Is sending a child to boarding school wise? This debate is an old one. Like any other choice, it has its pros and cons. Some people believe that children are sent to boarding schools due to marital feuds, working parents or even mischievous behavior. While this might be true in some cases, most children attend boarding schools for the value it adds to their lives. Having been sent to Mayo College, a prestigious boys’ boarding school in India, at the age of 9, it took me some time to adjust to the environment there. I was away from the comfort of my home, in a completely different environment with thousands of new faces. It wasn’t easy. Boarding school is an entirely different lifestyle. After the first couple of weeks, I got used to the rigorous routine and it felt like home away from home and I believe it prepared me for life in general, especially for the experiences and life as an international university student.
Boarding schools do not focus solely on academics but also character building through extracurricular activities. It imparts life skills such as wearing your friends’ socks without them noticing, hearing a chocolate wrapper opening in the classroom from 150 feet away and fighting our teachers for marks. Of course, let’s not forget confidence, resilience, humility, kindness, and courage. All these skills gave me a chance to meet and connect with people from all over India and adapt to my surroundings. Adapting is a vital skill that was very helpful in shaping my experiences at university. When I came to St Andrews in my first year, it was a similar feeling. Unknown people and unfamiliar town. But I strongly believe that my time at boarding school aided my adjustment at St Andrews.
Having a small number of students in each classroom is another advantage of boarding schools, similar to tutorials we have here. This ensures that the teacher can cater to each student’s needs differently and more personal relationships are built between teachers and students. Since teachers live on campus, students often interact with them during different parts of their day. This makes getting help from teachers much more accessible. Being in a boarding school brings its own sense of community in students, which helps create friendships and memories that last a lifetime. I was surprised to see this sense of community here at St Andrews. The belongingness you feel when you see your teachers at the beach or The Rule, or bumping into your ex-flatmate at Tesco is absolutely wonderful.
Whenever I tell people that we were not allowed to have phones or any other electronics (including laptops), they look at me with pity in their eyes and act like I survived something life-threatening. Although, we never felt the need to have our phones with us, except when we wanted to talk to our “friends” at the all girls’ school across the road. The no-phones policy encouraged us to have real bonding experiences with our friends – something that rarely happens as people tend to get too caught up by social media. By the time we graduated from high school in 2020, we had gone through so much together that my friends were nothing less than family. Inter-boarding house competitions used to be so intense that the whole school voluntarily woke up at 5 am just to see who was going to take home the trophy.
Statistics suggest that around 50% of the students studying in boarding schools are the only child of their parents. Being around other children can help avoid growing up in seclusion and boredom. It is often believed that a child emotionally drifts away from their parents because of spending time apart. But, going to boarding school only made me develop a deeper connection with my parents and made the time I spent with them even more special.
Boarding schools usually have a strict routine to ensure that students have a well-rounded development and learning experience. In Mayo, our day would comprise of roughly three hours of sports, one hour of a chosen hobby, and six hours of study. Despite how this sounds, these routines were not meant to ruin our lives but to ensure proper organizational skills. Although, I do have seen some of my peers getting suspended for being 30 seconds late to the morning assembly. This gave my life a sense of structure, even after being at The Union till 2am and the Shawarma House line till 3:30am, I am still somehow up at 8am for tutorials and lectures.
A boarding school can sometimes make students feel disconnected from the outside world. Yes, we did get the newspaper every day, so we knew what was going on around the world. We were allowed to use a landline phone to call up our parents for a total of 20 minutes every week. The phones were only operational from 7 am to 10 pm daily, so sadly, we had to handle most quarter-life crises during that set time. Homesickness is very common in boarding schools and can significantly impact children’s time there. It should not be taken lightly, and the children need great pastoral care to feel like they are in a “home away from home”. Another drawback of boarding schools is that whereas day school students are released from the echo chamber of student life, boarding school students are not so fortunate.
Choosing whether to send a child to boarding school is a personal choice. It can depend on many different factors, including the child’s needs and the family’s financial situation. When my parents decided to send me off to Mayo, I thought of it as a punishment, but the school, faculty and my friends turned out to be a blessing preparing me for the experiences life has in store for me. And I can gladly say the same about St Andrews!