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A Most Preferred Stepping Stone

Residential schools have a reputation for churning out not only academically superior graduates but also well-groomed and disciplined all-rounders

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Amitabh Bachchan, Omar Abdullah, Preity Zinta and Pawan Munjal have one thing in common — they studied in residential schools. And we all know how well they turned out. Residential schools ensure that all aspects of a student’s life are well catered to.

“This is the place where his innocence, curiosity, morality, energy and happiness are not killed,” says S. K. Sanyal, the principal of  B K Birla Centre For Education in Pune.

Life At Residential Schools
After an initial bout of homesickness and grappling with the nitty-gritty of daily life, students begin to enjoy the vibrancy that boarding schools offers. Twenty-three-year-old Aditya Malik of Nainital’s Sherwood School gives credit to his residential school for who he is today. “I joined Sherwood in third grade. The first year wasn’t easy, but the discipline the school fosters in an individual through the years is unmatchable,” he says.

Grooming and personality development are only some of the reasons for choosing residential schools. In today’s time, when most parents are both working, many prefer such schools for their children to watching them while away time on video games, sitting around their nannies.

“Parents with jobs that entail a lot of travelling prefer boarding spaces for their children, to give them stability and continuity that is needed for learning to happen seamlessly,” says Welham Girl’s School principal Padmini Sambasivam.

The absence of proper educational institutions in home districts also motivates parents to send their children away to get suitable all-round education. MBA student Suryvanshu Vasistha says, “In Jharkhand, there aren’t many good schools that offer holistic learning. So that was a big motivation for my parents to send me to Welham as early as in my first grade in 1998.”

While some opt for boarding schools for reasons mentioned above, many just follow the family tradition. The principal of Sai International Residential School, Sanjiv Bathla, himself is a product of residential schools, “My parents sent me to a boarding school at the age of five. I went on with my primary years at the Welham Boys and then The Doon School in Dehradun.  My children are also a product of Welham Girls and The Doon School.”

Education systems inspired by philosophers, pundits, gurus are common among residential schools in India. The Sahyadri School in Pune, in fact, draws inspiration from the teachings of philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. It also promotes handicrafts, music and drama learning. Such schools provide an alternative education system for students. In Odisha’s Sai International School, farming, kitchen gardening and cooking clubs have been big hits for years.

Bookish knowledge is only one aspect of education. Proper development of a child comes from encouraging participation in extra-curricular activities and enhancing his/ her individual skills. The Sherwood School has ‘seasons’ of different sports activities every month. All students are encouraged to indulge in the activity, which gives them an opportunity to discover their talent.

Ranjana Kanti, a mother of two says, “We sent both our children to boarding school for overall personality development and to make them independent. Unlike normal schools where academics is the main focus, boarding schools give equal importance to extra-curricular activities such as drama, debates and sports, as to academics.”

International Curriculum
With residential schools becoming a popular choice, many international institutes are bringing in their brand of education to India. The new army of residential schools caters to the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, which includes PYP, MYP and Diploma to the British GCSE, GCE examination systems, AP, Ontario, CBSE and ICSE. Kodaikanal International School, for instance, provides IB Diploma, Primary-Years and Middle-Years programmes, while The Doon School, Welhams, St. Paul in Darjeeling, and Sherwood among others are all affiliated to ICSE. Many residential schools also offer international exchange programmes, internships and bring in teaching faculty from across the globe.

Rules and Regulations
To keep quality education accessible to all, the government has stipulated regulations on fees, franchising and teaching faculty for all schools. But residential schools feel same rules as for day schools shouldn’t be applied to them. Says Punjab National School (PPS), Nabha principal Jagpreet Singh: “(Boarding) Schools provide meals, lodging and take entire responsibility, unlike day schools. Residential schools need to be looked at differently.”

Disapproving government’s regulations, the principal of RKK Ghir’s Public School Neera Singh, says, “The new Bills and policies of the government are cumbersome and unclear. As to the promise of 6 per cent of the GDP to be spent on education, only 4 per cent is spent. Also, the imposition of fee regulation on private schools, especially residential schools, hampers the quality of education.”

The Challenges
In spite of its favourable attributes, it has never been easy for residential schools to survive in this country. In a competitive and cost-sensitive economy, expensive residential schools have a high burden upon themselves to deliver performance.

“Children come from a variety of backgrounds. So customised pedagogy for every child is needed, but that becomes a problem to implement,” says Kiranjit Singh Pannu, Principal, Tapti Valley International School.

According to Singh of RKK Ghir’s, “Lack of suitable faculty who can offer a 24/7 commitment; parental interference, especially from the influential ones; and lack of discipline and inability to conform to boarding rules by children, especially from affluent families are some of the challenges faced by contemporary residential schools.”

Competent faculty remains a prime cause of worry for school principals. The teachers are known to make or break a school. For Singh of PPS, Nabha, “The difficulty is not in getting the right people for the right job, but the real challenge is in retaining competent and ambitious staff.” Retaining as well as ensuring adaptability of the faculty remains an issue. Sanyal adds that senior faculty finds it very difficult to adapt to newer technologies used by the young generation.

Apart from faculty, there is always a threat of sexual abuse, loneliness, psychological torture, drug abuse and bullying. Experts argue that residential schools can be tough on children who find it difficult to blend in. So, before enroling a child in a residential school, parents should check if the school offers what their kid needs to be comfortable while away from home.

Sambasivam of Welhams says, “With the ‘pressure to perform’ syndrome constantly there in the community, students who are a tad different in their thought process, have a huge challenge maintaining their uniqueness and individuality over the pressures they face from their peers. They often end up being loners, and as a young child it can be extremely difficult to retain one’s self-esteem intact in these circumstances. Many give up and merge with the mob for they cannot withstand the pressure and sometimes end up confused and disappointed.”

Plus, after years of staying away from home, there is always a chance of detachment from family. Partha Sen, 27, says, “Boarding schools can be quite overwhelming. The absence of your parent’s company during the times when you need them the most, makes you used to not having them around.”

Separation from home at a young age can take a toll on a budding individual’s mind. That said, the exposure and the regulated schedule that children are subjected to at boarding schools can make every avenue achievable for them.