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India’s top-ranked boys boarding schools 2023-24

EducationWorld October 2023 | Cover Story EducationWorld

With almost all upscale greenfield schools promoted in the new millennium being co-ed, the league tables of boys (and girls) boarding have been shrinking with each passing year. This year is no different.

Doon School

Against the backdrop of a rising global tide of gender egalitarianism and women’s empowerment — on September 20, Parliament overwhelmingly passed the 108th Constitutional Amendment enabling reservation of 33 percent quota for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies — gender segregated schools are becoming old-fashioned. Even the hallowed Harrow School, UK (estb.1572), traditionally an all-boys school which has struck roots in India (Bengaluru) and admitted its first batch in August, has metamorphosed into a co-ed school in its India avatar.

With almost all upscale greenfield schools promoted in the new millennium being co-ed, the annual EducationWorld India School Rankings 2023-24 league tables of the boys and girls boarding (and day schools) has been shrinking with every passing year. Coterminously co-ed schools league tables in all categories — day, boarding and international — are growing and expanding.

But although in his recently published Memoirs of a Maverick, bureaucrat-turned politico Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former student of The Doon School, Dehradun (TDS), recalls requesting the board and management of the school to convert it into a co-ed institution, it’s evident that the plea has fallen on deaf ears. Because in its present avatar as a boys boarding school, TDS (estb.1935), has done very well, thank you, and has acquired an excellent reputation as the gold standard of boys boarding school education.

Ever since the pioneer EducationWorld India School Rankings (EWISR) survey was initiated in 2007, except once, TDS has topped the Boys Boarding school league table with total scores well-ahead of rivals. This year is no different. TDS has topped the EWISR 2023-24 boys boarding school league table with highest scores on seven of the 14 parameters of school education excellence including competence of teachers, co-curricular education, curriculum and pedagogy, individual attention to students, leadership, safety & hygiene, infrastructure and mental and emotional well-being services.

“The success secret of TDS is that over the past eight decades, successive principals and managements of the school have focused on the vision and mission of the founders of TDS, viz, to educate and nurture future leaders invested with best Indian values and culture. I am pleased that your sample respondents have correctly awarded us the highest scores under seven of the 14 parameters of school education excellence. Of them, I am especially satisfied about the highest score under the pastoral care parameter. This is the outcome of the tutorial system adapted from the globally reputed Eton College, UK, where I served as teacher in 1991. Under this system, every TDS student is one of seven tutees who are carefully nurtured by one teacher throughout their stay here with us. This ensures that his strengths and weaknesses and mental and emotional well-being are addressed by the tutor and his peers through his years in TDS. However, I am surprised by the low score awarded to us under the parameter of community service because this is built into the DNA of the school ever since the first headmaster Arthur Foote set the objective of transforming students into an ‘aristocracy of service’. Contrary to public perception, cleanliness and hygiene on campus is maintained by student squads and they provide full scaffolding to seven socio-economically disadvantaged schools in our neighbourhood. I’m afraid your sample respondents misjudged us under this important parameter,” says Dr. Jagpreet Singh, an alum of Rajasthan University and former principal of the Punjab Public School, Nabha (2011-2020), appointed headmaster of TDS in 2020 after an experiment of appointing two expatriate headmasters in succession proved unsuccessful.

A notable feature of this year’s league table of India’s most admired (non-vintage) boarding schools is the inclusion of five institutions promoted by the Birla Group, a heavyweight in Indian industry and business. The relatively new Sarala Birla Academy, Bangalore (estb.2004) retains its #2 2022-23 ranking, Vidya Niketan (Birla Public School), Pilani (estb.1944) retains its #3 rank, as does Birla Vidyamandir, Nainital at #4 while the Birla Centre for Education, Pune has been promoted to #5 (6). That’s not all. The G.D. Birla Memorial School, Ranikhet (UP) ranked #7 also retains its 2022-23 rank. In the girls boarding schools league table, the Birla Group’s Ashok Residential School, Ranikhet is ranked #15 (12). That’s quite a remarkable record for a business group not well-known for boarding schools.

Vidya Niketan

According to Capt. Alokesh Sen, principal of Vidya Niketan (Birla Public School — VNBPS), the legendary G.D. Birla (1894-1983) founder of the Birla business empire which spans pioneer firms in the jute, textiles, aluminum, and cement industries, was the first business tycoon to venture into education to develop the country’s abundant human resource, and his heirs have continued this tradition.

“Apart from BITS-Pilani which with its five campuses has evolved into India’s finest engineering university, he also promoted the Birla Public School, Pilani — later renamed Vidya Niketan — modelled on the Harrow School, UK, some 75 years ago. He spared no effort or expense to design this school, calling in Dr. Maria Montessori herself to design and establish the primary section. Today, the school, set in a 70-acre green campus in Pilani, provides an excellent mix of fully-wired academic, co-curricular and sports education. Contrary to public perception, we are strongly focused on sports including equestrian sports of high standard. Moreover our teams regularly participate in the European Cup handball tournaments and we have a very strong adventure sports tradition. Thus we provide a wholesome boarding school education enhanced with traditional Indian values. This is what attracts children from the Indian diaspora around the world to this school,” says Sen, an alum of Sambalpur and Utkal universities, who served in the Indian Navy (1984-2007), Services Selection Board and as principal of the Sainik School, Amravatinagar (Tamil Nadu) and of the top-ranked Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet, prior to his appointment as principal of VNBPS in 2011. Since then under his stewardship, the school has steadily moved up the EW league table of boys boarding schools.

Beyond Top table, other schools within the Top 10 which have risen in esteem of the informed public are the BAPS Swaminarayan, Vadodara, promoted to #8 (11), and the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith, Deogarh (Jharkhand) ranked #13 this year.

Quite clearly, against the political backdrop of Hindu revivalism, boarding schools offering traditional values and so-called ‘swamiji’ schools are rising in the esteem of SEC (socio-economic category) ‘A’, from whom the EW sample respondents are drawn.

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