When it comes to schools, the word “international” could refer to curriculum. It perhaps describes diverse classrooms. Maybe lots of overseas student exchanges.
Or it might just sound good.
With more parents choosing private education for their children and a plethora of school start-ups, the number of high-end schools promising an “international” learning experience also has soared. But the definitions vary.
Many of these schools are affiliated to well-known bodies such as the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) or the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), among other qualifications certified by these organizations. Meanwhile, a significant number of international schools do not have any such ties but claim to offer an international quality of education, despite teachings, curricula and certifications made in India. An examination of online listings of international schools in India yielded more than 100 schools that call themselves “international” but are actually affiliated to either state boards or central boards, such as the Council of the Indian School Certificate Examination (ICSE) or the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
“We have come across quite a few such schools,” says Farzana Dohadwalla, the South Asia representative of the Geneva-based IBO. “This is not a situation that is unique to India. In fact, across the entire Asian region, we see a lot of schools that have nothing international about them, except for the tag.”
A lot of this growth is fuelled by demand for private education and genuine international schools, presumably to prepare students for that other buzz phrase—the global economy. By one estimate, a growing third of the million schools in the country are private. The government has said that education is the second biggest expenditure in Indian households, after food, ahead of clothes or shelter.
“The trend for internationalization is really starting to take off now,” says William Bickerdike, the regional manager for South Asia, University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), one of the largest providers of international qualifications for 14-16-year- olds. These include qualifications such as Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), Cambridge International A Level and Cambridge O Level.
“A lot of the emerging interest is from smaller cities, as against earlier, when most of the demand for international schools came from the metros,” says Bickerdike.
The number of Indian schools affiliated to CIE has grown threefold in the last three years, to about 200. By contrast, 37 schools offer the International Baccalaureate programme.
Many schools calling themselves “international” are located outside metros, in smaller cities or even in rural areas. Anjali Noronha, project coordinator with the non-profit Eklavya in Bhopal, has noticed a few international schools in and around Bhopal.
“Most of these schools are not affiliated to either IBO or CIE, and I don’t know if they ever plan to get an affiliation,” she said. “In any case, the parents are not really aware of the difference. They probably presume that these schools offer international quality of education and they are willing to pay for it.”
The list of international schools that actually offer domestic curricula includes the seven Amity International schools in and around New Delhi and the Bombay International School in Mumbai; neither returned calls for comment. While the well-known Doon International School in Dehradun offers the UK-based IGCSE, its new branch in Mohali does not—but still goes by the name, Doon International School. It will be applying for affiliation soon, says Harinder Singh Mann, executive director of the Doon schools.
He says the term “international” refers to the student body. “We have a wide variance in student diversity,” he says. The fees at the schools are about Rs30,000 a year for day schooling and Rs1.5 lakh annually for boarders.
For their part, parents say the school’s name becomes secondary to their desire for creative methods of education. Piloo and Ashish Vidyarthi said they wanted to find a non-conventional school for their son Arth. They chose the prestigious Billabong High International School in the Mumbai suburb of Goregaon, which offers International Baccalaureate courses and charges an average Rs60,000 annually in fees. “I did not want to push my child into a system that has become a rat race,” says Piloo, an artist.
Despite its name, the Ryan International Group of Schools’ offerings are largely domestic. Of its more than 40 schools, just 11 offer the IGCSE programme. School fees average Rs22,000 per year.
“I didn’t know about schools that offer international qualifications but it does not really matter to me,” says Riya Murthy, whose eight-year-old son, Sahil, is a student at Ryan at Malad in Mumbai. “Ryan International does provide its students with individualized attention, a good quality of education and extra-curricular activities. It even ensures that students get some international exposure through international events.”
The school says that its focus is to provide “premium global education.” Ryan has exchange programmes with schools in other countries and its students have also participated in events globally, including the Model United Nations, a mock simulation activity where students discuss world issues. “Ryan strongly believes in providing an international platform to the students. It is of the belief that students, when provided an opportunity for global exposure, learn better and are more equipped to interact in diverse cultures,” says Grace Pinto, managing director of the Ryan schools.
An official at BGS International Residential School, a Bangalore-based school which is affiliated to CBSE, says the school’s name is a reflection of its diverse students. “We have students from almost 15 countries,” says the official who did not wish to be identified citing school policy. “Our infrastructure is also of global standards.”
IBO’s Dohadwalla says parents may still choose to send their children to some of these schools if they perceive the schools are good. “However, if parents are keen on their children getting an international qualification,” she cautions, “they should do their homework and check if the school is affiliated to a body that awards international qualifications.”