New Delhi: When UK-basedCairn Energy began to rapidly expand operations in India, executives had one major worry: where to educate the many Cairn children headed here.
In late 2005, the company approached the British School seeking to find room for several students, all of them children of its employees. But there wasn’t much that Ian Bayly, director of the already overcrowded school, could do to accommodate the company’s request or the Cairn kids. So Cairn came up with a plan.
It would build a new primary school building across the road if the school guaranteed seats for its executives’ children.
While the British School must admit citizens of the UK and their children as part of its mandate, the Cairn arrangement allowed the company to guarantee admissions for all of its workers’ children, whether they had been born in the UK or not.
It isn’t just the British School. Branches of the American Embassy School across the country report a full house and lengthening wait lists, buoyed by an influx of employees moving to India. The Delhi school has 150 children on its waiting list and is using portable and temporary classrooms to cope with a growing student body. It plans to build a new high school expanding the capacity to 1,500 from 1,250. But that won’t happen until the 2009 school year.
“No question about it, it is the economy of India,” says Robert Hetzel, director of American Embassy School.
“More and more MNCs are coming here to set up businesses. A lot of NRIs are returning,” he added, referring to the dual trend of increased staffing here by multinational companies as well as non-resident Indians headed back home.
Because these two international schools have to admit citizens of their home country, much of the impact from the overseas exodus into India is being felt by citizens of other countries, and especially citizens coming home and looking for schools that would mimic what their children are used to abroad. Around 20% of the American school’s student body is of Indian origin. About 4% of all students are Indian nationals, usually children of parents who have either returned from foreign assignments and show the likelihood of working outside the country again. The American school does not take any local children as part of an agreement with the government that it will not compete with local schools.
Meanwhile, school officials also worry that they will lose their diversity if they have to start turning away large numbers of non-citizens who want to attend their school. The American school, for example, has 52 nationalities represented in its student body. The longest waiting list at the school right now is for children of Korean nationals.
In keeping with the growing influx of expats to other cities, the American school, which operates in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, is all set to open a school in Kolkata later this year and is exploring opening a branch in Hyderabad.
But the overcrowding has been most acutely felt in Delhi, where children of diplomats, multinational executives and non-governmental workers attend school side by side,
“Just the scale of people coming in, to cope with that is not very easy,” says Bayly of the British School. “It has been a steady growth, and the pressure is growing to cater to thesecompanies.”
Last summer, Cairn developed a multi-storey building in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri into a new primary section for the British School, raising the capacity of the school by about 20% to nearly 600. The British School could still use more slots and now wants to expand capacity by another 100.
The schooling dilemma is acute for the large number of NRIs who are choosing toreturn home, as well as for executives from countries other than the United States andUnited Kingdom.
Peter McCann, an Australian marketing consultant, considered taking a marketing job in India but didn’t largely because his family struggled to find schools for all their four children. McCann and his wife visited several schools in Delhi, even putting their names down on the wait lists at both the American and British schools.
“We had very few choices,” said McCann, who was a short-term consultant for HT Media Ltd, the publisher of this newspaper. “There is huge demand for English-speaking international schools. Unless that kind of infrastructure is under way, it becomes difficult for expatriates to make a move.”
Francesca Pessina, an Italian who moved to New Delhi from Buenos Aires in October, registered her four-year-old with the British School as soon as she learned of her move to India. Pessina, who works for the European Commission, is hopeful that her daughter, who attended public school back home, will get in later this month.
Growing concerns about wait lists are making executives sign up early.
Almost one year before he arrived in India to start his job as chief operating officer of Indigo, a startup airline, Steve Harfst alerted the American school that his 12-year-old daughter was on her way too. He didnt want to “take chances” says Harfst.
To be sure, this is a problem that doesn’t concern a majority of returning Indians, many of whom end up sending their kids to elite local schools that offer international curricula.
In Bangalore, which lacks an American or British school, privately run “international” schools are gaining popularity, in part because these “schools market themselves very well”, says Prakash Grama, a Silicon Valley transplant, who runs a software company in Bangalore city and served as the pastpresident of the Returned NRIs Association.
One such school is the Canadian International School in Bangalore. The school has no direct affiliation with the Canadian government and is owned and run by an Indian, Ramani Sastri. The school just moved to a 16-acre campus on the outskirts of the large technology hub, more than doubling its capacity to 600. It charges an annual tuition fee of Rs5.15 lakh.
“Bangalore sees a lot of expats. About three years ago, we started to see the waiting list grow,” said Ramani Sastri, chairman of the school. “That’s when we decided we need anew campus.”
The school offers an International Baccalaureate diploma and a secondary school diploma that Shastri notes is recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Education.
At the Pathways World School in Gurgaon, which is a residential school that offers the IB diploma as well, school director Lalage Prabhu notes that a third of her school of 580 students are expatriates or NRIs. Says Prabhu: “Children of the diaspora... who want their children to have an Indian experience.”