Education must not simply teach work, it must teach life, says American sociologist and historian W E B Du Bois; and that is perhaps where a line between an ordinary and an ultra-premium school can be drawn. Regular schools might drill lessons in biology or maths into the most obstinate of minds; but premium schools aim to inspire children, to be their best version.
From physical training sessions in the lap of mountains and interactions with leaders in various fields, to after-school classes in film or astronomy, a day in the life of a student in top-tier schools is like setting out from a base camp everyday towards a summit.
A typical day at the Woodstock School starts at 6:30 am, overlooking the lofty Himalayan range from your dormitory at a height of almost 7,000 ft. After a short trek to the 250-acre school campus, the students begin with an ‘advisor group session’. “Each student has a group of advisors who discuss the academic and the social life of the advisee (the student). Additionally, each week at Woodstock is dedicated to a value, and the advisors have a one-on-one interaction on what that value looks like in practice,” explains Ethan Van Drunen, vice principal at Woodstock.
“At Woodstock, we ensure that students live a clean, healthy life in an inspirational environment, where they’re cared for and supported,” says Drunen. To equip the students with entrepreneurial thinking and leadership skills, the school has a ‘Centre for Imagination’ as well as a community-engagement project. The school ensures that its students interact with masters in the fields of their interest. It invites various experts and stalwarts to live on the campus and arranges one-on-one interaction with the students. Activist and editor Satish Kumar and South African freedom fighter and constitutional judge Albie Sachs have been some of the names that have made a lasting impression on the students.
However, a field expert with no compassion is ineffective. To learn the importance of “service to humanity and the planet,” students have to collaborate with local businesses or NGOs and pick real responsibility tasks, such as in animal husbandry with the local community or solving the water shortage problem in Mussoorie with the help of researchers in the field.
The day ends with an after school activity where students can pick from a pool of activities such as playing basketball on one of the three basketball courts, squash, rock climbing, playing music or debating at Model United Nations (MUN) among others. Since the experience of growing up at Woodstock is extraordinary, the school’s tuition fee is too. It charges 1.59 million annually for grades VI to VIII, in addition to an establishment fee and a refundable security deposit of 400,000 and 200,000 respectively, at the time of admission. The fee hikes to 1.65 million for grades IX and X and 1.77 million for grades XI and XII.
When it comes to listing premium schools in India, it is impossible to skip the school with star-studded alumni- The Doon School, Dehradun. Doon graduates, or ‘Doscos’, as they prefer calling themselves, are in every place that matters. Right from political leaders such as Rajiv Gandhi and Aroon Purie and writers such as Amitav Ghosh and Vikram Seth, to historians such as Ramachandra Guha to social changemakers such as Bunker Roy, Doscos have graced all battlefields. And to follow in their footsteps the price is 1.3 million annually, in addition to an admission fee and security deposit of 640,500 each.
“One can’t be a master of everything, but is capable of contributing to every field in whatever little capacity he can. Therefore, all students at Doon are expected to participate in all activities, even if they’re not masters at it, and learn from one another,” says Arjun Bartwal, director of development and alumni relations, The Doon School. After the academic classes are over, the kids have a three-hour ‘Spare Time Activity’ or STA session, wherein they have to choose from an array of 70-80 activities including aero modelling, design and technology, audio-visual squad and photography.
When your school has a dedicated block for an art school, a music school and a film school for your activities, you’d never want to diddle around after classes. And these buildings are no ordinary buildings. All new as well as the old buildings on this “70-acre paradise” have been built by renowned architects (Satish Ranjan Das and later, Khosla Associates) in the old colonial style.
Like Woodstock, Doon is an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, offering a diploma programme to students of class XI and XII. This internationally recognised curriculum doesn’t rely on standard exam grades, but uses various assessment tools such as written essays, studio work and experimental work. It helps the student develop a body of knowledge, as well as equips him for further learning and researching.
“How Doscos conduct themselves and the way we talk reflects the value system and the confidence that the institution has given us,” says Abhishek Mattoo, who passed out of Doon in 1996.
The two schools, besides providing premium curriculum and infrastructure, are located away from the blare and bustle of the city and in the midst of glorious mountains. However, if parents don’t want to send their little ones too far out, there are choicest picks in the cities too. Oberoi International School (OIS), with two campuses in Mumbai, is one such.
Being the only IB partner school in India, it is the site of all official IB workshops in the country. Additionally, the school organises over 100 parent-engagement workshops throughout the year, which include sessions on health and nutrition, sex education, digital citizenship and play-based learning. “There is a direct relationship between school infrastructure and educational performance,” says Aashita Mehra, board advisor, OIS. The wifi-enabled JVLR (Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road) campus has a soundproof 600-seat auditorium, two half Olympic-size pools at the rooftop, a futsal court, a rock-climbing wall and state-of-the-art laboratories to enhance its students’ scientific temperament.
These schools may seem like paradise but they are not open to all. Only about 100 new kids are taken in each of these schools every year. But, it is worth elbowing your way into them since they send out well-rounded individuals, who are sharp and kind in equal measure.