Live and Learn: The irresistible pull of education in Canada

As published in BSS The Link magazine:

Bukky Boyo immigrated to Canada from Nigeria with her husband and three daughters in the spring of 2001. “We came to Canada because of the girls – we wanted them to have a good Canadian education,” Mrs. Boyo says. 

She soon began looking for a school for her eldest daughter, Alero. The application deadline for the upcoming school year at BSS had already passed. But it had one spot left in Boarding.

It was perfect, Mrs. Boyo says, because she wanted the Boarding experience for her girls. 

“When she was 12, Alero lacked so much confidence. But within six months, and I’m not even exaggerating, I saw improvements in both her confidence and her grades,” says Mrs. Boyo. “From Grade 8 to Grade 12, it was just like an upward slope, a trajectory of improvement. It was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had of a child just getting better.”

Alero BOYO ’06 was joined later at BSS by her younger sisters, Temisan BOYO ’07 and Moyowa BOYO ’12.

The girls form part of a small group of students who have travelled from this region to Canada for school. The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) reports that 56 students from this part of the world studied in Canada in 2015, up from just 25 in 2011.

Boarding enrolment in Canada is rising slowly. From 2007–2010, boarding in this country saw a huge decline, about 14%, that closely tracked the world financial and economic crises.

However, enrolment has crept up again since 2010. Last year, there were 4551 boarding students in the 27 Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) boarding schools across Canada, approximately 400 more students than in 2010. About 47% of these boarding students are Canadian citizens, while 53% are international students coming from 106 different countries.

The Boyo family had two more daughters start at BSS this September, Mofe in Grade 7 and Timeyin in Grade 9.

“They’ve been dying to go. They’ve heard all of the stories,” says Mrs. Boyo.

“Our education system is world-renowned,” says Janice Greenshields, Director of Outreach at CAIS. Canada ranked above all other English-speaking countries in math, language and science in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, she notes, making Canada an attractive option for parents looking to ensure their children get into reputable universities. 

Almost half of all international students coming to Canadian boarding schools today come from East Asia, followed by Latin America and Western Europe, according to TABS.

Peter Upham, Executive Director at TABS, welcomes the diversity: “The students bring with them their culture, language
and political understanding, and their ideology from wherever they were growing up. That’s been a tremendous enrichment to boarding education.”

But some myths persist about boarding schools. For example: children are only sent to boarding because they’re having troubles, personally or academically. The reality today, says Mr. Upham, is that often students are driving the process, persuading reluctant parents, who may be apprehensive about their child leaving home.

Another persistent idea is that independent boarding schools are “bastions of privilege,” says Mr. Upham. But really,
he says, “more and more support is given so that families who can’t write a cheque for these tuitions, which are admittedly high, can access this education.”

CAIS reports that boarding students received $22.3 million in financial assistance across the 27 boarding schools in
its membership last year. More than two-thirds of that financial assistance went to Canadian students.

Finally, Mr. Upham’s organization fights the myth that parents have little to no contact with their children when they’re away at school: “you’ve got kids talking to their parents four or five times a week.”

Mrs. Boyo had a rule with her daughters: they had to be in touch every day, even if it was just an email or a text message. She was also in contact with BSS Boarding supervisors and teachers on a regular basis, she says.

Even though Mrs. Boyo was living in Mississauga when her first three girls were in BSS Boarding, and they could have
made the commute, the boarding experience was important to her. “They learned how to be independent and how to look after themselves,” she says. “They also learned how to study independently.”

Mrs. Boyo’s first three daughters have gone on to have great success in their chosen careers. Alero is studying to be an oral surgeon, having already completed her dentistry degree. Temisan studied law at Oxford, and now is working at Blakes, Cassels & Graydon LLP in Toronto. Moyowa went immediately from BSS to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, where she is in her fifth year of a six-year medical degree.

Mrs. Boyo is as excited as her two youngest daughters that they are at BSS this year. “I want them to get everything their sisters got and more,” she says.

Sarah REID ’03 attended BSS for 12 years and now is a freelance writer living in Toronto.