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doon school

EDUCATION 2.12.2014

Details about doon school of dehradun

'Never lose your
optimism. Never lose
your aspiration. And
never -- even if India
becomes a prosperous
consumer society --
never ever lose that
shining light in your
eyes,' advises Dr Peter
McLaughlin, headmaster
of the Doon School.
Image: 'The Doon School
was homecoming,' says
Dr Peter McLaughlin,
headmaster of the Doon
Inside the ivy-covered
brick building of the Doon
School in Dehradun, a
framed picture of
Mahatma Gandhi hangs
above the office entrance.
Up, the flight of stairs
leading to the
headmaster's office, are
boards bearing the names
of student achievers over
the decades -- Prannoy
Roy, Vikram Seth among
the long list.
Others went on to do
other interesting things --
Olympic Gold medalist
Abhinav Bindra, Historian
Ram Guha, Sculptor Anish
Kapoor, Writer Amitav
Ghosh, Businessman
Gautam Thapar, Mahavir
Chakra Awardee Rear
Admiral Santosh Kumar
Gupta, Prime Minister
Rajiv Gandhi...
"We have boys who go
out and make a difference
in the world," says
Headmaster Dr Peter
McLaughlin, an Irishman
who has previously served
as headmaster of schools
in Egypt, England and a
lecturer of Modern History
in Zimbabwe.
"I went to a school in
Africa which was very
similar to the Doon School
-- in look, feel, scale, even
traditions," says the
historian-academic, sitting
in his office, with sounds
of an old school bell
sounding in the
background at every
period break.
"I'd been looking for the
Doon School all my life. It
was homecoming."
Dr McLaughlin has an
older connection with
India -- his aunt, an Irish
nun, was the mother
superior of a convent in
Madhya Pradesh for
twenty years, before
moving to Quetta in
Pakistan. Being a historian
by trade, he says he loves
India's ancient civilisation
and had been introduced
to Indian curries as child
by his mother while
growing up in Africa.
In a meeting with
Archana Masih/, Dr McLaughlin
spoke about what it is to
be the headmaster of
India's best known
boarding school and why
a headmaster is never off
Do the boys see you as a
strict headmaster?
In an all boys institution
you need very strong
discipline because boys
flourish best when they
have very clear
boundaries and when
they know how far to go
and where to stop.
If they have very porous
boundaries as most boys
in the world do now, they
become very anarchic.
Girls have a natural
propensity to cooperate
within a system even
when the boundaries
aren't absolutely clear.
I've been the head of an
all girls, a co-ed and all
boys school, so I see that
Yes, they see me as
someone very strict, but
very fair. I am not on a
hair-trigger all that time,
in that sense (laughs).
Image: An Irishman,
Peter McLaughlin has
previously served as
headmaster of schools
in Egypt, England and as
a lecturer of Modern
History in Zimbabwe.
Photograph: Seema
How traditional is the
Doon School?
For a young school that's
only 80 years old, we are
powerfully traditional.
The best sort of education
is a balanced education.
One of the difficulties of
legacy boarding schools
around the world and
particularly in India is that
they haven't offered a
genuine all round
education. They have
tended to focus on what's
happening outside the
classroom at the cost of
what's happening inside.
My mission is to see that
all round education means
academics plus everything
else. Otherwise, it is
hyphen education.
Curriculum doesn't stop at
the classroom walls.
Internally, I've banned
extra-curricular or co-
curricular because
everything is curriculum. A
cricket match is curriculum
-- and that's not some
eccentric P G Wodehouse
type character saying it.
The learning that you can
get on a cricket pitch or
up a mountain or doing
social service is probably
more important in terms
of overall development
than narrow focus on the
Our academic standards
have also shot up in
recent times, both in ISC
and IB. Boys in successive
years have gone to every
major Ivy League
university. We have three
at Princeton at the
So we are very traditional,
but we are tradition plus,
rather than tradition full
It is said that schools
like Doon have a
colonial hangover. Has
this school shed off its
English cloak for an
Indian kurta?
Every boy and every
master is of Indian origin
and we intend to keep it
that way -- which may
sound funny coming from
me (laughs).
We have no intention of
becoming an international school.
Over the years we have
become more committed
to ensuring that boys
remain rooted in their
Indianness, so we have
NRI boys whose parents
send them back for
exactly that purpose.
I don't see an outstanding
education necessarily as a
manifestation of
colonialism. An excellent
education looks the same
everywhere. We have Hindustani classical music, Hindi dramatics and debating. In our literary festival last year we had Urdu and Marathi plays by the boys.
We are very conscious
that we don't want to
become a machine for
creating narrow global
citizens -- of people who
think that the world is
made up of duty free
shops at airports. We
want them to be rooted
in India's intellectual
heritage, it socio-
economic realities,
history and culture.
If one were to look at
the boys at Doon School,
what glimpse of India
would they give?
We are an all India school.
One little chap in class VII
said to me: 'Sir it's such a
privilege to meet boys
from all over India. In my
last school they were all
basically the same.'
40% of our boys are on
scholarships and rising, so
in terms of our socio-
economic diversity that is
something we have been
driving forward as well.
We have traditional
customs such as no cell
phones, expensive
gadgets -- we are a
cashless utopia -- every
boy is allowed the same
amount of money in the
How much pocket
money do the boys get?
They get a couple of
thousand rupees which is
put in the bank per term.
We also keep it low
enough so that they have
to work together -- so one will get the chocolate bar, the other the egg bun and break it into three. Our boys are very
communistic in one sense,
we keep it spartan. It is
not a country club. The
tuck shop is not open
everyday. If parents
smuggle in tuck, we
confiscate it because we
want the boys to have a
balanced diet.
We have the most
obedient generation of
parents in human history.
They do exactly as their
children say (laughs).
The boys actually like the
simplicity of the life here.
It is stripped down to the
bare essentials --
comradeship, aspiration,
achievement, team work.
You speak of the boys'
simplicity within
campus, but the Doon
School is seen as an elite
I plead guilty to being an
elite school. To me, elite
means you have a
meritocratic environment,
where the best prosper,
but we are not elitist.
People see us as a
snobbish, expensive
school -- we are
absolutely not. We keep
things basic, same
uniform, same money --
every boy is equal.
I go out of the way not to
know who the parents
are, the only time I want
to know about finances
are if they are struggling
so that we can help with
financial aid.
Like I said, our boys are
very communistic, but
with a small c -- not
signing up to Marxism or
Leninism generally
(laughs) -- but if a boy
tries to flaunt his wealth,
he becomes quickly
I have seen boys whose
parents are malis or
domestic help, walking
in friendship groups
with people who come
from incredibly wealthy
families. So it does
So you do have boys
from such economically
weak backgrounds?
Absolutely! We have an
elite product because we
have boys who go out
and make a difference in
the world because of this
special education, but
they are definitely not
Everyone -- whatever
their class, creed, religious
background, socio-
economic background, --
we've got them all --
vegetarians, non
vegetarians, Jains,
Muslims, Hindus,
Christians, militant
atheists, militant
secularists -- and the
community works
extremely well.
I am relentless about
keeping their feet on the
It is what our founding
headmaster said -- we
want our boys to be an
aristocracy but an
aristocracy of
unselfishness and service.
We have 25 social service
projects. They roll up their
sleeves, dig ditches, mix
cement and pile bricks...
As an educator, do you
think there is an over-
emphasis on rote
learning in India?
I think there is still a place
of mastering a body of
knowledge in your head
and remembering is the
foundation of all learning.
You just can't rely on
Google for everything.
We offer both the IB and
ISC and when I am
preparing boys for entry
into top universities
abroad and having open
ended question sessions --
the contrast is colossal.
Boys that come up
through the Indian board
system are trapped in the
two dimensional world;
while the IB boys know
how to apply that
I see the genius of the
Indian people and their
ability to flourish. Put
them in the right system
and they just take off.
Sometimes I wonder if the
ruling elite ...

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