Don’t send your child to a boarding school

One of the most common issues that trouble parents who stay in small town India has to do with the dismal quality of schools in their town, and when they should pack off their child to a good school in a big city for improving their education and increasing their chances of success in their career.

Along these lines, here is a typical question, that someone recently asked me:

<X> is studying in Std 7 and she is a bright student. She stays in a small town and there is not much option of good schools. In fact there is only one english medium school of descent standard. <X>’s parents want to send her to some boarding school so that she can get a better platform and can get other exposure in addition to good studies. Basically they wants that she gets more opportunity to build her career, which is not possible in her current school.

Initially I was not in favor of sending small kids to boarding school because then they are away from their parents. But I was convinced that such a bright student deserves a better platform to shape her future.

Just wanted to know your view on this.

Here is my view on this:

I am not in favor of sending a school kid to boarding school. At this stage, it is more important for her to have a loving home, and parents who set a good example – that is something that cannot be recreated anywhere else, and it has a huge impact on how her life turns out. In the long term, quality of schooling has a much lower impact on overall happiness, and sensible life choices than closeness to caring parents. If she’s bright, the career will take care of itself, as long as the sensible choices and happiness are there. Maybe it might take 5 years longer, because she is not in a big city and top school. In such matters, for success: “Der hai, andher nahiN.”

I would suggest the following:

  1. Get a good fast broadband internet connection
  2. Introduce her to sites like Khan Academy
  3. Encourage her to learn on her own
  4. Allow her to spend lots of time on the internet, if she gets interested in educational sites like Khan Academy, or even Wikipedia browsing.
  5. Watching educational videos or self-help videos, or do-it-yourself videos on YouTube is also recommended.
  6. Get her a Kindle
  7. Encourage her to read. Anything that she’s interested in reading, even trashy novels are fine.
  8. Spend money on buying good books on the Kindle (or even bad books, if she’s reading)

Consider shifting her to a big city, good school either after 10th if she’s a mature and sensible kid, otherwise, after 12th.

For a second opinion on this question, I asked my friend Bhooshan Shukla, who’s a child psychiatrist, whether he agreed or disagreed with me, and here’s his response:

  • I agree with all of your points.
  • Internet is important.

In addition, he felt that in many such cases, it was important to keep this in mind:

It is also v important to keep the child grounded as it is quite common for parents to assume talent in a child. Such kids can be in for a rude shock when exposed to real world later.

In other words, it is quite common for parents to over-estimate the abilities of the child, and then place the burden of unrealistic expectations, which can cause serious problems. So it is important to get a reality check, before starting to push your child too much. (Remember, praise the efforts, not the achievements. The former will make them redouble their efforts, the latter will make them over-confident and lazy.)

Note: there are of course special situations in which it does make sense to send kids to boarding school. Some examples are:

  • If family is going thru extended turmoil and child is better isolated from this trouble. e.g. severe and prolonged illness of a family member.
  • If the family is likely to split or parents are not fully available for the child.
  • If the safety of the child in the family home is compromised, e.g govt servants, bank officers, military officers in border areas. etc.
  • If the family situation/tradition is such that does not really have the ability to provide the minimum discipline that a child needs; in this case, the child is totally pampered at home and will grow up to be a spoilt brat if not for the discipline and hardships of a boarding school.

10 thoughts on “Don’t send your child to a boarding school”

  1. I just loved your comment of ‘praise their efforts and not their achievements’, this is a very valuable input to me too.

  2. This is a great idea. Many children should be home schooled. Just motivate them to learn on the Internet because it is a great platform which is revolutionizing everything and one needs to adopt to modern methods.

    Schools are redundant and are living in the old ages. Even the Universities especially in India.

    1. @Kishore, while I totally agree that students should be encouraged to use the internet, and learn from it, I wouldn’t go so far as to endorse home schooling. One of the important things that children learn in school is just dealing with other kids, group dynamics, handling bullying, handling different kinds of teachers and homeworks and deadlines, and various other non-academic things. Of course, these are possible even in home schooling, but much more difficult.

      Also, I’m not in favor of parents putting their entire life/career on hold to home-school their kids.

  3. I see this more of how to give provide better education while kids stay at home vs. boarding schools are bad!

    I studied about 8 years in a boarding school. Like any place there are ups and downs, but given it was a premium school, maybe I was fortunate. It really exposed me to a lot more things.
    I relished that experience. In fact I wish all schools were like that!

    Now, will I send my kids? No. ๐Ÿ™‚

    But not because of the reasons related to those stated earlier but purely to spend more time with kids. I would love to send them to a boarding school where I can get to meet them very often but this is not practical.

    So spending time with family trumps education for me! So for those who feel otherwise given some economic or other realities boarding school is probably a better option. So if there are other options to make the education much better, then why not!!

  4. Though I agree with the post, I wont say that agree fully and I’ll outline the reasons why.

    Homeschooling and all is fine to say but difficult to implement properly, that said, there’s also the chance that as parents (I’m sort of a newly minted father with a 6 month old child), would tend to be overly protective of our children in the name of making sure they’re safe, etc, but this also leads to several downsides that no one thinks about.
    From personal experience, I was always molly coddled as a child, probably the most pampered in the family given that I was the only son (i have an elder sister who I’d kill for, but I’ll address this point again in a bit) in the family (cue traditional ‘family name continues’ story here). In my family, the women always outnumbered the men, my father having 4 elder sisters, and since now I was the only male member, I was ridiculously pampered by my aunts and also to a small extent by my father.
    My parents worked insanely hard and though they didnt have the means to address all our whims and fancies (wants), they made sure our needs were addressed, and at 32 years of age, I agree more wholeheartedly with what my parents said that the only thing they can guarantee us is a god education, and that we as children should value it. To my detriment for a good part of my life, I never excelled at academics, I was pathetically lazy when penning thoughts to paper (remembering theorems, etc & the ability to recite them counts for nothing in exams) in a highly competitive educational system that is in India.
    This pampering, and some part of home schooling (I attended a full time day school, but home schooling also was done by my aunts) to a large extent contributed to my personality, that is bearing a weak constitution and unable to fend for myself or unable to defend myself against school bullying and violence, as well as lacking the basic ability to have senses alert enough to understand people and their intentions.
    I had traveled, just after my 10th exams to UP where my father was attending to an emergency, and I almost got molested by a security guard at the place where my father was working just because I was gullible. I though had the better sense than to follow the chap when he asked me to come because my father was calling me (my father had asked me not to go anywhere with unless wither he himself, or any one of 3 other colleagues of his came to call me). Luck was with me as I was almost on the verge of going with the security chap due to his constant urging, I almost got up to go from the office building, and one of my fathers’ colleagues actually came to fetch me, heard the conversation and called the cops. Turns out later he was a pedophile who was on run from the police in Delhi. I was saved, thanks to pure luck. This should set some context on why I’m going to say what follows.

    These instances, coupled with bullying in school and seeing that if I were to continue staying at home, I would be far off worse than better, my parents packed me off to Bhonsala Military School (far out of their means, but they did this in my best interest), and I’m very thankful for them for sending me to this boarding school, because 14 years after that, what I am today is due to a difficult decision my folks took then.
    Conditions as a student there were far from ideal, being used to a life of constant pampering & where everything including laundry was done for me by someone else, I was now having to re-learn life as I knew it. getting up at 4.30 AM, Morning PT, Parade, Drills, Ragda (Strenuous/ Rigorous physical punishment in form of push-ups, cross country run, crunches, rifle rounds at mid-day under the blazing sun), eating food on specific times, studying with peers under a near fanatical study regimen, etc., and also doing my own laundry, doing latrine duty, hotel duty, guard marches at night across the massive 65+ hectare campus changed my life a 100 fold.
    Learning self-defense, arms training & physical fitness under an unforgiving routine took me from a 100kg plump kid at age 14, to a 54kg lean, self sufficient & hardened kid in 1 year. First thing I did when I came home at the end of the first year? Went and beat up all the bullies from school. What good did that do? At that time, it was more out of a seething want for revenge for being kicked & beaten for no good reason, beaten with bats & stumps etc. All of a sudden I had this power that I never had, but better sense prevailed and 3-4 days later I went and apologized to these same kids, I apologized to 2 kids’ parents as I had beaten them in front of them and outlined why I did so. This made me a better person for a simple reason, now I respected power, and I also had street smart (enough to survive on my own if needed), and I know right from wrong.
    The next year in Military School was formative, as I honed these skills more, my logical thinking capabilities were honed & sharpened, and also because now I was a better judge of character. (and yes, I still sucked at academics, but that’s my own fault till I went to college where I had to buck up or lose out)

    Fast forward 15 years to where I am now: part of a team that handles a US$ 500-million $ plus regional business for one of the world’s largest companies in the APAC region. Would I have gotten where I am had I not gone to boarding school? Absolutely not.

    I wouldn’t have gone thru college, a short stint with the Services, and a whole lot of learning’s in life had it not been for this one decision by my parents to send me to boarding school.
    But mine could also be an isolated incident, or I may even be a rarity amongst the norm. I didn’t have good internet the time I grew up (it was the dial-up age when 56 kbps from was the norm and a Windows 95 computer was the thing!) and Naveen is my elder in so many ways (age ๐Ÿ™‚ ; years of experience in work, parenting & world wise knowledge, etc.), but I’d say that instead of doing a blanket no-no to sending kids to boarding school, look at the merits and cons, and take a calculated decision.

    Also note that one aspect I haven’t touched upon here is the ability of kids in boarding schools to inculcate bad habits very easily due to peer-group pressure or just plain and simple bad company. But there’s a different time and post to share how to tide over that, or may not, probably over coffee or beer ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. @Abhishek, You are of course right. There are special circumstances where it does make sense to send a kid to boarding school; and yours is one of those.

      I had oversimplified in my original post; an oversight that I’ve now fixed.

      Also, while I definitely don’t want to refuse to have a coffee/beer with you, I think the topic of how to tide over peer pressure / bad company is important enough to deserve a written blog post of its own…

  5. Staying in boarding school deprives the child from the love and care of family, relatives. It also keeps the child away from the real world outside, the good and bad world remains unexplored. Child is deprived of the food prepared by parents’ lovingly. Child needs little pampring too. The child deprived of taking part in family functions and decision making processes of that concerns the family. Love and care of grandparents. Parenting itself is a joyous process. It difficult to digest why parents deprive themselves of this wonderful process. Giving birth to a child and parenting is 20 years project !!! If you are ready for it don’t go for it !! Make choice conciously.. There may be few bright aspects of boarding school but the psychological loss is enormous…

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