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School Hostels

School Hostels

The new academic year has begun. There is rush for admission in schools and hostels.

Hostels/ Boarding are mainly run to cater to the far away children, providing better facilities for education and discipline. Government too has opened a number of free hostels, especially for girls, tribals and dalits. It is a boon to the poor and the underprivileged children.

Today many private schools also provide hostel facilities mainly for the urban English medium school students. Many of them make a business by charging a big fee, in the name of quality education, attractive with luxurious accommodation and choice food. While many bright students get admitted here, many wealthy parents also spend their fortune, hoping that their dull and unruly children would gradually improve in their studies and behaviour. Some affluent and employed parents want to get rid of them by granting them their wishes. The thrust of the management is to make a big fortune, rather than character formation of these future citizens. Some of our Religious Congregations also run such hostels to make money and fame. They can’t be called hostels but hotels.

In rural areas, the Church runs many hostels/ boarding, mainly for the local medium village children. Why the profit oriented private agencies do not play a role here? The mission hostels admit non-Christian rural children too in order to provide them good education and character formation. In many of these hostels they charge the minimum fees, providing them just the basic needs, with simple food and accommodation. Their main thrust is to educate and develop the rural and needy community. The diocese or the Religious Congregations build up the simple structure, spending their money with a sense of evangelization. For instance, the tribals in Ranchi area have developed through such education facilities provided by the hard labour of the Jesuit missioners.

Since good education and discipline are parted here for a lower fee, many parents bring their children. Many parents admit their bright and well-behaving children, expecting this would pave way for bright future of their kids. In fact many of our former hostel students today shine in the country with political leadership, government jobs and private businesses.  

But here many parents also come to admit their kids who are brainless and unmanageable at home. They presume that by admitting them here, their education and life will improve. It is indeed the mission of the Church to improve the lot of such kids, following the example of great educationists like Ignatius Loyola, John Bosco, Montfort etc.   But today many of our elite schools will admit only the brilliant and the wealthy, though they hold many workshops to rediscover their founder’s charisms. There is no place for the downtrodden, undisciplined and even poor Catholics. If they admit only the brilliant ones, no wonder why their school can’t be ranked on the top?

But when we indiscriminately admit the stupid and unruly kids, instead of improving their lot, they become the troublemakers to spoil the atmosphere in the hostel. Neither will they study, nor will they allow others to study, since they can’t sit down with their books. Thus due to such students, the hostel gets a bad name. In many of these small rural mission hostels, the religious authorities are unable to appoint a religious warden, due to lack of religious personnel or unable to employ a lay person due to paucity of income.   A parish priest, or a religious nun, who has other responsibilities too, has to manage these children’s discipline, besides looking after their maintenance.

For the last eleven years I had served in two rural missions of tribals and dalits, where I had to manage also the boys’ hostels, besides engaging in my other pastoral duties. Without any previous experience of running the school hostel, in my first year in the tribal mission, I admitted all the students who came seeking admission, on the basis of first come, first served. Result? Many of them were not interested to study since they all get free promotions till the eighth grade.   I had to be behind them to maintain their discipline.

Over the years, I have learned to screen the children before admitting them. But then we do not get enough students, who can cope up with their syllabus and are ready to follow our discipline. With one or two children at home many parents do not want to part them. In many villages, there are private and even English medium schools. Many parents also cannot afford to pay the fees, however low. For the average and well-behaving kids, the parents do not think the need for the hostel. Parents think of the need of the hostels only to solve the problem of the difficult children.

For many parents bringing up their children has become a problem. They think that by admitting them in the hostels, they will change. Parents blame the teachers for not doing their duty, the government policy of promoting all the students up to the 8th grade and their children for not studying, but busy themselves with the mobiles, TV, cricket and friends.   But why don’t these parents blame themselves for not disciplining them and oversee that they spend daily sometime with their books, rather than they waste their time? Instead of worrying when they have grown up, the parents need to spend some time with their children when they are in the elementary classes. Today’s parents give them all the comforts, but not time and discipline. So it is our pastoral duty to educate the parents too, as we educate the children.

 But then who listens?

(francismbritto@gmail.com)

(Published on 08th July 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 28)