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With the high rate of global mobility, families are moving to India from various countries across the globe. There has been a rise in International schools, especially in the bigger cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune. These schools offer one or a mix popular international curriculums like the IB, IGCSE, British, and American among others.

What makes a school International?
There is really no standard definition of what constitutes an international school. The International Association of School Librarianship laid out some criteria to define an international school. However, in India the spectrum is wide and you have a range of international schools. At the broadest definition you have schools that offer an international curriculum from Grade IX onwards geared towards a international public exam (such as IGCSE) in grade X or XII. These schools may offer a local curriculum (such as ICSE) for all the earlier grades.  At the other end of the spectrum you have schools that only cater to an international or expatriate population and have a diverse global teacher base.

Why Choose International Schools
: International schools have the highest fees that can run into lakhs (hundred thousands) per year. However, they usually offer a wider range of extracurricular activities that are not usually available in local schools. Parents may choose to send their kids to International schools if:

  • They plan to live in India for a short period of time and expect to relocate to a different country soon.
  • They see an International school as a transition school between the school system that the child was previously attending and a local school, where greater adjustments would be required by the child.(See our note on Transitions below). Parents may want their child to continue their education in a query based, flexible approach to learning as opposed to the more exam-oriented approach that the local schools may follow.
  • They plan for kids to go to college in a country outside of India. Attending International schools may help with college admissions in the US and other countries. If parents plan for kids to attend Indian colleges, an International school may not be the best choice that helps them prepare, especially for rigorous entrance exams for Indian medical and engineering colleges.

Transition from International to Local curriculum :
This can be a challenge depending on the grades that a child is going into. The key adjustment factors will be:

  •  Language requirements – local schools may not offer foreign languages and it is usually mandatory to study Hindi or at least one local language starting from 2nd grade. For grades 5-8, a second local language may also be required.
  • Regular examinations/tests – while testing and assessments do take place in international schools as well, their breadth and importance placed in the overall assessment is far greater in the local schools.
  • Homework – international schools will generally give far less to no homework compared to the local ones, especially in the early grades Focus on writing also starts much later than the domestic schools
  • The approach to learning in an International school is one which is focused on query and questioning as opposed to memory and speed. Independent research and learning is also emphasized strongly. This may not always be the approach followed in a local school where exam results are usually given primary importance.

Cambridge International (ICGSE):

  • Cambridge International Education (CIE) provides education programs for 5-19 year olds in 160 countries. It is affiliated to the University of Cambridge. Indian schools offering the curriculum typically follow Cambridge Primary (Grades 1-5) Secondary (6-8), IGCSE (9-10) and A levels or A/S Levels (11-12).
  • Teachers typically need to be trained in the CIE methodology.
  • Schools are given a lot of flexibility in how they implement the curriculum and subjects offered so there might be differences in the way different schools have adapted the curriculum.
  • The Primary program generally offers training in core subjects such as Math, Science and Language adding languages in the latter years. Homework is not very heavy and there are generally no formal exams till 6th grade. Schools in India generally offer Hindi, a local language (e.g. Marathi in Mumbai) and a foreign language which are all assessed in a similar manner.
  • The Cambridge Secondary program introduces more subjects like history, geography and also offers a checkpoint (or tests) for regular evaluation. Cambridge Secondary 2 or IGCSE is the world’s most  popular international curriculum for the 14-16 age group. The approach is more geared towards problem solving and application of concepts and the range of subjects offered is wide, covering areas like Economics, Accounting etc. thus providing excellent training for further education and college preparation.
  • Since the IGCSE exam is among the preeminent public exams in the globe today, there are a lot of international schools in India which will offer a hybrid curriculum i.e. they may follow an ICSE or IB curriculum till primary or secondary school and then switch to IGCSE. So language requirements may exist in the international schools especially if they are offering a hybrid curriculum.


International Baccalaureate (IB)

  • The IB program is known for encouraging enquiry and questions from kids and places high emphasis on all-round development with increased focus on community service as well as international trips to chosen destinations. 
  • The IB preschool education focuses on the child as the unit of enquiry and offers a combination of play and teaching based resources to build knowledge in areas of math, science, arts, language and music.
  • Programs. A continuum of 3 programs is offered for students aged 3 years to 19 years. Recently, a fourth program, the Career Related Certificate (IBCC) for students aged 16 to 19 years has been introduced. Primary Years Program (PYP) for children aged 3-12 years, the Middle Years program (MYP) from 11 to 16 years and the The Diploma Program for students from 16-19 years. While schools may have internal exams, the main public exam is the IB diploma at the end of Grade 12.
  • The IB Diploma culminates in a school leaving diploma and prepares students for college. In addition to traditional subjects, the curriculum includes an Extended Essay of about 4000 words, Theory of Knowledge, and Creativity Action Service (a program that includes the Arts, Physical education, and Community Service).
  • From the earliest ages, students are discouraged from rote learning of facts. The emphasis is on understanding concepts. Kids have access to information through books and the internet and are taught how to process and best use the information for their purposes.
  • Flexible language requirements. All IB students have the option to learn more than 1 language from age 7 onwards. The second language they choose could be limited by the availability teachers in the school they attend but there is no restriction from the IB itself. Most IB schools will offer a choice of 2 or 3 different languages apart from the primary language of instruction. For e.g. languages commonly offered in Indian IB schools are French, Spanish and Hindi while the medium of instruction is English. In some cases one can choose a new language at a basic level as late as in Grade 11 so one is not stuck with a subject choice in the senior years.

Other International Curricula: British, American, Canadian, Singapore, Australian

  • Other schools affiliated to the national curricula of their respective counties are also quite popular.  For instance the British School will typically follow the National Curriculum for England or the American school may follow the US curriculum.
  • Many of these schools will typically o\ffer the IGCSE in the later years instead of the home country curriculum. Some schools may offer IB from the early grades itself – so it really depends on a school by school basis. The teaching style and culture of the school generally reflects the home country’s approach to teaching even if the curriculum is international.

 For information on local curriculum such as ICSE and CBSE check out our article Moving to India - Local Curriculum options.

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