When Lavanya and Anil Nair moved to India from Europe, admissions of their children–Krishna (16) and Balram (10)–into an International Baccalaureate school in Mumbai was a no-brainer.
“The transition was seamless,” Lavanya Nair said over the phone, for the children followed the same curriculum and medium of instruction when they lived in Spain and Belgium, and also in Singapore. And when they do choose to go abroad for higher education, the transition will be smoother still, she said.
“An IB education makes you a world citizen,” Viral Doshi, a Mumbai-based higher education consultant and author, told BQ Prime in an interview. The curriculum has quickly gained currency among expats and Indians seeking foreign education, so much so that there are now as many as 204 IB World schools in India–the fifth highest in the world–with 7,000-10,000 students enrolled, he said.
Globally, IB offers its educational programmes to more than 1.95 million students aged 3-19, across 5,500 schools in 160 countries, according to its website.
Founded in 1968 as a non-profit, the Geneva-headquartered International Baccalaureate made its way into India in 1976 when the Kodai School in Kodaikanal adopted it as a medium of instruction.
The institution–now called Kodaikanal International School–offers the IB Diploma programme and the IB Middle School programme to its students.
But the real surge in IB education in India happened over the past decade and a half as affluency rose in the aftermath of the 1991 economic reforms, Doshi said.
“With rising affluence comes the aspiration for higher education abroad,” he said, but that’s not limited to parents and students in metro cities of India.
While the financial capital Mumbai and tech-hub Bengaluru are home to the highest number of IB schools, tier-II centres like Hyderabad and Pune score higher than Delhi and Kolkata.
“Today, a guy from Surat knows as much as the guy in Bombay (Mumbai). Ten years ago, that wasn’t the case,” Doshi said. The gap, then, is closing between tier-I and tier II-III centres. “With the internet and international schools, it has become a level playing field.”
The Scholastic Structure
IB provides a “worldwide standardised curriculum”, imparting its students aged 3-19 “a practical learning experience”, according to its website.
The course is tailormade, one that educates and assesses students on the basis of context and application rather than rote learning–an affliction of the Indian education system.
“In ICSE, they ask us: ‘When did the Battle of Panipat take place?’ In IB, they’ll ask you, ‘Was the Battle of Panipat worth it?’… That’s the big difference,” Doshi said.
To that end, there are four IB programmes:
The Primary Years Programme for ages 3-12.
The Middle Years Programme for ages 11-16.
The Diploma Programme for ages 16-19.
The Career-Related Programme for ages 16-19.
The IB Diploma Programme, the most popular in India, includes:
Group 1 – First Language (English)
Group 2 – Second Language (French, Spanish, German, etc.)
Group 3 – Individual and Societies: Humanities (Economics, Psychology, History, Geography, Business Studies, etc.)
Group 4 – Science: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science, Design & Technology, etc.
Group 5 – Mathematics: Higher Level or Lower Level
Group 6 – Arts: Music, Theatre, Visual Arts
A student has to choose one subject from each of these groups–Group 1 being compulsory. Additionally, students have to study ‘Theory of Knowledge’, which is basically an introduction to philosophy, dabble in , and write a research paper.
The Allure Of Foreign Education
While IB World schools have mushroomed in India over the past 15 years, colleges and universities offering quality education haven’t kept pace, Doshi said. “You may have an Ashoka University here and an OP Jindal or Symbiosis there, but there’s a gap,” he said. “So, where do the people go? They go overseas. That’s why the rush to go overseas.”
According to Doshi, the number of Indian students opting for overseas education has grown by 200% over the past decade. “Overseas curriculums love the IB programme. There’s no preference, but the fit is seamless. There’s no culture shock.”
Still, IB education in India is in its infancy, and along with that come teething troubles–primary among which is the quality of teachers.
A majority of international schools in India offer the two-year IB Diploma as an alternative to senior secondary education in ICSE or CBSE boards. For teachers trained in these local curricula, it’s a challenge to migrate to an international system, Doshi said. They do receive training from the schools that employ them, but the quality isn’t up to the mark–so much so that there’s a significant gap between the Top 10 IB schools in India, who often bring in expat teachers, and the rest.
“What we need is a growing pool of trained Indian IB teachers,” Doshi said. “That’ll take time. It takes one generation for anything to stabilise. Once that happens, we should then see growth over 10-15 years.”
According to Shiwangi Modi, counsellor at Ahmedabad International School, in non-metro cities, the average salary of a teacher with no IB training would be Rs 3.5-4 lakh per annum for IB Primary Years Programme and Rs 3.5-5 lakh per annum for the IB Middle Years Programme.
In a metro, a trained IB teacher’s remuneration may be significantly higher, Doshi said, with perks such as accommodation as well as a seat for their children in the same school.
“(But) the sad part is…IB school students are still opting for extra tuitions,” Doshi said. “That is very unfortunate because the very idea of IB was to cut down on extra classes… Private tuition is a very Indian phenomenon.”
The student-teacher ratio isn’t a problem either. Doshi said it is up to 20:1 in most IB schools in India. Lavanya Nair said it is more like 10:1 in Deutsche School of Bombay where her children study.
Then there’s the matter of school fees.
According to Modi, student fees in non-metros are capped at Rs 2.5-3 lakh per annum as schools are governed by the fee regulation committee. In metro cities, where there are no such regulations, fees range from Rs 8-10 lakh per annum, she said.
The Nairs in Mumbai are paying Rs 17-18 lakh per year in school fees for each of their children. That can go up to Rs 40 lakh per year at a premier IB World school, Doshi said.
Yet another challenge is pursuing higher education in India after an IB Diploma. About 20-30% students stay back, Doshi said, as they may not have the wherewithal to study abroad. Also, IB Diploma exams happen in May–the peak season for entrance exams. Managing both becomes quite a task, Doshi said.
Still, professional colleges welcome IB students as “they bring a different flavour to the campus” with their training, Doshi said. “They stand to perform better.”
The Pandemic Effect
While two years of pandemic-induced lockdowns affected the wider education system, IB World schools were able to transition to online faster due to the resources they had at hand, Doshi said.
“But there has been a quality drop (among students) over the past couple of years,” he said. “Academic performance has suffered, and that’s reflected in college applications abroad.”
“We’ve come out of the pandemic positively. The worst is behind us now.”
So, is an IB education for everyone? It’s still a prerogative of the affluent, Doshi admitted, but those salaried are increasingly opting for the course for their children.
“If you want to go abroad for higher education, IB is a great launchpad,” he said. “But if you want to stay in India, a student will perhaps do well with an Indian curriculum.”