Hostels too play the role of educators

Hostels too play the role of educators

Though every phase in life is a learning process by itself, the years spent in the hostels in colleges or universities remain etched for ever. There is a general feeling that these hostels are meant only to provide boarding and lodging to the students after being admitted to the institutions concerned and when they were to live away from  their parents.

But in reality, college hostels, besides  providing food and accommodation, also  impart values of corporate lives with mutual cooperation and good will among the inmates. Hostels are also meant to play a vital role in shaping the personality of the students by inculcating certain traits in  life and prepare them to become responsible citizens which otherwise find no place in any class room curriculum.

Boarding schools like Eton, Harrow and Sandhurst in England or Doon, Lovedale and Rishi Valley in India, to cite a few,  have been famous not only for the high standard of academic education they offer but also for the quality of the hostel regime they provide. It is well known that the hostels  in these institutions consciously play a key role in developing the students to make them what they have come to be known in society. 

Academic achievements will earn degrees but what makes the students stand  apart is the ability they acquire to assess themselves, to know their strengths and  inadequacies, to pick up the skills to address such lacunae if any and to have the courage of conviction to face life situations. Understanding who we are determines what we want to pursue in professional and personal life.

Thus, life in hostels of these famous  residential schools have played a significant role in shaping the personality of the wards making them as self confident, assertive, cultured and refined individuals.

Oxford, for example, known all over the world as the leader in higher education,  owes its fame to the kind of corporate life its numerous hostels provide combining tradition with modernity for the inmates. The process of learning in Oxford, as observers point out, never stops with the classroom work and extends beyond in to the hostels.

There are, at Oxford, tutors who interact with students in the hostels in the evenings on day to day basis and they serve as the bridge between the academic work and the hostel life of the wards.

Interacting with the students in the most informal way with understanding and goodwill, these tutors try to find out the needs and aspirations of the concerned students. The tutor is a counsellor, a mentor and one who could be confided in. 

Charles Lutwidge Dodson, better known by his pen name as Lewis Carroll,  the 19th century novelist, whose prominent work was, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland , was more famous as a resident tutor in the Christ Church College hostel at Oxford.

Though a mathematician, logician and an accomplished photographer (he has taken photos of celebrities like Max Mueller, the famous orientalist, Professor Sir Monier Williams, the Boden professor of Sanskrit at Oxford, and the like), Carroll is remembered more for his effective services as the tutor-in-residence at oxford.

Splendid isolation

One significant aspect but largely ignored in the realm of higher education in India is the role of hostels in promoting a corporate life by creating an atmosphere to hone the inherent skills among the inmates. The college and university hostels  have come to be  regarded as mere places of residence for the students where with the needed ‘Bed, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (BBLD),’ with the ensured institutional security and comfort.
The college hostels are never considered as extensions of the classroom learning  portals. The hostels are left with splendid isolation by the authorities with the fear that hostels are no more than islands of ‘trouble.’ Instead, every faculty at the universities should make it a point to work as wardens at least for some years during  their career to understand the human side of the inmates of hostels with whom they interact in the class rooms limiting to the academics.

Hostel life in general is cherished  throughout life for the myriad opportunities it provides. You learn to be independent, manage your finances, learn to take decisions, become self disciplined and to pick up  friends who stay life long. What is of great significance in the hostel life is to learn to be judge of human character and to shape as a worthy, humane citizen.

The products of Madras Christian College (MCC) in Chennai for example, were known euphemistically as “gentlemen” and this was said to be because of the impact of the college hostels (known as Halls) that were run on high traditions set up by successive Scottish principals like William Miller, E M Macphail, Alexander Boyd and others. 

R Krishnamurthy, well known educationalist and the legendary principal of Pachiyappa’s college in Chennai, used to often say, though in a lighter vein and with no offence, “while every college took  mules and turned out horses, we at Pachiyappa’s, took even young donkeys and turn them into horses. Our hostels are the workshops where race horses are designed,” he used to pride while recalling the accomplishments of his alumni.

While hostel phase is an opportunity to face people, life and situations all on your  own, it is also needed that when you leave,  you must be a completely  different person because you learn the most when you live in the complex situations. However, the   quality of this learning in the hostels, in no small measure depends on the opportunities and the consciously nurtured healthy traditions that the individual institutions conscientiously strive to establish.    

(The writer is retired professor of History, University of Hyderabad)

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