Mayo Alumni
Mayo Alumni

Mayo Alumni:UK CHAPTER News: Detail

Big Articles in Today's FT on Mayo College as India's Eton

Date: 20 Jun 2005

A bastion of tradition is restored ORGANISATIONAL TURNROUND: Pramod Sharma is transforming Mayo College, India's Eton, with some new investment and a focus on discipline, writes Jo Johnson.

1,511 words
9 June 2005
Financial Times
London Ed1
Page 11
(c) 2005 The Financial Times Limited. All rights reserved

Some might see it as a vote of no-confidence in the British system," says Pramod Sharma, principal of Mayo College, a boarding school on the outskirts of Ajmer, a student town in the middle of the searingly hot Rajasthan desert. "But I think it's more that we offer a high standard of education."

Mayo, sometimes dubbed the Eton of India, is starting to attract pupils from Britain and the US. It represents an extraordinary turnround for an academy that went through a lean patch in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This year, it boasts eight overseas students - mostly British and of Indian origin - among its 790 pupils. The school's remarkable setting - the Indo-Saracenic buildings are set in 300 acres - is part of the attraction. But there are other factors too. "It is safe - there are no drugs or alcohol - and in the US context, no guns," says Mr Sharma. "It is also, of course, very cheap." Parents pay Rs210,000 - or Pounds 2,500. That compares with the Pounds 24,000 charged by Britain's most famous boarding school.

Mr Sharma, 55, who took over as head in 1996, is widely credited with a revival in Mayo's fortunes. And the arrival of British pupils points to the start of a symbolic role reversal for a school founded by India's colonial rulers in the aftermath of the 1857 Mutiny.

Back then, as Lord Macaulay, a colonial civil servant and later historian, put it, the strategy was to create a loyal "class of people (who were) Indian in blood and colour but English in opinions, in morals and in intellect". Mayo became the place where Rajasthan's princes were educated as a way of ensuring cultural affinity with the British.

It was another world. Mayo's first pupil, H.H. Maharaja Mangal Singh of Alwar, arrived at the school gates in October 1875 on the back of an elephant accompanied by 300 retainers and a menagerie of tigers, camels and horses. Today, even though Mayo still prides itself on being a school for "chiefs" and has an exchange programme with Eton College, the sons of old boys make up no more than 18 per cent of its intake.

With the fees for Indian nationals set at half the amount payable by foreigners, the school is easily affordable for the country's rapidly expanding and English-speaking middle class.

With this new clientele, Mr Sharma has ordered a big reinvestment in the school's infrastructure. It boasts some things that schools elsewhere can only dream of, including a stable of 30 polo ponies, squash courts (it recently hosted the national championship), and a nine-hole golf course that is under construction. But it also has eight 120-year-old boarding houses.

"As a student, I always felt going to the bathroom was a big pain because I had to go outside," says Dinesh Bhatnagar, the school's bursar and an old boy, whose savvy management of Mayo's finances has lifted the college out of the red and freed up some cash for reinvestment. "It's all very well having a heritage but unless Page 2 © 2005 Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive LLC (trading as Factiva). All rights reserved. you upgrade yourself, you get left behind."

Under the upgrade programme, the number of boys packed into each boarding house has been reduced, creating space for more conveniently located toilets. "Purchasing power in India has gone up and standards of living have improved," says Mr Sharma. "So, although we still believe in Spartan values and maintain that we should not provide air conditioning, we did want to offer a bit more comfort."

The investment in the school's facilities is likely to herald a hike in fees. Even though fees have risen by 50 per cent since 2000, demand remains strong with 500 applying for 150 places each year. Mr Sharma harbours the hope that the school will be able to charge still more. Doon School, Mayo's great rival, charges Rs225,000.

Mayo's modernisation is the most obvious way in which Mr Sharma, a son of a railway engineer who also taught at Doon, has made his mark on the school. But he has lifted its reputation in other ways too.

In the late 1980s and mid 1990s, the school was blighted by bullying, indiscipline and falling academic standards. "As a parent, an old boy, teacher's son and brother, it all seemed to be going wrong then," writes V. Naidoo, a former executive of the Tata group, the industrial conglomerate, in the latest issue of the Mayoor school magazine. "Seniors were bullying beyond reason. Self-respect was at a low ebb. Senseless indiscipline had taken a strong grip while sincere teachers watched helplessly."

An all-absorbing battle with two unions - which had made inroads into the vast numbers of low-paid cooks, gardeners, cleaners and security guards that tend to the boys - was partly to blame for Mayo's decline during this period. The labour dispute culminated with the expulsion of union leaders and the decision to move large numbers of non-teaching staff out of their campus accommodation.

Under Mr Sharma, Mayo has returned to a traditional, no-nonsense approach. "It is really nice to see the age-old, tried, tested and proven child growth and development patterns being slowly put into place again," writes Mr Naidoo.

Unencumbered by internal battles with unions, Mr Sharma has concentrated on tightening discipline, which he sees as the key to getting the good academic results that Indian parents now prioritise over sporting prowess or social connections.

"The world over, parents are getting more competitive for their children," he says. "The middle class has realised that upward mobility is possible through good education. Twenty years ago, today's range of career paths was not available - the choice was either engineering, medicine or the civil service. Also, the choice would have been limited to India, whereas now the opportunities are phenomenal. Graduates are more prepared to play a role in a liberalised global market."

As a generalist boarding school, Mayo does not claim to be an academic hothouse. Its graduating class averaged 79 per cent in the March public exams.

"This is pretty high - but it won't get you into the most competitive courses," admits Mr Sharma. "The problem is that there are only a handful of good universities and each has only a few colleges that boys want to join. The cut-off can be 90-95 per cent for some courses." The universities include Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai.

As a result, around half of all Mayo boys leave at the age of 16 to pursue their last two years of pre-university studies at specialist crammers. This leads to a shrunken sixth form composed of some of the less academic boys.

But this does not worry the school. "What gives us an edge is our extra-curricular activities," says Mr Bhatnagar. "If you want to get into the corporate sector or politics or run your own business, you don't have to be a high academic achiever."

*05:45 Rising bell rings out across the 300 acre campus

*06:15-06:45 Mr Sharma takes morning physical training at the Bikaner cricket pavilion. "PT is essential for children."

*06:55-07:55 Once a week, he teaches an early morning "Zero Period" for sixth formers

*08:00-08:25 Breakfast in school dining hall

*08:30 Takes morning assembly four days a week

*08:40 Holds back troublesome pupils. "Vertical bullying has stopped, but what is often of concern is lateral domination within groups which can be physical or mental. The school rule is clear. If you hit someone, you get suspended for 7-14 days. I find it's extremely effective as parents have difficulty explaining to friends and relatives why their children are at home."

*08:40-1000 Available in office for teachers and pupils

*10:00-11:30 Administrative work in office

*11:20-11:35 Coffee break in staff room with all teachers: "Everyone sits down and if there are any issues of interest, a quick discussion can take place. Parents are encouraged to come."

*11:35-13:35 Classes continue

*13:35 Lunch: "I don't eat with the boys. I go home and take a little siesta."

*15:15-17:00 "If I can find time I take a round of games with the boys."

*17:30-19:00 Plays tennis with boys or teachers

*19:25 Temple

*19:45-20:05 Has dinner in one of the two dining halls

*20:10-21:00 Walks around boarding houses "checking that hygiene and tone are OK. I used to do it daily, but now just once a week."

*22:00 Lights out for classes 7 to 11

*22:30 Lights out for class 12

*Mr Sharma walks home


Document FTFT000020050609e1690001x
« back to News

Mayo Print Email Mayo