International schools in India need regulation, not control

Over the last few days, newspapers have been carrying articles about the revival of “unfinished agenda” of the HRD Ministry, that was mooted by the previous UPA government, but put on the backburner for reasons best known to them. In the wake of proliferation of international and deemed universities that are “beyond the purview of any government control”, the ministry intends to set up a standing committee for screening and regulation of these institutions.

I whole-heartedly support this initiative of the HRD, especially since every second student enrols in a private college (TOI dated June 22nd, 2009). I am concerned about the ministry’s reason for such a move, and hope that their intention is not just “government control” as in the days of the license raj but more honourable in monitoring and enforcing accountability of such institutions.

As someone who has experience of working with international schools in India and overseas, it never ceases to amaze and annoy me, in equal measures, how the term “international school” is used or misused. Only two things make a school international, an internationally heterogeneous school population (staff and students) and / or an international curriculum (formal and informal). International schools are rooted in their local context but with global approach. Most “international schools” in India lack these necessary credentials.

Another proposal of the HRD ministry in this regard is the cap on the number of expatriate teachers employed by these international schools. This makes sense considering the abundance of good teachers in the country who are either underemployed or unemployed. But the onus of this does not fall on the schools alone. Expatriates may be hired by schools for two main reasons – as a marketing and PR gimmick to attract more enrolment – a reflection of our colonial mindset as parents. Schools also look hire expatriate teaching professionals for their rich repertoire of teaching-learning tools, which Indian teachers may be found lacking. In these cases, the HRD minister needs to address the teacher training, both pre-service and in-service, that is completely out of sync with the needs of international and national education. Expecting the international schools to change this is curing the symptoms and not the malady itself.

As a firm believer that quality education is the right of each child and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place to ensure that he gets his right and also considering that the fee in some of the international schools is a king’s ransom, they do need to be held accountable for their practices and therefore, the ministry is justified in preparing guidelines and monitoring standards for them. Therefore, it need to be well thought out so that it becomes an instrument of regulation and not just “control”.