A global curriculum for a globalised era

A global curriculum for a globalised era

Schools in India are responding to a growing need for different educational options

A global curriculum for a globalised era

Like many ambitious Indian students hoping to head overseas, 17-year-old Anmol Bhansali fretted about university admissions. That worry receded in December when he gained an early-decision acceptance to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bhansali, a senior at B D Somani International School in south Mumbai, believes his candidacy was buoyed by the fact that he had pursued the International Baccalaureate diploma instead of the conventional Indian state-certified board curriculum that is the prevailing standard here. “I always knew I would do the I.B.,” Bhansali said between classes. “It gave me flexibility and the ability to study what I wanted to, like English, maths, French, biology and economics. And it has international recognition.”

Bhansali is among a growing number of affluent students across India electing to pursue an IB education instead of the local curriculum prescribed by Indian schools. The I.B., founded in 1968 in Geneva, provides schools with four programmes: one for primary school students, one for middle school students, a high school diploma programme for those in Grades 11 and 12, and a career-related certificate.

Increasingly, the IB high school diploma is being recognized by university admissions offices as a standard by which they can measure students from different countries with different domestic exam systems. Teenagers in the developing world looking to study in the West, in particular, are choosing the I.B. over local programs. Yet others are looking to the I.B. as a modern alternative to local systems that are more based on rote learning.

Parmeet Shah, currently a senior at Yale University, finished his schooling at the Dhirubhai Ambani International School and explained why he had chosen the I.B. programme.

''It seemed like the most superior program in terms of how updated it was, how it did not rely on rote memorization, and the number of subjects offered,'' he responded in an e-mail from New Haven, Connecticut. ''I wasn’t 100 percent sure that the IB is the best program, but all the best schools in the country seem to be adopting it, so that was another key factor.'' He cited his frustration with the Indian school board examination system, saying he ''wanted something better.''

Schools in India are responding to a growing need for different educational options. The number of schools across India offering I.B. grew from 10 in 2002 to 97 in 2012, according to the International Baccalaureate Organization.

Sebastien Bernard, a spokesman for the I.B. Global Center in Singapore, said by telephone that India, China and Australia were the top three ''hot’' markets for their organisation. Within India, Mumbai leads other cities in programme growth, with 38 IB programmes offered in 2012, up from 14 five years earlier. It is followed by Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi.

India’s burgeoning prosperity has given parents choices in primary and secondary education that were hard to imagine even a decade ago. The selection of an IB education seems to reflect a greater focus on flexibility and openness, as opposed to the more rigid, test-driven approach traditionally associated with Indian teaching methods, interviews in Mumbai with parents, students and school administrators indicate.

They said that the system offered better student-to-teacher ratios, and a more holistic and enquiry-based system of learning. Yet the programme is often tagged as elitist because of its expense. In Mumbai, annual tuition for Grades 11 and 12 at schools that use the IB programme can reach Rs 8.5 lakh although fees for lower grade levels are less. In contrast, private schools that offer the Indian state board curriculum cost significantly less, charging from Rs 90,000 to Rs 2 lakh.

“In the IB system, you learn to argue a point of view, to apply the information you’ve been taught,'' Gardner said. “85 per cent of our students want to go overseas after the 12th to study. There’s a distinct advantage in having the IB diploma for them.''
Gardner said that because the Indian system emphasized rote learning, students from Indian schools may not be as well prepared for Western universities. Many students apply to B.D. Somani from Indian state board-affiliated private schools after 10th grade. B.D. Somani’s graduates have enrolled at top universities like Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Oxford and the London School of Economics.

Vladimir Kuskovski heads the four-year-old Oberoi International School in suburban Mumbai, to which he moved from the International School in Hamburg. The school has 1,100 students, with 85 in the 11th and 12th grades.

Study skills

“Indian kids have strong study skills,” observed Dr Kuskovski. ''They have motivation. What they lack is the ability to think beyond the exam as the system is exam-driven. It is theory, not application based. That is our biggest challenge, on how to help them apply the theory to application.”

Another drawback among Indian students was their reluctance to give their opinions, ''because no one ever asked them before,'' he said. On the upside, Dr. Kuskovski said he found less bullying and behavioral problems in India, compared with Europe, noting that students put pressure on themselves to do well. Recognizing the IB’s growing popularity, the Association of Indian Universities announced in January that it would equate the completion of the IB’s Middle Years Programme, for students 11 to 16 years old, to Grade 10 of the Indian board. This allows students from that I.B.

programme to apply for Grade 11 in schools based on the Indian curriculum.
In 2003, 162 Indian students pursuing the IB expressed a desire to go to Indian universities, but by last year that number had jumped to 1,801. Conversations with Indian parents show mixed sentiments about the I.B. versus the Indian school system. One complaint about the Indian state board course of study is its emphasis on memorisation and stress on academics at the expense of extracurricular activities. Parents also feel that the Indian system is too structured, especially for students entering the 11th grade, who are required to choose specific and distinct streams of study, like the arts, or commerce or science, with little overlap in elective subjects. For example, a student who studies history would be unable study biology. and a biology student would not be able to study economics.

Ritu Joshi recently moved her 10-year-old daughter from a traditional Indian private school to an international one that offers the IB programme. “My daughter needed space and nurturing,'” she said. Mrs Joshi believes that as the world becomes more globalized, the tools students require to thrive have also transformed. “Skill requirements have changed for the workplace,” she said. “We now need out-of-the-box thinking.”

She added that Indian state board schools “were needed during that Industrial Age type of thinking which was highly process-driven.” Not all parents interviewed were convinced of the IB’s merits. Smriti Mishra, who relocated to Mumbai from London, said that she and her husband were clear about wanting the Indian-system of education for their daughter. “We wanted what we ourselves have been through, that rigor,” she said.

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