Is boarding school the right option?

By Drum Digital
28 October 2014

If you’re thinking about sending your child to boarding school, there are several factors to consider before making your final decision.

Do your research.

Visit the school’s website and look at what academic, sport and social activities and facilities they offer. Consider their history: what is the school known for, academic or sporting excellence? Do they boast a high matric pass rate and learners who excel at university?

Speak to someone who knows more about the school’s value system. Ask for advice on its suitability. Visit the school with your child, if possible, and form your own impressions as you tour their facilities.

Schools may have a proud academic or sporting record and may choose to deflect any negative criticism. Look for media reports about the school on issues such as humiliating and abusive orientation practices.

Find the best fit.

Is your child showing aptitude for a particular sport like soccer, rugby or cricket? Or could your son or daughter be a future singing or acting sensation?

Your child could thrive at a school with an excellent track record in their field of interest – for example, a school of arts or a sports academy. They’ll have easy access to great facilities, centrally located and within walking distance, cutting out time commuting to and from school.

“Sport shouldn’t supersede the focus on excelling academically or taking them away from a happy home environment,” Thuli Bottoman, a social work manager with The Family Life Centre in Johannesburg, cautions.

“If participating in sport close to home is important to your child, rather find a solution where they can be picked up from school and dropped at sporting events and then taken home afterwards.”

Some boarding schools are centred on a particular religious ethos, which your child will be bound by for the duration of their stay. Make sure you discuss this with your child so they’re aware of what is expected, and respect their preference.

Type of school.

Some boarding schools offer a co-educational system for boys and girls while others offer single-sex education.

This is an important consideration, as putting a shy child in a single-sex school may not help them grow in their social interaction. For other children, it may help them to stay more focused on their individual pursuits.

How independent is your child?

Being away from home means your child will have to be independent. They will have to take care of their belongings, clean up after themselves and learn to manage their time and money.

They will have to be punctual in getting ready for school and learn to work fast. Your child will also learn to socialise and become adept at building friendships, through daily co-existence with other children.

Developing independence before they finish high school can also help your child make the transition to tertiary education.

Financial cost.

Are you planning to send your child to a nearby boarding school which would allow them to return home on weekends, or to a far-flung school in another province that will limit trips home to the end of the term?

A public boarding school may be more affordable than a private one. Prices can range from R10 000 to R40 000 a year for boarding alone, while private school’s boarding fees start from around R80 000 a year depending on the school and the province.

You also need to factor in transport to and from the school, and pocket money or an allowance for your child. The cost can be raised by compulsory insurance while participating in sports, or money for special trips locally or even abroad.

Find out if there are scholarships and bursaries available. Boarding schools usually send representatives to schools to offer information on admission and financial assistance.

It may be best to save up and only send your child to a boarding school when you have enough money.  Work out a budget for your child. Discuss how much money they will need for their personal needs and ensure that they communicate with you. Teach them how to keep track of their spending and discuss what they will do if they run out of money before their next allowance.

Exposure to unwanted behaviour.

Boarding schools are not exempt from bad influences and your child may be exposed to bullying or unwanted behaviour, such as using drugs and alcohol.

You should find ways to stay as involved as much as possible, and figure out how to talk to your child on a regular basis about their friendships and challenges they may face at the boarding school. Once they’re at the school you’ll have to look out for signs for concern.

“These could include your child not focusing on their studies, not participating in class, sport or extramural activities or not making friends. Your concerns should be addressed quickly with the help of the school,” Barbara Harmel, a Johannesburg based psychologist, says.

By Vida Li Sik.

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