur.
In 2017, both St Gregory's High School and St Francis Xavier's Girls High School started the higher secondary level of education.
Although Kamrunnesa Government Girls High School is no longer in the area where it started, we cannot go without mentioning its name. It has a long history before it became Kamrunnesa Government Girls High School.
In 1873, a social welfare organisation named Shuvashadhini Shava set up a school in Farashganj to educate girls from the Brahmo community. In 1878, it was named Dhaka Female School. It was later brought under government management and was moved to a new location in Lakshmibazar with the name Eden Girls School after Ashley Eden, the then British lieutenant-governor of Bengal.
A great earthquake in 1897 damaged the school building, and it was then moved to a commercial building in Sadarghat. With the introduction of eleventh and twelfth grades, the school was then upgraded to Eden Girls High School and Higher Secondary College.
In 1924, the school section was separated from the college and was renamed Kamrunnesa High School by Akhtar Banu (daughter of Dhaka Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah) after her mother Kamrunnesa.
In 1947, the school became Kamrunnesa Government Girls High School and moved to its current location on Abhay Das Lane in Tikatuli. Eden Higher Secondary College later became Begum Badrunnesa Government Girls College.
Kishorilal Jubilee High School and College is another old institute which was founded in 1866 not far from where the oldest schools are located.
Dr Sharif said the British government mainly built the important institutions near Bara Katra and Chhota Katra.
"That is why you will find that almost everything originated in Old Dhaka," he said.
"The oldest schools are not only schools anymore. They are part of our history. We should try to preserve them for the sake of our country's history," added the historian.