HOME AWAY FROM HOME ?
July 2014

HOME AWAY FROM HOME ?

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home-awayStrict discipline, tough curriculum and cramped dormitories are terms that define the general perception that Indian parents carry with regard to residential schools. However, things may not be as gloomy as many would perceive. Ritika Bisht of Elets News Network delves into varied aspects, both good and bad, of life at a boarding school

Its a tough choice for parents when it comes to deciding upon the future of their children. The decisions they make for their kids at a young age can have life-changing consequences. There are several questions that can give you sleepless nights if you are deliberating upon whether to send your child to a residential school or not. Do you keep your child within the safe confines of parental love and care or allow him/her to venture out to understand his responsibilities? Is a boarding school really beneficial for a child from the view of academic excellence as compared to day schools? Will the child find it difficult to adjust to the outside world once out of a boarding school? Is it safe to trust a boarding school with the future of the child? These are just some of the several vital questions that hound parents when taking a call on their child’s education.

So, how does one decide upon which of the two kinds of institutions – boarding and day-schools – will better help the future prospects of the child? The first thing that parents must understand is that the answer cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’. What has worked for a neigbour’s/relative’s child does not necessarily have to work for you, or vice versa. Just like each family has a different way of life, each child too has different needs. Of course, parents need to first determine their own condition, but it is equally important to understand and evaluate the present state of the child before one takes a call.

India, by tradition has been a learners’ society. Though the extent to which modern-day residential schools have managed to replace traditional Gurukuls in terms of value can be debated, the concept is certainly not new. Such institutions have existed for ages and the practice of sending wards away from home for better learning in all spheres has existed ever since. No doubt, the world has undergone considerable change over the years, and so have these institutions.

Far from being identified as a haven solely meant for rich brats or those from troubled families, there are ample examples of contemporary boarding schools supporting and motivating students towards academic excellence and importantly, being responsible human beings. Students in such institutions live in supportive and inclusive academic communities away from their parents where they understand the importance of independence and the responsibility that goes along with it.

Famous Indian Personalities from Residential Schools

  • Amitabh Bachchan, Actor, Sherwood College, Nainital (Class – 1958)
  • Rajiv Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, The Doon School, Uttarakhand (Class-1960)
  • Ruskin Bond, Author, Bishop Cotton School, Shimla (High School – 1952)
  • Deepa Mehta, Hollywood Film Director, Welham Girls, Dehradun
  • Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Ex-Captain of the Indian Cricket Team, Welham Boys, Dehradun
  • Salman Khan (actor), Anurag and Abhinav Kashyap, filmmakers, Scindia School, Gwalior
  • Sawai Man Singh Ji II, Maharaja of Jaipur, Mayo College, Ajmer

Parents need to understand that boarding schools should not be made synonymous with a punishment warehouse

Who needs a boarding school?

Schools, whether day or boarding, come with their own set of merits and demerits. Parents too have different benchmarks when it comes to gauging excellence that they expect their kids to achieve at school. In this context, it becomes imperative that parents honestly understand the needs of the child and decide accordingly. It has been a general understanding that boarding schools cater to the all-round development of a child while day schools are more inclined towards academic excellence. However, generalised opinions may not hold true for each case and a detailed study of the ward’s requirements along with a thorough understanding of the values the school that they wish to send their child to imbibes in them, can go a long way in ensuring what is best for their child. It is a tough task to enumerate points that can state who exactly needs a boarding school. “Basically, when parents have studied in a boarding school, they understand the advantages. However, parents deciding on boarding schools for the first time may find it difficult to let go of their kids by themselves,” observes Shanti Krishnamurthy, Principal, Chinmaya International School. Stressing upon the need for parents and children to prepare for all contingencies, she says that a mindset is required for parents and children who are planning for boarding school. “In this situation, parents need to trust the school with the education and upbringing as well,” she adds.

With the rise of nuclear families and the increasingly ambitious middle class, residential schools have also be come the need of the hour for many families in India. Boarding schools today act as a safe haven for kids where both the parents are working or are involved with transferable jobs, but want to ensure that their kids do not suffer on their account. There are also children who come from emotionally distraught families. Kids coming from broken families suffer a great deal emotionally which eventually hampers their education as well. “Such children need special care and attention during their stay at residential schools. A positive and friendly environment of a residential school plays a crucial role in helping them overcome the trauma of their personal lives,” says Priya Peter, Principal, Mussoorie International School.

The disparity between different areas of India in terms of educational facilities is also a crucial factor behind parents sending their children to study at a residential school. Lack of good schools, quality infrastructure and an able faculty have played a major role in kids migrating to boarding schools. However, there are also some children who are sent to board- ing schools as part of family tradition. Since one or both parents may have studied in boarding schools, they are aware of the circumstances and thus want their kids to study in these schools as well.

Understanding the kids’ perspectives
Before enrolling their kid in a residential school, parents need to have a word about what he/she wants. Involving the kid with the decision-making process will definitely help the child emotionally. This eliminates the feeling of the child being ‘unwanted’ and lonely and thus been thrust to an environment he is uncomfortable with. Parents also need to understand that boarding schools should not be made synonymous with a punishment warehouse.

Counsellors and psychologists advise parents not to send away kids below the age of seven to boarding schools. Kids sent away at a young age may not be able to adapt to framework unfamiliar to them, they say. So, once the child is enrolled, parents should maintain regular communication with them. Interaction with the outside world will help kids adapt faster and in turn, also elevate their self-esteem.

“With the rise of nuclear families and the increasingly ambitious middle class, residential schools have also become the need of the hour for many families in India”

Popular Movies Depicting Residential School Life


movieHarry Potter – Film Series (2001-2011)
– Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a  young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School.

Dead Poets Society (1989) – English teacher John Keating inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day.

Spud (2010) – It’s South Africa 1990. Two major events are about to happen: The release of Nelson Mandela and, more importantly, it’s Spud Milton’s first year at an elite boys only private boarding school.

Rockford (1999) – 13-year-old Rajesh Naidu arrives at Rockford Boy’s High School. Here, Rajesh experiences the joy and agony of living in an all male boarding school, learning to fend for himself without the safety net of his parents.

Taare Zameen Par (2007)– An eight-year-old boy is thought to be lazy and a troublemaker, until the new art teacher from boarding school has the patience and compassion to discover the real problem behind his struggles in school.

Advantages

Disciplined:
While in boarding schools, children imbibes a sense of discipline due to strict adherence of daily schedule formulated for them.

Good Habits:
Once in residential schools, children develop and inculcate good habits easily which include sleeping on time, waking up early which is followed by routine exercise sessions.

Independent:
One of the foremost lessons that are taught to children in boarding schools is to be independent by being responsible for their own actions.

More Time:
Environment in boarding schools is best for students when it comes to studies and recreational activities. As school and residence becomes one, boarders are able to devote more time to extra-curricular activities.

Self-Reliant:
While living away from parents, kids learn to come out of the protective shield and become confident to face life situations alone. This in turn helps them to confront a problem by themselves at a young age.

Disadvantages

Acceptance:
For a young kid living in a boarding school, one of the emotional requirements is acceptance which sometimes gets unknowingly rejected. Acceptance could be a performance-based concept but not every kid can achieve top marks. This feeling of not being accepted can affect the self-esteem of the child.

Feeling of Loss:
Kids in boarding can have the feeling of loss and abandonment during the initial phase. This feeling can stretch for a long period of time and affect him/her in his/her later stages of life if not taken care by the professional faculty members.

Stress:
Boarding schools emphasise on their kids being strong physically and emotionally. However, with emotional validations like care, concern or pampering hardly getting attention, a kid may unknowingly get affected by stress. Thus, it is very important for the boarding faculty member to talk about personal issues from time-to- time.

Adjustment:
Not all kids adjust early. When finally in sync with the boarding environment, the child may not be able to adjust to his/her home environment. This paradox may confuse the child and may affect his/her relationship with parents and society.

Bullying:
Despite strict rules, senior students may attempt to bully new kids while away from school campus. The act of bullying may never reach the faculty member as kids may be too scared to talk about it.

Achieving Excellence

Boarding schools today are centres for excellence that do not limit a child to academic excellence alone. The kind of environment that most boarding schools provide help inculcate a feeling of responsibility in a child. The thrust on co-curricular activities like sports, debates, art and social work encourages students to discover their hidden talent and understand the importance of team-work. Parents who view a child’s success purely on the basis of academic excellence may find several faults with the focus of residential schools on all-round development. Success in any sphere can do wonders for a child’s self-confidence, which can help him/her in areas that they may lag behind. Boarding schools today present children with a wide array of opportunities that can help them find their true interests and excel in it.

“We have a series of teacher-enrichment programmes to achieve holistic development. These programmes are implemented by experts from various disciplines on Bloom’s Taxonomy, David Kolbe’s Learning Style and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence,” says Dr Nripen Dutta, Principal, Miles Bronson Residential School. Their discipline policy for the development of a positive school culture assists students in developing intrinsic motivation that is self-driven and self-directed, he says.

While many who are unaware of life at a boarding school may like to refer to them as military camps, considering the disciplined life that they have to lead in a confined environment, one must understand the importance of inculcating these habits in a child at an early age and how it can help in character – building and developing leadership qualities. The environment may be comparatively strict, but these schools are not prisons!

“The biggest challenge at residential schools is to maintain uniformity. Children come from different backgrounds and thus their needs and priorities differ”

School’s Responsibilities

school-responsibility

Boarding schools are not just educational institutions but also home to young kids who are no longer under the protective care of their parents. Entering a residential school means a big change in their life and becoming self-reliant does not come easy at such a young age. Responsibility of a boarding school toward every single student extends beyond classroom hours.

“The biggest challenge at residential schools is to maintain uniformity. Children come from different backgrounds and thus their needs and priorities differ. Keeping them involved in varied school activities, taking care of their health and emo- tional needs can be quite challenging,” Priya Peter, principal, Mussoorie International School, points out.

A child sent to boarding at an early age goes through a considerable amount of psychological changes. With the absence of parents, the kid is likely to succumb to depression as he/ she may hesitate to disclose his personal feelings to complete strangers. Continuous bouts of loneliness may have a serious psychological impact which makes it imperative for the school to address them appropriately. To this problem, principals of boarding schools advise parents to visit the school along with kids prior to the registration time. This gives both parents and the children a chance to get acquainted with the campus environment and faculty members.

Perceptions Make All the Difference

They say one should not judge a book by its cover. When it comes to the future of your child, nothing can be left to chance. The choice of school, thus, makes a whole lot of difference and parents must devote a lot of time and research on this aspect.
Ask any boarding school graduate and he/she will tell you that every child needs to experience life at a boarding school at some stage of life. Beside discipline and team-work, there is a lot of fun involved with a stay at these schools, which is what the alumni from boarding schools remember their golden days by. The idea here is not to promote or denounce boarding or day schools. As discussed earlier, each child has his/her own needs and parents need to evaluate the same before arriving at any decision. The idea is to try and build an understanding that overrides social stigma or a mental block. The life lessons that students learn while spending time at a boarding school count a lot in their future years. Its a myth that boarding schools turn normal kids into social outcasts. The character that students build and the values that they inculcate in their formative years are what eventually stand the test of time.

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