Payal: Very often one reads and hears about the sudden spurt in the growth of international schools in India, do you feel that there has been a sudden spurt in the recent years?
Lalage: Yes there has.
Payal: What do you feel is the single most important cause for this spurt?
Lalage: Its been globalisation, because pre globalisation it was not permitted to run schools with international curriculum in India. There wouldn’t even have been the clientele. Globalisation has meant that a lot of foreigners have come into the country and the existing schools, which were embassy based, no longer had enough space for all the children.
So, globalisation created the need plus the permission to open such schools in India. That’s why it happened in a rush. The need may well have been there before.
Payal: There was a time not too long ago when the mention of international education in India conjured up images of the British School, The American Embassy School and the Woodstock School. How is this new breed of international schools like Pathways and Lancers International School that you have nurtured and you are continuing to nurture; how are they different from their embassy predecessors?
Lalage: I think the Embassy predecessors, the schools that were here before, were very caught up within the area from where they derived their curriculum. Take the British School – it followed the British Curriculum, it expected a kind of British expat community to join the school. The American Embassy School is very American, the curriculum is very American and so Americans were expected to go there. Woodstock was slightly different because it has definitely had a great mix but again it was based on American curriculum.
I think the new schools, because the ownership is Indian, they are looking to provide a school that is different to the school that is normally found – the national school. They are also to some extent looking to profit – so that is different. And they have no obvious international group that they are affiliated with and the majority of their students will be Indian nationals. So there are much stronger Indian links to these schools than there were to the previous schools.
Payal: And this increase in the number of Indian nationals enrolling in these new international schools would also be, primarily, because of globalisation as you mentioned earlier?
Lalage: Partly because of globalisation, partly because of the much wider instance of Indian students moving overseas for their tertiary education and this idea of doing, at least, grade eleven and twelve in an international school in India is being perceived as a kind of bridge between the national system, learning a bit about global systems and then moving onto your university overseas.
Payal: Out of the many international curricula, which one do you think, is the most holistic as a learning experience?
Lalage: It has to be the International Baccalaureate because if you look at the plan of how the curriculum works it is centred on the learner; and from that learner profile does everything stem out. Its not looking at subjects, its not looking at knowledge; its looking at the learner, so it is more holistic.
Payal: Right, I think you make a point there, a major point. Because if you look at International Baccalaureate, the early years program that they have – the PYP is a very trans-disciplinary program. The disciplines are not as important as the learner and a holistic picture of learning that they have through these trans-disciplinary themes.
Payal: What are your views about a single syllabus throughout India, across the states and national boards?
Lalage: I think that it is something that probably would work very well for subjects like maths and science, which are the kind of subjects that build. You start at a certain level when you first start school and every year you are building onto and using what you have learned before as you get onto the next stage. Other subjects need flexibility because India is a vast country – every state is different – and they need to incorporate regional differences into their syllabi.
Payal: What are the challenges of setting up a truly international school in India? You have been instrumental in setting up two of the major international schools in North India. In your experiences what were the outstanding challenges when you were setting up these schools?
Lalage: I am not sure whether it is only in international schools, but I think that the biggest challenge is teachers. Finding the right kind of teachers, teachers with the type of open mindedness that they need to take on something new and then teach it. Another one is trying to meet Indian university requirements and teaching international curriculum at the same time and the third one might be educating parents to understand what you are trying to do,so that they feel secure that even though what you are trying to do is different, their child is not being compromised in any way through some kind of experiment that they perhaps feel you are carrying out.
Payal: Right, the teachers and the parents are such a crucial part of that learning community around the student that, yes, they need to be on board and they need to be thinking along the same lines as the school envisions itself to go.
Payal: Are international schools posing any kind of threat, real or perceived, to the schools following national curriculum?
Lalage: I don’t think there are enough international schools to pose a threat, either real or perceived. What I think it has done is that it has contributed to national schools working harder to improve practices. So I think, actually, it is having a positive effect on national schools and some national boards are looking at their own curricula and are reviewing them and not just sitting back and saying its done now and the same thing is going to carry on forever and ever. There has been a huge change in, for example, the way CBSE is looking at education and a lot of this has come from looking at international education.
Payal: There is a perception in some cities like Gurgaon, Bangalore, Hyderabad,where you have a sizable number of international schools following international curricula, that there has been a shift and there has been a movement of teachers from the national to the international schools. The national schools are finding it difficult to replace those teachers who had been trained, who had gained a certain level of maturity and understanding and experience and then they leave that school and move to an international school primarily because of the perks and the salary that the international schools can afford to pay.
Lalage: I am not sure whether it is the perks necessarily or the salary necessarily. The fact is that there are not enough teachers. The problem is teachers and its there anyway whether you have the international schools or not – finding enough good teachers to man your schools. Teachers who are looking to grow, they will move towards something that is different, because they want to experience something new and I think it is that which draws them more than the salary itself, salary of course is important. But I also know teachers who have gone into international education, learned a lot and then have decided to go back into the national system, perhaps in an administrative role than as a classroom teacher. This cross-pollination is, perhaps, a very good thing to happen.
Payal: And it is the sharing of good practices from one to the other and like you said it is bringing about an improvement and a change in the way national schools are thinking and working.
Payal: Thank you very much for your time and for sharing those pearls of wisdom.
Lalage: Thanks to you too.
Ms. Lalage Prabhu is the former Principal of the British School (New Delhi). She is also the Founder-Director of Pathways World School and was instrumental in establishing their IB program. She is currently advising Lancers International School on curriculum and school improvement.