Going international

Print edition : February 25, 2011

LAWRENCE SCHOOL AT Lovedale near Udhagamandalam, one of the oldest residential schools in the country. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Spurred on by economic growth, the demand for world-class education has grown enormously in the country.

INDIA has made huge strides in education since Independence. In fact, its economic growth has been credited to a large extent to its achievements in the educational sector. With more than 740,000 schools registered in the country (80 per cent of which are government-run), India's education system is second only to China's in terms of size.

Basic school education is largely controlled by the government. The quality of education and the facilities available in government-run schools often do not meet the expectations of parents. This created a niche market for private schools, which have gone on to play a key role in improving the country's education system. Today, 27 per cent of school-going children attend private schools.

But one of the paradoxes of Indian society is that though there is a deep respect and a great desire for education, access to quality education is minimal for most people. Basic aspects such as a sound curriculum, committed teachers and extracurricular activities in short, everything that exposes a child to options and prepares him/her for a solid future are severely lacking.

However, over the past few years, many world-class schools have come up in the private sector, providing the middle class with greater choice in quality education.

Economic growth has spurred the development of these schools. With the internationalisation of the job market, higher education took on a new urgency and became more of an imperative than it was previously. Automatically, school education followed suit.

Keen to offer their children the best, parents have responded with enthusiasm to the spate of schools offering additional curriculum one that is commonly called world-class now. These schools offer a mix of academic, sporting and extracurricular activities. Advanced infrastructure facilities, a high pupil-teacher ratio, the latest in teaching methodologies and so on attract parents and their wards to these schools.

In fact, international is the key word in education today. Universities all over the world, including in India, place a high value on what is perceived as international education. Exposure to such an education system ensures that students fit more easily into universities anywhere in the world.

Most international schools in India offer combination curriculums of the Indian Certificate School Examination (ICSE), the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and the International Baccalaureate (IB). The first two evolved from the older Cambridge University system, while the IB was born out of the need for educational stability for children of parents who held transferable jobs. It was started in Switzerland in 1968 for children of diplomats. Since it uses a common system regardless of the country where it is taught, students who take the IB stream find easy acceptance in universities worldwide.

There are two challenges for Indian school education today. One is for the government to ensure high-quality education. The other is for private schools to extend high-quality education even to those who are economically weak.

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