Saturday, September 1, 2012

India 'International'


We, the Indian Middle Class, are at the receiving end of an 'International' conspiracy! The infamous ‘Foreign Hand’ has diversified beyond politics now! I am speaking of the 'International' Schools that are springing up at an alarming rate all over the countryside.

Until 15 years ago or so, the magic mantra in education was 'Convent Schools'. Back then, everybody wanted the 'Convent' school tag. Every Sharmaji, Ghosh babu and Singh saab would proudly announce, "Our son goes to a Convent, you know!" And while this might conjure up the image of an adolescent boy running amuck amongst a flock of nuns, in reality it would probably mean the boy attended a school run by missionaries. It was equally likely, however, that the kid went to some place called 'St. Vivekananda Convent Public School'. Or maybe even, 'DAV Public Convent School'. DAV-Public-Convent!! What kind of lethal cocktail is that, you might think... but yeh India hai yaar, the land of Matar Paneer Pizza and International Vaishnav cuisine. Yahan sab kuch possible hai! Apart from catching Don, that is.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, what 'Convent' schools were to the Indian middle class at one time, 'International' schools are today.

Now, everybody wants to jump on to the 'International' bandwagon. No longer is ‘International’ a bastion of the rich and famous. Go to any middle-class neighbourhood in a metro. Go to Warangal, Chhindwara or Jhumri Telaiya. Chances are, there is at least one 'International' school there.

However, 'International' schools today are no more ‘International’ than the 'Convent schools' of yore were places ‘inhabited and run by nuns’. Based on my observations, I would say there are essentially 3 types of International Schools:

1. The La-Di-Da International School (Or, as they increasingly seem to prefer calling themselves now – the La-Di-Da ‘World’ School). These are the schools where the rich and famous RNIs (Resident Non Indians) send their children. These schools follow an International(IB or IGCSE) curriculum. But more importantly, the principal (male or female) has the liberty to come to school wearing shorts, and the first mandatory lesson for every student is 'How to Walk with your Nose in the Air.' They also learn other essential life skills, like - 'How to tell in half a sip whether the water that you have been served is really Evian or not'...

2. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the 'International Public Schools' - the modern day avatars of the ‘ST. Vivekananda DAV Convent Public Schools'. Schools with a 'flavour of the month' approach to education (and accordingly, tag 'Convent', 'Public' or 'International' on to the school's name) - to beckon to the largest possible number of gullible middle class parents.

3. And finally, there are the middle of the road BlueToes International Schools’ of the world – who believe that adopting an outlandish name will catapult them into the class of La-Di-Da International schools. Here, the teachers themselves try to master how to walk with their noses in the air, before they impart this important skill to the students.

We are one of those hapless parents who have inadvertently landed up in the grip of the Foreign Hand. Trying to choose the 'best education' for our daughter, Ananya, we enrolled her in an International school that was set up in our neighbourhood. Two years down the line, we are rubbing our heads and trying to figure out exactly what kind of blunt weapon we've coshed ourselves with...

The 'Foreign' Hand(s)

The school, though new, belonged to a school chain of some repute, and we were given to understand that the school will:
  • follow the highly esteemed Cambridge (CIE) Curriculum
  • engage highly experienced teachers
  • introduce a huge number of co-curricular activities
  • embrace a truly ‘International’ spirit
We soon found out exactly how true each of these were...
  • 'following' the highly esteemed Cambridge Curriculum – So it is done... by the teachers, at least. In other words, the teachers are 'following' the syllabus so zealously, they have forgotten all about the kids... leaving them far, far behind...
  • engaging 'highly experienced' teachers – True again. For example, the Physics teacher might be an accomplished cook, and the Music teacher might have vast experience in gardening. But previous experience in what they have to teach the kids - bah, that is so, so passe!
  • introducing a number of co-curricular activities – Ekdum true. A whole shedload of them, actually. Here’s a list:
    --Football coaching started. 2 full sets of football kit bought. 2 matches played. Football coaching stopped.
    --Keyboard lessons started. Huge, expensive keyboard bought. Lugged to school once every week for 3 weeks. Keyboard classes abandoned.

    --Skating lessons started. Most expensive skates in the market bought (upon teacher’s insistence) along with full skating kit. A grand total of 3 classes over 2 weeks. Skating lessons stopped.

    And that is just the beginning of the list...
    Well, they said they would introduce many activities, they introduced many activities. Who had said anything about continuity or quality, anyway?
  • embracing a truly ‘International’ spirit - Sure! True 'international spirit' was amply demonstrated when the school made a dress code for the teachers - 'AVOID Indian wear'. It's also nurtured in many other small ways - like the music lessons, where the kids engage in the deeply artistic activity of downloading the latest Justin Bieber songs (and their lyrics) from Youtube. And this, under instructions from the music teacher, mind you! But recently, they truly outdid themselves in this 'International spirit' thing with a real brainwave - they made it compulsory for the kids to buy a blazer! Way to go!

Last week, I saw Ananya leave for school - yoga mat tucked under one arm, umbrella hanging from the other, 30 Kg school bag mounted on her shoulder - and of course, blazer firmly in place over her clothes. In the Mumbai rains. With the sweltering heat.

Time to look out for a new school, I guess.


  1. As always, really enjoyed reading this one, Suchi. A very insightful piece. Salivating over an "international" label is deep rooted. It keeps taking different forms over the decades, but never goes away, as you observed yourself. Despite the economic growth that India has experienced and its position in the global marketplace today, the low self-esteem continues. But it takes a long time for such changes to take place, if at all. And with the enormous population characterized by great diversity and socio-economic disparities, it's probably unrealistic to expect such changes at all. There will always be sections of the population that will feel disadvantaged, both in relation to the more privileged within India and also relative to the world. So at least for them, such labels will continue to be important, although it is clear that they are nothing but a hogwash.

    Do you remember, when we were growing up in Delhi, Sardar Patel Vidyalay was one school that took a serious stand against the whole convent school syndrome? Do you think that was a successful experiment?

  2. You are right that Indians are good at putting up great copies! I know that there are many schools that do mislead the public in many ways. But there are some good ones too. Believe me.

    Yes we should do a thorough research before putting our children in such schools as they normally are expensive.

    As we have just shifted back from abroad we need such curriculum to continue education for our children.

  3. Hey, - poor you know who? - hope not many international school people read blogs of parents of international school students! Have always and very strongly held that education happens outside and despite schools, more the fundu school is less the chances of education; schools I think are so full of themselves that there is little left to learn. And I feel that we as parents perhaps are most guilty of helping to perpetuate this tyranny. See us - you and me - despite all liberal thoughts quite some times we use the yardsticks of school and their assessments to label our kids. Can we avoid celebrating or being critical per schools systems? And yes there are good schools, they are all over, and of all types. perhaps we are not sure what we want out of a school - if it is a market place we better learn what prpoduct we want :) or more importantly what product we do not want. Whatever else, great fun reading this! by the way is it necessary to suffer accented and gramatically challenged english (with very original pronounciations which I recommend even the ENGLISH to learn from us) if it is an International School - or is it possible to have international standard Hindi or Marathi or whatever instead?