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Sunday, November 16, 2008

International curriculum in Indian Schools

 GLOBAL SCHOOLS for local citizens





   What is it that makes a school ‘international?’ Is it the international curriculum, international faculty or students or a school that imparts holistic education to a child so that he/she is able to adjust into any education system in the world? Although they were originally started to provide education to those wanting to pursue higher education abroad and to serve children of expatriates, today, international schools have acquired a more complex character. 


   “International schools no longer serve just the itinerant expatriate. They are increasingly meeting the needs of local citizens, who see the benefit of an international education for their children — local schools for global citizens, and global schools for local citizens,” explains Richard Tangye, executive director, Council of International Schools (CIS). However, in India, the term ‘international schools’ has not only become complex, sometimes it can be misleading as well. 


  If, on one hand, there exist old schools that strictly adhere to some basic criteria of being an international school, there are also new schools that are experimenting with the larger aim of international education — that of creating ‘global citizens’ without meeting all the basic criterion. Among these new-found schools is a category that uses the term ‘international’ in their names loosely, without understanding its larger aims, as the term ‘international’ gives them a leverage to maintain a high fee structure. 


   “The term ‘international school’ in India has become quite confusing. Is it because a school has students of international origin or is it because of the name that it is recognised as international?” asks Ian Chambers, regional manager, South Asia, Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). He says: “I feel it is because no one can regulate the term international as such, many schools just started using it in their name.” In such a scenario it becomes the duty of parents to make an enquiry before admitting their child into a school that claims to be international, he adds. 


With increasing global opportunities, many parents want their children to study in international schools. “The global economy accounts for the rapid growth of international schools around the world. I don’t know of any major international school that does not have a waiting list,” says Robert W Hetzel, director, American Embassy School, Delhi. The main reason behind the increasing popularity of international schools in India is the country's increasing interaction with the world. It is not only the Indians who are going abroad but also people who are coming to work in India who need international schools for their children. “In India, the standard of education is generally high. But, international schools have their own role to play. They produce children who have mixed with various cultures. They can move to any part of the world happily. So, with the increase in trade and cultural relations of Asian economies, international schools are in demand,” informs Pete Wildman, communications manager, Woodstock School, Mussoorie. “India, politically, economically and socially is at the leading edge of globalisation, and education must play a critical supporting role,” reiterates Tangye. It is because of this reason many parents who want to avail of global opportunities choose to put their children in an international school. 


In order to cater to this increasing demand there are many international schools that have come up. On one hand, there exist schools that adhere to some basic criterion which constitute an international school: curriculum, faculty, international activities, and teaching methodology. “An international examination system, accreditation, mix of foreign and local faculty and a good number of international students in order to get knowledge of different cultures are some of the main criteria,” says Wildman. 


Explaining the rationale behind using international curricula, Kaye Vogel Aoki, former principal, Woodstock School, states, “One of the features that distinguishes truly ‘international’ curricula from ‘Indian’ ones is that the former use learning and assessment systems that look at student performance criteria that go well beyond examination marks and grades.” Also, Tangye adds: “Enquiry-based learning, as exemplified by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) and many other school-based learning programmes, aim to enable students to explore inter-related issues and hence to learn through their experience what, perhaps, we learnt through facts.” Perhaps this was the reason that made Mohua Chinnappa, a parent and director of 20:20 Media, put her child in The International School Bangalore (TISB). She says: “I have met students who have passed out from this school and done well in life. My child went to Italy through an international exchange programme and he learnt so many different things that I could never learn through my textbooks.” Similarly, Anusuya Gupta, another parent and managing director, CICO Technology, withdrew her children from a school using ‘Indian’ curriculum and put them in the British School. “My children were under performance pressure. It was always about books, exams and marks. Their confidence was taking a backseat. The moment they joined the British School their attitude changed. They were appreciated for every little achievement which boosted their confidence,” informs Gupta. 


   Apart from the international curriculum, Aoki feels there is another dimension of internationalisation that is equally essential, which is the teaching methodology and assessments. “We draw on teachers and teaching systems from all over the world, including India, to offer young people from every continent a unique opportunity to learn, grow and live together. A respect for diversity and tolerance that such an experience provides is as important a benchmark for quality education at Woodstock as curricula,” she says. 


  Woodstock and many other old international schools fall into the category that strictly adhere to some of the basic criterion of being called international, such as faculty, examination pattern and class component. But, there are some new-age schools like The Global Indian International School, that have moved beyond these set criteria. “A school is called international if it is offering overseas curriculum. But, it is the combination of academics and co-curricular activities comparable to other international schools that can make a school international. Curriculum represents only 20% of the important components. The rest is all about the over-all development of a child. Even if a school is offering the CBSE syllabus it can be called international,” asserts Atul Temurnikar, chairman and co-founder, The Global Indian International School. He adds: “Our school initially started with the CBSE syllabus and at a later stage we started offering CIE and IB programmes.” 


According to Temurnikar, the core CBSE syllabus has a strong base. He says: “The fundamentals of science and mathematics are stronger in CBSE.” Temurnikar experimented by combining the CBSE syllabus with the pedagogy of international syllabus. Even schools offering the international curriculum feel that the CBSE syllabus is of a high standard, at par with international standards. “There is no denying the fact that the CBSE syllabus has got its own advantages. Some of the fundamentals are very strong. But, it is too marks-oriented. It is at the part of implementation where there is a problem. International syllabus like the IB encourages enquiry-based learning. IB is a living syllabus which teaches students to relate what they study to the surroundings,” informs Survesh Naidu, director, Pathways World School. 


   It is these teaching methodologies that are kept in mind when CIE and other international bodies give accreditation. “Before imparting accreditation to any school we look for the basic infrastructure like library, internet facility, and so on, and whether a school will be able to deliver the curriculum in its healthy form,” states Chambers. In order to impart this specific syllabus the board is particular about regularly training teachers from these schools, which is why many international schools choose to recruit foreign faculty. 


   Boards like CIE have their own rules for accreditation. There are many schools that get accredited to these boards. “We make regular inspections of the schools to ensure they are fulfilling the international benchmarks,” says Chambers. He adds further: “It is important for parents to check the unique accreditation number before they admit their child to any school claiming to be international.” 


The international boards check for quality assurance and the way the curriculum would be delivered. But, there is no mechanism that regulates the term ‘international.’ Therefore, many schools have started using it loosely. “Many schools use the word international very loosely without understanding what it means. Having one foreign student in a class of 40 will not make a school international. An international school needs to have cross-cultural exposure and international curriculum,” says Alka Verma, head (admissions and communication), Pathways World School. 


   “Any school that has the term international has started charging an increased fee. It is a sad scenario. We, on our part, are trying to promote and maintain the quality of international schools by inviting more and more schools with international orientation to be part of The Association of International Schools in India (TAISI),” informs Anu Monga, chair - TAISI, member - IB, Asia Pacific Council and a board member of CIS. 


   In a bid to regulate the functioning of such ‘international schools’ – many of them promoted by fly-by-night operators – the Cabinet is mooting a strict policy framework for their functioning, such as restriction on foreign faculty, fee structure, etc. However, Tangye believes, “Recent pronouncements on restricting the number of foreign teachers will, if implemented, have a detrimental effect on the attractiveness of India for foreign investors — because of its direct effect on schools, and more so on perceived concerns as to what other restrictions could be imposed.”






Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group



  1. This is an excellent article about international schools. It explains the concept of international schools and makes choices a little more simpler. I did extensive research about schools when I relocated to Bangalore. The two things I was looking for was a school which would provide education which is relevant to the world our children will live in and which would support my child's giftedness. After a lot of reasearch, we decided on Inventure Academy. It was the only school which satisfied most of our requirements.It is also one third the cost of the other international schools in the area.

  2. I have to agree to what has been said by Inventure Academy. They do have a good mix between the traditional and modern day education. From what I have seen children are really encoraged to experiment and experience things by themselves. I was really proud of my friend's son, studying in Grade 8 there who is participating in the Intel Science fair, and the kind of research he is doing is fabulous. I know my daughter has just started school and has adventures in her own class, but to think of it continuing all through school (not primarily academics) is satisfying. I feel like have made the right choice with Inventure.


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