Helps develop confidence
Experienced 'boarders' are divided on the issue, though not equally. A majority have reflected on boarding life during their younger days as one of the reasons for their successes in life - organisational skill at their workplaces, independent decision-making capability, the ability to work with others, leadership traits and so on.
Can be traumatising, if bullied
But the smaller voices cannot be ignored. Boarding life can be traumatising, depending on the environment. After the lights are turned off, stories abound of ghouls and ghosts tracing paths across the hallway. Stories too, about eerie sounds in the middle of the night. Harmful pranks one may call these but for some it can leave behind fears that may last a lifetime. However, the real trouble is when older students gang up and turn bullies. Weaker ones or loners are the usual targets, they are asked to do errands and stand on their heads, sometimes literally, to please the antagonists. To some former 'boarding-schoolers' such treatment, they say, gave them confidence to face up to anything as they grew into adults. Oddly, some parents insist that their children go through the same 'hard' experiences that they did, bullying and all and hence opt for boarding school.
Why boarding school?
While the jury may be out on the benefits and the demerits of boarding school, one must first question the need for boarding school. Why must a child be put in boarding school? Or, why does a situation arise for boarding school? For a start, parents must give consideration to the quality of education that they are getting presently and weigh it against a potential school elsewhere, where it is perceived or established that the standard of education is higher. Elsewhere, can be anywhere in the world, as is the case with students travelling overseas for college education.
But in the case of a school, where the age of the child is such that she or he is highly impressionable and vulnerable, it is important to assess the schooling and residential environment beforehand. More importantly, the child must develop a comfort level with the school before any decision is made.
The closer home, the better
Most boarding schools restrict parents from visiting the students often, but it is a good idea to allow parents to meet the child as often as they wish to, without venturing to take the child out of campus. This way, the routine or discipline is unaffected and at the same time, the child is not left feeling distraught or emotionally low on account of the upheaval of moving out of the comforts of home and into a boarding school knowing that parents are close at hand.
So this brings into perspective, how far really must your boarding school of choice be from your hometown? Experts believe that an overnight journey is the longest you should take to get to your child's school. The very fact that your parents can get here the next morning, is reassuring. In a medical emergency too, the presence of parents sooner than later, can be the turning point.
A balanced scorecard
Should a boarding school get rated only on the quality of education (widely understood as proficiency in academics) or should it be assessed on a balanced scorecard? Principal and veteran educator, Cynthia Mulley states, 'A range of developmental activities is a must. The school must possess adequate play and recreational area and agenda. 'The after-school hours activity must more than match what one may get as a day-scholar. 'In those households, where the mother is a homemaker, the after-school daily routine for the child is pretty much in place - wash and change, a snack, some playtime in the neighbourhood park, a hot bath, some reading exercises, dinner, a bit of homework and revision, a glass of milk and then to bed! Boarding school can provide the routine that homes with both parents working, cannot.'
Television takes over until one or both parents return. Boarding school fills this gap with a daily routine that keeps the child engaged, mentally and physically. 'The child must be exhausted, but highly enriched when she or he climbs into bed, each night. It is up to us to ensure they have a full day,' concludes Ms Mulley.
Health and hygiene
The importance of health and hygiene cannot be ignored. 'High sanitary standards are uppermost,' says Dr Gita Jayaram, ICS Governing Council member and family health expert. 'Good habits like washing hands before a meal, after games and after classes is a must. Bacteria has a way of travelling unseen and unexpectedly into the mouth or nose, especially.' Parents must inspect the drinking water source and even the cutlery provided by the school.
A visit to the school kitchen may also not be out of place,' she shares.
Interview the dormitory-in-charge
You must get a comfortable feeling about the dorm parent. Is this individual going to meet your child's expectations, emotionally? A child develops a lifetime bond or lifelong aversion as the case may be, to the dorm parent/matron. When choosing a boarding school, it is vital to pay particular attention to the personality of the individual that is entrusted with the care of your child. Communication skill must be of highest standards. If the dorm parent is trained in child psychology, then you are in for a long term and mutually beneficial association. She or he must also be a disciplinarian - no question of bullying or intimidation or rules-breaking on her watch. It will take a kindly disposition but a firm attitude to make a good matron or dorm-in-charge. Identify this fine combination in the individual. A progressive boarding school is careful about who they hire for this critical position.
5-point criteria for selecting a boarding school
So, if it must come down to the merits or otherwise of boarding school and should you be in a situation where you have weighed the pros and cons of boarding life for your child and are ready for it, then the 5-point criteria will be useful:
- Evaluate the institution for its quality of education
- Select a boarding school closer to your hometown
- Assess the after-school activity and daily routine plan
- Review the health and hygiene standards with diligence
- Meet the dorm-in-charge, personally
Of course, the smaller the school, the better. Small schools tend to personalise their efforts much more effectively than larger boarding schools can. The more homely the boarding environment, the greater the chances of your child faring well during this crucial journey of early education.