Many parents struggle with the decision to send their children to boarding school and once there, not all young people enjoy it. So what is it like at boarding school? And is the education there really the best?
Switzerland: Small classes, big aims
At Aiglon college the pupils, aged between 9 and 18, come from 60 different countries around the world. This is one of the world’s most expensive schools with fees around 80,000 euros a year. Classes are small and many of them are taught in the field.
Jennifer Cogbill, a biology teacher at the school said: “The advantage here is that, because we are in the middle of the countryside, in the Alps, we get to make the most of nature. We go out and apply the biology teaching directly to nature. And that’s really fantastic.”
The school curriculum also includes unusual subjects, like space science, as well as all the usual ones; sciences, humanities, arts, languages and sport.
Discipline is important and the school is organised into houses, each one with its own house master or mistress. There is also a strict uniform code.
The prefect system is also used. Prefects get their own bedrooms in return for helping to enforce the school rules. Talal is a prefect at the school: “I definitely think it’s strict in a good way. But at the end of the day, we’re here to make sure the students do well, both in house and outside the house, wearing the right uniform, eating the right food, studying, not messing around. At the end our job isn’t hard, because all the students here, thankfully, are great.”
Ten per cent of the pupils are at the school thanks to their excellent academic results and the school’s scholarship programme.
Richard McDonald, the head teacher noted: “I think having scholarship students can be a great motivator for everybody else. It helps to raise the bar, and these people often become the role models that set the tone.”
India: Far away from home
Karen Madan is 13 and lives in an isolated area which means he cannot go to day school. So he is a boarder in Shimla at the Bishop Cotton School for boys, which was founded more than 150 years ago. Fees are around 4,000 euros a year, a fortune for many families in India.
Karen explained his day: “I wake up at 5.30, I’m just sleepy, just make my bed, it is compulsory, and come up for the morning tea. There is tea and there are two biscuits, then we have a role call, then after that there are games. Then after breakfast there is school, from 8.45 to 2.15. For the first 2 or 3 months I felt lonely, but then I found some friends, I have friends here, they are my family. If I feel homesick, I’ll go to my friends and talk with them so I feel good.”
Sapna Sharma is a teacher at the school and explains that they take in loco parentis very seriously: “Most of the boys miss their homes, so we try to comfort them. We say, “See that we are here, we are like your mothers, and you are never alone.” Any other problem, not just regarding their studies, but any other problem, we try to even solve that.”
Indonesia: Bamboo, bed and blackboard
The Green School in Bali has around 400 pupils, and a dozen boarders who come from abroad, like Xavier from Canada. He described the school: “Everything is like the buildings, like made out of bamboo, like all the materials they can get from here. The white boards are made out of car windows, so it’s all recycled.”
The foreign students stay for nine months or more, and the schools says the aim is to teach them to be ethically sound individuals and responsible community members by living a green lifestyle in sustainable buildings, eating healthy food.
David Porteus, the head of the student village explained: “I think the environment is the strongest impact on the kid. They are coming here and they are surrounded by nature with birds and the bamboo and the house here, pretty much all the house is made of bamboo and they come and they wake up and they say “Wow this is like a tree house! This is like an adventure!” And it really brings out the kids in them. This brings out the learning interest.”
The school has three simple rules; be local, let your environment be your guide and envisage how your children will be affected by your actions. All classes are taught with these three guidelines in mind.
Kyle King, a maths teacher at the school said it works well: “For example we might talk about how many times a student might use the bathroom here and how much water is used per flush on average around the world and then realizing through a little bit of math to know how much water is saved here by our non flush toilet, our composting toilet. So that gives to the kids a little bit of understanding of what it means to be green and connected to math as well.”
The hope is that the school will catch people’s attention and eventually impact the wider world, their students becoming ambassadors for environmental living.