Convents were instutions of education and worship for women in Tortall, and were dedicated primarily to the Great Mother Goddess. Convents are found where the Great Mother is worshiped. They all must offer sanctuary to women and children who ask for it.
In the early 5th century HE, it was the standard practice for noble families to send their daughters to a convent so that they could learn deportment, magic (if the girl was Gifted), sewing and dancing, and how to manage a fief. Girls attended the convent until they were fifteen or sixteen years old, when they would leave for the capital to find husbands. Younger sons of noble houses were sometimes also taught there in the use of magic or in the ways of religion, if they decided against following their older brothers to the royal palace. When they got older, the boys were sent to the Mithran priests' cloisters for further education.
By the mid-5th century, however, the practice became rather archaic, as teachers were hired by the families to serve the family alone. Of course, these could be isolated instances as the families shown were known be extremely progressive, such as the Mindelan family, and the Pirate's Swoop family.
Alanna of Trebond was supposed to have gone to a convent school at the City of the Gods, but because she wanted to do more than just learn proper manners and how to be a lady, and instead wanted to become a knight. She changed places with her twin brother, Thom of Trebond, who went to the convent instead, and later to the cloisters to learn magic.
The Mother of Waters convent in Rachia turned away a group of women, which included Thayet jian Wilima, in need of sanctuary in 438 HE in order to keep from becoming a target during the Saren Civil War. Alanna threatened to report them to the Goddess-on-Earth for refusing women sanctuary during a time of need.
Real world connections
The convents of Tortall are similar to the convents of the Medieval period in Europe, as both educated members of the nobility. It differs from Medieval Europe as Tortallan families are not considered honor-bound to send their daughters permanently to the convent as they were with many Roman Catholic families.