Why parents opt for boarding schools

Most parents today continue to opt to send their children to boarding schools. The reasons are varied, but key among them is that most parents say it’s because students in boarding schools have ample time to study and face less distraction, thus usually outperform their counterparts in day schools.
Students share a meal. The boarding school environment  helps students to learn to be independent. (Lydia Atieno)
Students share a meal. The boarding school environment helps students to learn to be independent. (Lydia Atieno)

Most parents today continue to opt to send their children to boarding schools. The reasons are varied, but key among them is that most parents say it’s because students in boarding schools have ample time to study and face less distraction, thus usually outperform their counterparts in day schools. Education Times' Lydia Atieno sought the views of stakeholders on why this trend is on an upward trend.

What are the advantages?

Apart from just academics, John Nzayisenge, a parent and director, Good Harvest School in Kigali, says there are many other advantages that accrue from taking children to a boarding school.

“Boarding school provides a good environment for children to socialise and learn to live with others from different backgrounds. This increases their knowledge of the different shades of society,” he says.

Nzayisenge adds that boarding school prepares students to learn how to be independent. The small tasks they engage in such as washing dishes, making their beds and cleaning the classes and dormitories helps them to grow into independent and responsible people, which is an important step as they prepare to face the outside world on their own.

He notes that parents also feel safer when their children are in boarding school because of the restricted environment and tight security. This, he says, is not easy to guarantee when they are day scholars.

Mary Kobusingye, who is in charge of special needs in the Ministry of Education, says spending her years of secondary school education in a boarding setting helped shape her life positively in general.

She says the experience she got prepared her to face university life because she had learned to be independent.

Kobusingye says parents should not take their children to boarding schools because they are busy, but rather only for their children to excel in academics. However, she adds that this should be for children in secondary school level.

Claudia Holmes, the head of boarding section at Green Hills Academy, says the advantages of being in a boarding school are enormous.

 She explains that some students come from families where they are spoon-fed in everything, because they have nannies and other people who help them in almost everything.

When at school, she notes that students are taught a lot which helps them become more independent. When such student’s graduate to a higher level, they are able to do things on their own, including managing their time well.

“This is not only helpful at school but also when they join university and even get jobs. They are not overwhelmed with duties because they have learnt to handle them with ease while in boarding schools,” she adds.

According to Holmes, leadership and teamwork are also promoted in boarding schools. Additionally, it’s easier for teachers to set rules, boundaries and follow up students in every aspect even better than parents, she says.

“At school, it is easier to correct students when they go wrong, unlike at home as parents sometimes find it hard to correct them with the fear of hurting them,” she says.

Research in support

Boarding school students succeed at significantly higher rates than private day and public school students, especially in college and adult life, according to a recent study conducted by the Arts & Science Group of Baltimore for The Association of Boarding Schools, (TABS). The study also found that students are more likely to earn an advanced degree and achieve faster career advancement.

Boarding school students succeed at significantly higher rates than private day and public school students, especially in college and adult life, according to a recent study conducted by the Arts & Science Group of Baltimore for The Association of Boarding Schools, (TABS). The study also found that students are more likely to earn an advanced degree and achieve faster career advancement.

In a 2011 survey, by The Association of Boarding Schools, found 31% of boarding school students surveyed said the thing they loved most about boarding school was the community atmosphere created within the school dynamic.

“Academics are important, but when students get together after they’ve graduated and moved on to university and then successful careers, it’s not the great history class they remember, but their time in the wilderness, the dorm life, or other memorable moments. It’s a bond that binds men and boys, women and girls, of different ages and cultures,” the survey says.

What to consider

As a parent, Angelique Gahongayire, a resident of Kigali, says they should be able   to first weigh the advantages and disadvantages of taking their children to a boarding school.

This, she says, should be either finding out if the school has the right amenities for their children and whether it’s a conducive environment for their children to grow academically, socially and spiritually.

“I have two children in a boarding school, but they come back home every Friday. Schools should have that option so that parents and their children can make a choice of being in a boarding full time or during week days,” she says.

Gahonganyire explains that this is important especially when it comes to building parent-children relationship as it allows them to have a good time with family, which ensures a strong bond between families.

“This option still provides a conducive environment for such students to concentrate on studies. Besides, it also makes it easier to live with their own families and friends because they are balancing time at school and at home,” she says.

According to Valence Mushinzimana, the deputy headmaster in charge of discipline at Lycée de Kigali, as a parent, before making a decision to take your child to a boarding school, they should engage them in the decision-making process despite their age.

“This is important because children can also have a say on what they think is the best for them. Taking them there when they are not comfortable can affect their academics as well as how they socialise with others,” he says.

In case a child doesn’t have specific reasons why they don’t want a boarding school, Mushinzimana says parents should use this opportunity and explain to them the benefits instead of bullying them into taking their choice.

Ian Mucyo, a teacher and parent, is of the view that schools should work closely with parents because they know their children better.

For instance, he notes that children with tendencies like eating disorders or anti- social behaviour can be identified and helped differently.

It is also important for schools to have varied programmes so that every student is able to fit in despite their unique interests or behavior.

What is the right age?

Back in 2015, the Cabinet approved banning boarding in nursery and primary schools in a bid to ensure parents care for their own children closely until such a time when they are old enough to be away from daily parental watch.

Claudine Nzitabakuze, the head of Teacher Education Management and Professionalization Department at Rwanda Education Board (REB), says minor children who still need parental care shouldn’t be taken to a boarding school.

He says however, the right age for parents to consider taking their children to boarding school should be above the age of 11, when a child is at least in Senior One.

For younger children, Holmes says what is required is to put them in programmes different from those for older students.

“The programme for younger students should be age-appropriate. In fact, when students are younger it’s easier for them to adapt compared to older students. This is why having a different programme for them is important,” she says.

Challenges remain

Holmes says handling students coming from diverse backgrounds is no easy job. Expectations are unpredictable and boarding is a gripping environment where one mistake done by one person affects the entire group, she says.

Holmes adds that getting time for each and every student is another big challenge, especially when the school has a big number of students. Ensuring equality is important so that some don’t feel they are being left out.

Staff handling students in a boarding school need to dedicate all their time for best results.

“It requires someone who is dedicated and has passion when it comes to dealing with children. However much they are devoted to doing this, it’s not easy to balance work and family duties,” she says.

Shema Mugisha, a teacher and a mentor, says being in a boarding school can affect the parent-children relationship because the time they spend together is not enough.

He adds that children can miss out other important values they are supposed to get while at home, especially those concerning their community.

Mugisha adds that most parents always have high expectations when they take their children to such environments, especially when it comes to their children’s academic performance. When this doesn’t happen, it can be difficult for parents to understand the reason behind, which produces other negative outcomes.

He further points out that adjusting to school rules is another challenge for the learners. “In case of any indiscipline, parents should be ready to step in to help their children adapt to their new environment.”

Students’ take

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Bizimana

Josh Paul Bizimana, student at Green Hills Academy

As a Burundian, I think being in a boarding school has given me the opportunity to socialise with other students from different backgrounds. Sharing ideas with others is just a good experience. But waking up early and doing things on your own makes it a bit challenging.

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Iris Teta

Iris Teta, S5 student

When I joined the boarding section last year, I thought it was going to be tough for me. At home my siblings are all younger than me and I didn’t have the opportunity to share ideas with them unlike here where most students are my agemates or older than me. I have built good relationship with teachers than before.

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Niyungeko

Zoe Niyungeko, student at Green Hills Academy

My mother being a business person, she spends most of her time travelling and we rarely had time with her. Since I joined the boarding section, I have made many friends which has helped me build a family that I was missing. I have also learnt how to be more organised than I was previously.

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Kayinamura

Guido Kayinamura, student at Easter’s Aid School Kacyiru

Being in a boarding school has helped me experience life outside home, which has led me to develop a sense of independence and self-reliance. There is enough time to concentrate on studies which was difficult when I hadn’t joined boarding.

 

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