The Times of India/Summer 1997
not a bad word if the child decides so, says Sheila Kumar.
I didn’t send my daughter off to hostel. She went.
There is a subtle distinction, only it is lost on most people. And, as soon as
she went away to school, my husband and I have been tried and sentenced on the
altar of cruelty/negligence/indifference… the reader is free to pick his choice
of word. The whole world is sitting judgment on us.
The questions come thick and fast. Are you about to
relocate? No. Was there a problem with the school the child was in? Not really,
unless one counted the deadening nature of the institution. Did you have a
problem with the child? This question is barely uttered when the inquisitor has
a pictorial flash of a heart-shaped face with a singularly sweet smile and a
nature to match. The question is immediately dismissed.
Over the years, and it has happened insidiously, the
word ‘hostel’ has come to take on the attributes of a boot camp. Hostel is the
bogey word raised to scare recalcitrant children into submission. “Behave or
I’ll send you off to hostel,” says the mother and the child subsides, as
visions of barred gates and an eight-foot monster with an upraised cane slides
into the little mind. Hostel is where little ones are kept hungry, cold and
wet. And if you talk of places that look like home, with hot and hearty fare
served at the dining table, manned by warm caring staff, where the surroundings
ring with the laughter of children, you are met with both derision and
“She will be a misfit in society,” pronounces
another ‘friend’ with more than a hint of malice in his voice. This is the
other side of the coin, the residential-school-as-elitest-club syndrome. While
no one will deny that there could be a grain of truth in that, it is invariably
the individual who is more to blame than the institution.
When day schools, too, churn out their share of
less-than-savoury citizens, why must the products of residential schools be out
under the microscope?
Actually, residential schools offer children a lot
more than the mug-and-vomit routine of most of our day schools, not that you
can blame the latter, handicapped as they are with their own peculiar
compulsions. At residential schools, importance is given to academics, sports
and extra-curricular activities. Children learn to co-exist with other
children, to study, play and share and adjust. They learn independence, along
with interdependence; to tap into their latent talents and develop them; to
evolve into complete human beings. While it is no one’s contention that these
values cannot be learned at home, there is just so much that parents can, and
Yes, these schools are expensive. However, if you
can afford this kind of schooling for your children, if you think it is the
right thing, then why must you carry a cross for it?
Then, there are those Cassandras who talk of ‘things
that happen’ at boarding schools, quite forgetting that these things could and
do happen at home , too.
Let’s face it, it’s a cruel world out there and
wrapping our children in cotton wool is not the answer. Keeping communication
lines open, being understanding, is the answer.
There is no downplaying the guilt factor, of course.
It smites you in doses, big and small.
Ultimately, however, the big truth lies in the
small details: that the child is there of her own volition. That she likes it
there and is discovering facets to herself that continually surprise and
delight both you and her. And that, as a parent, you know you have done the
Labels: Feature, Features, residential schools