BOARDING schools have long been an integral feature of the educational landscape worldwide. These schools provide education and boarding facilities for children aged six to 11 years or 13 to 18 years. Many parents prefer boarding schools for the high-quality education through dedicated teaching staff, smaller class sizes, individualised attention, and strong academic results.
These schools also provide opportunities for character-building by imparting the values of empathy, respect and team work, and inculcating lifelong skills of time management, self-motivation, and adaptability, thus making the students responsible citizens.
According to some estimates, there are nearly 100 boarding schools in Pakistan providing varying quality of services.
Around two dozen of these are notable elite schools, the graduates of which form lifelong friendships and networks. Some of these schools are sponsored by the armed forces, and thus become nurseries for recruitment into the armed services. The network of Aitchisonians is also well noted as many of their graduates pursue politics for their career. Amongst other notable names are Cadet College Hasanabdal, Lawrence College Ghora Gali, Cadet College Petaro, and PAF College Sargodha.
Boarding schools are sought after also because besides quality education and character building, they are seen as empowering students with leadership skills, and willpower and the self-confidence to rise and make a difference. However, this opportunity is denied to a majority of Pakistani households because of the high expenses involved. In noted boarding schools, the average fee per student is Rs50,000 to Rs75,000 per month.
There is a need, therefore, to build boarding schools that can provide quality education to those children of less privileged background who are brilliant but not able to afford boarding fees. There are some examples.
TheNooraniFoundationbuilt aboarding school near Faisalabad on six acres, which houses more than 300 students from lessprivileged background hailing from 49 districts, mostly underdeveloped, such as Zhob and Mithi. They charge a nominal fee of Rs1,000 per month. With the school`s expense per boy Rs20,000 per month, they have to raise the deficit through donations while keeping costs low by frugal practices like having students clean their own dormitories and classrooms.
This writer visited the campus, built by noted former bureaucrat Tasneem Noorani, with the support of the Akhuwat Foundation, and found that building low-cost boarding schools by the informal sector was certainly a doable and replicable option.In the other example, Cadet College Kasur, LCIC, is an education, training and boarding facility that prepares cadets from less-privileged backgrounds for admission to the armed forces of Pakistan. This college is operated by retired Brig Wajahat, who has donated his own land and resources for this cause.
One encouraging trend is that the alumni of prestigious institutions are also establishing schools in the less developed regions of Pakistan. For instance, the graduates of PAF College Sargodha have developed a Sargodhian Spirit Trust, which has established a large boarding school in Rashidabad (Tando Allahyar) and is now establishing two more boarding schools in Swabi and Quetta.
The overall education scene in Pakistan, of which boarding schools represent only a minor fraction, is dismal. In a country where the bulk of population is young, the education sector is neither sufficiently funded nor are those funds used efficiently.
In this grim backdrop, boarding schools can help prepare well-rounded personali-ties, making our society more inclusive and harmonious.
According to UNDP,64 per cent of Pakistan`s population is younger than 30. Our youth is intelligent and our land endowed with richresources. Quality education is the foundation on which the future of Pakistan would rest. While the education sector as a whole needs urgent attention, the alumni of boarding schools ought to step up their contributions to creating affordable boarding schools so that we produce a generation of leaders in every facet of our national life.
Muslims are commanded in the Holy Quran to help those in need and `Do good as Allah has done good to you` (28:77). In Christianity, a prayer attributed to St Francis of Assisi makes a strong case for giving because `it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned … And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life`.
Boarding schools are not about personal and professional success. It is about building future leaders. Creating affordable boarding schools is a form of giving back to society as this helps produce engaging citizens who understand the value of a life lived with integrity. The wúter is a former foreign secretary and founder chairman of Sanober Institute.