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When I sit in Delhi and look at the educational map of our country, I do not find Loyola. For ours is a city school, not a national one.

In Indian history, the most famous school was located outside India — Harrow, in England, where Nehru went to at the age of sixteen. In prison in the 1930s, Nehru “stuck pictures of Harrow in his diaries and drew up lists of poets and politicians who had been to Harrow,” says Sarvepalli Gopal in his 3-volume biography of Nehru. Those lists of Harrovians would have included the poet Lord Byron, Winston Churchill, and six other British Prime Ministers.

Today, India’s most well-known school is Doon School, in Dehra Dun. Main Building of Doon School. Pic courtesy: Wikipedia
When the school celebrated its golden jubilee in 1985, the New York Times called it the ‘Harrow by the Himalayas’. After all, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had studied there. And now we know that Doon School, like Harrow, has produced not only cabinet ministers and chief ministers, but also men of letters, notably Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh.

For an institution founded in 1935, Doon School has done well. With 500 students in a given year, Doon is smaller than Loyola, but it boasts of an impressive list of alumni and is regularly talked about as one of the best schools in the country. Such popular perception has been fuelled by a mystique of elitism and sustained press coverage. Last year, the Wall Street Journal wrote about the spartan life at Doon, where “to help blur class lines, boys perform menial tasks such as pruning plants or window-cleaning.” If your mind raced to the sweeping of classrooms by students at Loyola, and the absence of press coverage, I will not blame you. All the same, I think it would be better to acknowledge that there is something right in the Doon Valley. Reading articles about the school, and thinking about its students’ achievements, gave me the impression that Doon is Loyola+.

Spot quiz: Name three good schools outside the state you live. Quick!

Doon School, I would argue, is the top national brand among schools in India. Mayo College (Ajmer) and Scindia School (Gwalior) are known in the north, Lawrence (Lovedale) in the south, and the two La Martiniere schools (Lucknow and Kolkata) in their respective regions. Among the alternate schools, Rishi Valley School (Madanapalle) is perhaps the most well-known and appears to be recognised nationally.

Unlike these boarding schools with a small number of students, South Point High School (Kolkata) — with 13,000 students and affiliated to the West Bengal education board — would be vaguely familiar to the rest of India for once being the world’s largest school. The ubiquitous Kendriya Vidyalaya is a stronger national brand than Doon, but here I am talking of the attractiveness of individual schools — there is no particular Kendriya Vidyalaya or DAV branch that I know which appeals significantly beyond its city or region.

Can Loyola become a Doon?

For sure, being well-known is not the only test of a school. But when I ask whether Loyola can become a Doon, or wonder why Loyola is only a city brand, I do not mean replicating every inch of the Doon experience or launching a publicity blitzkrieg for inches of newsprint and pixels. I only ask whether Loyola can become a model of excellence in India and sustain its position over decades. I only ask whether Loyola can become a great school, and figure prominently on the country’s educational map — a school that India cannot ignore.

What should Loyola do to become a great school? Is it the monastic experience of Doon and the boarding culture of brand schools that Loyola should emulate, or better still, innovate for its day-scholar crowd? How can Loyola’s emphasis on the development of all-round personality be strengthened? What would it take for Loyola to become a national brand?