India’s best boys boarding schools 2021-22

EducationWorld December 2021 | Cover Story Magazine

Since the unlamented departure of Brits from Indian shores 74 years ago, India’s legacy boys boarding schools have thrived and developed their own unique personalities, notably distinct from the indelible snobbery of their British counterparts

Although the almost 200 years (1757-1947) of British rule over India divided the subcontinent into two mutually hostile nations, and ruined the material prosperity of the region which right until the early 19th century contributed 20 percent of global GDP — annual GDP growth averaged a mere 1 percent during the Raj era — Brits did leave behind some valuable legacies — railways, a functional police and justice system, and the unifying English language. To this list add the country’s vintage boys boarding schools normatively sited in salubrious hill stations and modelled on imperial Great Britain’s famous public (i.e, private, exclusive) boys’ boarding primary-secondaries such as Eton, Harrow, Winchester which nurtured the enduring British upper class that ruled the largest empire in global history.

The Doon School, Dehradun: India's best boys boarding school

The Doon School’s Dr. Jagpreet Singh

Since the unlamented departure of Brits from Indian shores 74 years ago, India’s legacy boarding schools have thrived and developed their own unique personalities, notably distinct from the indelible snobbery of their British counterparts. This is evidenced by the continuous domination of the boys boarding school league table by The Doon School, Dehradun (TDS), promoted in 1935 by Calcutta-based nationalist barrister S.R. Das as an alternative for Indian upper middle class households whose children suffered racial discrimination from older, vintage boys boarding schools sited in the hills of Darjeeling, Shimla, Ooty and other summer watering holes of the British Raj. Although to their credit these vintage boys boarding schools of the colonial era have also evolved and developed their own Indian personalities, with unique blends of East and West, TDS has captured the imagination of post-independence India’s upper and upwardly mobile middle classes who believe in the proven benefits of away-from-home boarding school education.

However, during the past decade, the board of governors of TDS blotted the school’s nationalist credentials by ill-advisedly appointing two expatriate British educators — Peter Mclaughlin and Matthew Raggett — educators of no special merit, as headmasters of the school. Evidently, these revisionary appointments didn’t go down well with the K-12 education savvy sample respondents of the annual EducationWorld India School Rankings (estb.2007) which over the years has matured into the largest and most sophisticated schools rankings survey worldwide. In 2014, TDS lost its premier #1 rank to Bishop Cotton, Shimla and in 2019-20 it was co-ranked #1 with the Scindia School, Gwalior (SSG) and in 2020-21 it was ranked #2 after SSG.

Mayo College, Ajmer: India's best boys boarding school

Mayo College, Ajmer; Inset: Surendra Kulkarni

Evidently, this demotion of TDS from its customary presiding position at top table didn’t go down well with the high-powered board of governors of the school. In March 2020, Raggett was sacked while vacationing in Europe midway through his second term. And after a nationwide (cf. previously global) search, in July Dr. Jagpreet Singh, a former housemaster of TDS and high-ranked Mayo College and at that time principal of the superbly equipped Punjab Public School, Nabha (estb.1960) which he quickly upgraded into an EWISR Top 10 co-ed boarding school, was hand-picked and selected as headmaster of TDS.

Although Singh assumed office at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic at a time when all education institutions countrywide were shut down and remained in lockdown for over 15 months, TDS’ quick transition into a highly effective online school under his watch has won it encomiums of the public and EWISR 2021-22 sample respondents. This year, they have voted TDS India’s #1 boys boarding school with a comfortable margin.

“I am absolutely thrilled, indeed overwhelmed, that your sample respondents have ranked TDS India’s #I boys boarding school in my first year of taking charge as headmaster. Credit for this happy development should accrue to our dedicated team of teachers who ensured almost seamless transition to online teaching-learning during the Covid lockdown. Fortunately, we had begun the process of installing bandwidth and digitising teaching-learning in our classrooms in 2019 and established an IT steering committee comprising several alumni who have risen to high positions in IT companies worldwide. Therefore during the pandemic lockdown, we were able to harness technology for online learning without delay. I am especially satisfied that TDS has been awarded top scores under the parameters of teacher welfare and development, teacher competence and online education effectiveness. I am also pleased with our high score under the parameter of ‘mental and emotional well-being services’. These parameters are intimately connected. Our high scores under these parameters are primarily responsible for our restored #1 rank this year,” says Singh.

Restoration of TDS to head of the Top 5 table apart, the top table features the same institutions of 2020-21. The blue-chip Mayo College, Ajmer (estb.1875) retains its #2 position with Scindia School, Gwalior top-ranked last year, voted #3 by this year’s sample respondents. Ranked #5 in 2020-21 Bishop Cotton School, Shimla is promoted to India #4 and Himachal Pradesh #1 followed by Welham Boys, Dehradun at #5 (3).

Beyond top table, within the Top 10 as well, the status quo has been maintained with a minor pecking order reshuffle. The Sarala Birla Academy, Bengaluru is co-ranked #6 (5) with its fraternal Vidya Niketan, Pilani followed by the scenic St. George’s College, Mussoorie at #7, the blue-chip St. Paul’s, Darjeeling at #8, and Birla Vidyamandir, Nainital at #9 (8) and the Indian Army’s Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun #10 (9). Significantly, three schools of the Birla business group are in the Top 10 league table of 2021-22, a clear sign that this reputedly conservative business family is modernising and upgrading not only its companies, but its numerous  education institutions as well.

The improved ranking of Bishop Cotton School, Shimla (BCS, estb.1859) in EWISR 2021-22 evokes a lukewarm response from Simon Weale, the newly (January 2020)-appointed director of this vintage all-boys school, because he isn’t particularly enamoured with institutional rankings league tables.

Bishop Cotton, Shimla: India's best boys boarding school

Bishop Cotton, Shimla’s Simon Weale

Having successfully managed the Covid-19 pandemic that prompted closure of all education institutions countrywide for over 16 months by fully wiring this ancient school for integrated online learning — “the lockdown forced us to embrace 21st century technology” — Weale, a modern history graduate of the globally top-ranked Oxford University who acquired valuable teaching and admin experience in several primary-secondary independent (private) schools in London and as headmaster of Shebbear College, Devon, UK  (2013-19) prior to being selected by the Bishop Cotton School Society (chaired ex-officio by the Bishop of the Church of North India), is all set to discharge his mandate to transform BCS into a “truly world-class school that will become a destination for students from around the world”. With 94 percent of BCS students back on campus and a “substantial war chest” sanctioned by the board of governors, Weale has drawn up ambitious plans to give the school a complete pedagogy and infrastructure makeover.

“Building on the excellent work done by my predecessor Roy Robinson who was headmaster here for 15 years, we intend to upgrade BCS into a comprehensive new technologies-enabled school with an excellent career counselling and global mentorship programme following introduction of a new BCS 7 Learner Habits programme to ensure all students are connected, curious, creative, reflective, resilient, motivated and principled. We have also drawn up an infrastructure development plan to transform BCS — which shuts down every winter — into a year round school by installing central heating, a heated indoor swimming pool and constructing all-weather tennis courts and cricket practice facilities. Simultaneously, we have initiated an ambitious global international outreach programme to invite school teams from 40 English speaking countries for our Slater Debates next November and a cricket tour of the UK next summer,” says Weale, adding the school is also in the process of building a massive endowment corpus by tapping into its global alumni pool. If these plans fructify, a major disruption of the EWISR Top 10 boys boarding schools league table is likely next year.

Although the annual EWISR league table of the country’s most admired boys boarding schools is dominated by vintage private institutions established and nurtured during the Raj era, the sample respondents have included a substantial number of government, especially defence services, schools in the boys boarding schools league table. Among them, the low-profile Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun (RIMC-D), established in 1922 as “the first school promoted as a feeder school of military training colleges promoted by the defence services”, is routinely ranked among the Top 10.

Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun, Dehradun: India's best boys boarding school

Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun’s Col. Ajay Kumar

Col. Ajay Kumar, an alumnus of the National Defence Academy, Pune and Defence Services Staff College, Wellington (Tamil Nadu), is not surprised. “Even though we never advertise or project ourselves, there is widespread awareness within the well-informed public about the high academic and character development standards maintained by RIMCs. I believe our rigorous academic curriculum, stringent selection process — we conduct our own RIMC Senior School Certificate Examination which is accorded parity by CBSE — and contemporary technologies-enabled infrastructure explains our unsolicited Top 10 ranking every year,” says Ajay Kumar. Currently, RIMC-D which prides itself for not closing down at all during the Covid pandemic, has 250 students and 20 full-time teachers on its muster rolls.

Beyond the Top 10, several other RIMCs (Belagavi, Ajmer and Dholpur) have also improved their rankings in 2021-22. Moreover, nine Sainik Schools promoted by the Union defence ministry also feature in the 35-strong league table of sufficiently well-known (schools rated and ranked by less than 25 sample respondents are not ranked) boys boarding schools of India. 

Also Read: India’s best girls boarding schools 2021-22

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