Elite institutes aim to build students who are suited for the modern world and have a sense of tradition
Rohit Jaiswal passed out of Welham Boys School 28 years ago in Dehradun. “Those were the best years of my life. It was a combination of learning, fun, lessons for life and experiences to cherish,” says Jaiswal, who is president of the school’s alumni association.
Studying in a boarding school was “a lesson in living with a diverse group. We were taught the concept of a complete man wherein studies weren’t the only measure of success,” says Jaiswal, who is a businessman in Bhopal.
Welham and Doon School in Dehradun; Scindia School in Gwalior; Mayo College in Ajmer; and Lawrence School in Sanawar, Kasauli, rank among India’s best boarding schools. St Peter’s International is an independent coeducational residential school in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. New Era High School is located in Panchgani, Maharashtra.
Most of these schools teach Classes 4 to 12 and they admit students after an exam or aptitude assessment in November followed by an interview. The schools are elite and expensive – and the annual fee ranges between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 12 lakh.
What is the criteria for admission? Take the case of Welham Girls’ school, where there is Aptitude/Proficiency Assessment, held in November of the year preceding that in which admission is sought. The lower age limit for admission in the school is 10½ on 1st April of the year of joining the School in Class VI and admissions are offered in Classes VI, VII and XI only, subject to the availability of seats. According to Vibha Kapoor, Principal-Welham Girls’ School, “Welham Girls’ School also has been synonymous with producing individuals who embody its motto: “Artta Shanti Phala Vidya” – the purpose of education is to bring peace to the suffering. If we delve into the achievements of our long list of illustrious alumni, we find a common thread woven through their lives – a profound love for their community and a fervent commitment to working for its betterment. Each student at Welham becomes a trailblazer in her own right and our notable alumni include Laila Tyabji, Madhu Trehan, Meira Kumar, Pallavi Sinha, to name a few.”
But why boarding school? There are several reasons why parents send their children to boarding schools. These include lack of time to take care of their children, to make their children live more independently from a younger age or to gain a better shot at getting into top colleges. The reasons are often aspirational as most of these schools have been in existence for a long time and it’s very common to find generations of people passing out from the same school like great grandfather to grandson and such like.
Modern yet traditional values is what makes some of these institutions a compelling choice. Take the case of Mayo College Ajmer. According to Lt Gen Surendra Kulkarni [Retd], Director Mayo College, “There are quite a few old schools, and we are extremely proud of the legacy we have but we are equally agile to change, when need arises. I feel we have been able to press the reset button from time to time and our students have ‘Global boots with Indian roots.’” He adds that their strength is their alumni network and that they often get this compliment from outsiders that their students are “very grounded in Indian culture and values”. Legacy is one of the major reasons why people chose these schools as these schools are often old and steeped in traditions.
“We are a school on a 6th century fort,” says Ajay Singh – School Principal – The Scindia School Gwalior– “And the entire existence on a historical fort makes education happen in a different way. You live in a period which talks about architecture, and a building which is more than hundred years old. We define a Scindian as a man of mettle, who is sensitive to anything and everything around him and who is rooted in the Sanskar and the Sanskriti of the country and can live in sync with nature.” He quotes Madhavrao Scindia, who appreciated marrying the past with the present and balancing elements when he said – ‘Where else can you find the whirring of the computer on a 6th century fort.’ With state-of-the-art thinking labs, smart boards and we believe in an ethical and a constructive AI, we empower our students with all the technology aids but we feel technology should not overtake human effort,” says Singh.
There are other reasons to choose a boarding school above others such as the availability of infrastructure at the vast campus of a residential school (Eg Mayo is spread over 187 acres and The Scindia School over 100 acres, Doon School which lies at the foothills of Himalayas is spread over 70 acres) which enables implementation of very many extracurricular activities.
“Boarding schools are even more relevant in today’s era of digital distractions especially as boarding schools give equal weightage to sports and academics,” says Rohit Jaiswal, ex Welhams Boys’ school- “Sports are essential for any child to be competitive and mentally strong.”
Mayo is known for its emphasis on sports. Lt Gen Surendra Kulkarni [Retd], Director Mayo College shares that – “there are 20 sports played in the school and in the junior school (from class 4 to 6), it is compulsory for every child to study theory of each and every sport so that as a player, observer, enthusiast they know the terminology and appreciate the game. It is also mandatory to learn horse riding in junior school as it develops confidence in the child, a love for animals and empathy towards them.”
The Scindia School is known for the Scindia band. Says Ajay Singh, “Every year our boys play on Kartavya Path during Republic Day celebrations. The band is a beautiful combination of skill, harmony, teamwork, collaboration by 45 children, music- everything coming together.”
The Sherwood School is famous for its debates, quizzes, theatre. Legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan has extremely fond memories of this school where he first discovered his acting talent.
Besides outdoor activities, there are many fine arts activities. Students get to spend a lot of time on honing these skills of art and craft and the relationship between mentor and mentee often becomes profound. “A lot of my students have ended up making career in fine arts, architecture, visualization, film making, screenplay,” says Kirti Ghosh, a product of Shanti Niketan herself who teaches clay modelling at The Scindia school, Gwalior. She says these hand-based crafts such as metal craft, papier mache and wood craft lead to strengthening of the hand grips. Her husband Alok Ghosh teaches wood-based craft and says children spend hours on making one piece- once they get interested, there is no stopping them.
“The experience of being at Welham Boys’ School Dehradun was certainly the wonder years of my life and the training I received from my mentor in Art (Amit Basu Sir) has been perfectly instrumental in my progression as a visual artist,” says Saurabh Narang, Welham Old Boys Society- “Boarding school life results in formation of family-like ties amongst individuals and these ties go beyond the walls of an institution… deepen over time and extend beyond a single generation.”
No Frills and Fancy Living
Luxury is a bad word at most boarding. The residential infrastructure in these schools is generally good and hygienic. But the facilities are not luxurious- most of the boarding schools provide a very good infrastructure yes, but not like it has to necessarily be premium luxurious. Says Narang from Welham Boys’ – “there are excellent infrastructural facilities that are essentially required so let’s say Dehradun weather did not get too hot during our stay so air conditioners weren’t really needed during the 90s… and maybe things have changed over time.”
“For those looking for luxury, this is not the place and there is no 5-star culture. The boarding rooms are functional but not luxurious,” says Smita Chaturvedi, Vice Principal The Scindia School Gwalior- “In fact our classrooms are air conditioned but the boarding houses are air cooled. We want kids to spend more time outside their rooms. Also, if you look at the routine, students wake up at 5:30 am and sleep by 10 pm. They have to walk a lot within the campus from one classroom to the other and back to their boarding houses. We lay emphasis on adventure also –the idea is to push the children to develop inner and outer strength, stamina, resilience- there are so many lessons that they learn outside the classroom.”
What do child psychologists say about such schools?
Boarding or residential schools can be beneficial for the overall growth and learning of a child. In many ways boarding/ residential / gurukul like schools can foster higher learning in terms of camaraderie, bonding, team work, independence, better peer learning, social maturity and cocurricular activities. So it is alright and OK to send a child to boarding school if the parents and child believe and agree on the same, says Dr. Paramjeet Singh- Consultant Psychiatrist PSRI Hospital- “The right age for hostel is a very different number for each child and the parents. Most residential schools begin around 13 to 14 years of age. However, in recent times there are schools of residential nature which may start earlier (As early as 8 years). So the preparedness may vary for each kid and the family. The parents must discuss amongst themselves and with the child about the idea of shifting to such schooling pattern. They must also discuss preparedness, reason/objective of this shift, possible difficulties, gains and parents must also assure the child of complete support in his/her adaptation process.”
If you are a parent wondering how to mentally prepare your child for boarding school, here are a set of to dos that experts suggest. Have an open discussion at each step of decision making about shifting the child to a hostel. Assure the child of your positive intent and try to allay the anxieties or worries of the child, regarding this not being a punishing paradigm but something for overall development. Help the child develop good communication and interpersonal skills to navigate the environment better. Take him/her around the school with you and meet a few important persons like teachers, warden, prefect etc with him/her. Assure of your complete and unrelenting support in all circumstances. Keep in regular contact even when your ward shifts to hostel. emails, calls , messages, personal visits etc may be done to foster confidence. The child may take some of his personal belongings like a toy, photos, bedsheets etc to help in early adaptation. Warm up the child to idea of making new friends and groups. However also caution of undesired approaches and behavior. Help in assertiveness training of being able to say no when he/she feels or wishes. Let the child know verbally and non-verbally of your belief in his/her ability to stay independently. Talk about being homesick and how to deal with this.
|NAME OF BOARDING SCHOOL||BALLPARK ANNUAL FEES (in Rs)|
|Doon School, Dehradun||11.95 lakhs|
|Welham Girls’ School, Dehradun||8.50 lakhs|
|Scindia School, Gwalior||8.50 lakhs|
|Mayo College, Ajmer||8-9 lakhs|
|Sherwood School, Nainital||6.20 lakhs|
|Rishi Valley School, Madanapalle, AP||5.15 lakhs|
|The Lawrence School, Sanawar, Kasauli||6.35- 8.30 lakhs|
Source: School Website