Thursday, February 3, 2011

Moving from a US to an Indian School

Ankit studied in schools in Seattle till he was 11, we moved to India just as he started sixth grade and were tasked of looking at schools in Bangalore. We looked at what one would call a typical Indian school - Bishop Cottons, National Public School - with the Indian CBSE and ICSE syllabus. We looked alternative schools like the Valley School and International Schools like Indus, Canadian and TISB.

Looking at these schools made me realize how much India has changed from when we studied here and was amazed at the variety and variance in education options. These options come at a cost for sure (some schools in India rival ones in US at $25,000 a year). Then watching Ankit adapt was also very interesting.

For years in Seattle Ankit was used to getting A's and there were many kids who got A's. He learnt and excelled but was never pushed to be the best. There was no best. There was an A and an A+. Then he came to India. During his first test he was not sure what the numbers were next to questions (surprising I know as most Indians know this by the virtue of being born in India). Then he got his results. There was an A but there was also a mark there - 85/100. Then there was Rahul and other kids asking him not what grade he got but what his marks were. The marks were added and he knew exactly where he ranked in class. This has worked with Ankit - he is competitive and loves to study. He is no longer satisfied with an A or an A+. He wants to know where he lost half a mark.

Ankit explained the difference between the two systems beautifully - In the US they teach you a few facts but teach you how to make the connection between them, in India they teach you a lot of facts and you learn how to make the connection between them.

He has been lucky in a way; he learnt to learn and is now learning to be competitive, which in this global economy might not be a bad thing. While Ankit is thriving in a competitive environment it might suffocate the creativity of another child.

Based on this I have to say that while you cannot totally generalize education styles, social requirements and years of repetition have ingrained some principles into each system.
Generically the Indian system
• prepares children to read, absorb and memorize way more material than you'd think possible – preparation for college entrance exams can begin in 8th grade and most third graders can tell you what 13 x 13 is instantly.
• is competitive. Very competitive.
• has large class sizes with 'stricter' teachers – there are smaller classes in many schools but in general you can expect 30 plus children in a class. The teachers in India are shown more respect and are more like to threaten you with extra work and minus points in tests for misbehavior.
• places great value on academic excellence – prizes for coming first, ‘topping’ a test, getting into IIT are all praised and announced at multiple school events.

Generically the US system
• is about learning and learning to learn – children learnt and knew what multiplication meant and how it worked however most fifth graders needed some time or a calculator to tell you what 15 x 26 is.
• prepares the children to ask more questions and explore – Ankit learnt about the life cycle of a butterfly by raising them in their class. They learnt Civics by forming a society and running for elections in fifth grade,
• encourages them to think outside the box – ideas were encouraged more than stressing on just the end result, egg drop competitions (dropping eggs in homemade contraptions from 100ft) were bigger events than general knowledge quizzes in school.
• has smaller classes with more approachable teachers.
• does not stress as much on academic competition. Academic competitiveness does not show up till high school and even then excelling academically in not as important as it is in India. Being the school's best basketball player is as good (if not better) than getting all A+'s

The above mentioned points are all generalizations – there is a more competitive streak in India and a more nurturing streak in the US – but the wonderful thing I discovered is that there are many options now in India. What style brings the best out in your child- it depends on the school, it depends on the teachers, and it depends on your child. You have to know your child and find what works best for them.

For a breakdown of schools in Bangalore please see


  1. Even though I am mad at you, that was a lovely post to read.

  2. Wow! Ankit seems to have summed it up beautifully n he gets to experience the best of both worlds. :)

  3. I am still not very sure about the Indian system. I went through the motions and got that degree, but felt never applied 50% of the stuff i studied. i know something about everything, but never had the passion for anything specific, since they never allow it to grow. did I want to become a CS major .. no just got the seat in that branch of engineering so took it. did madhuri want to become a doctor(she says NO), but how could one turn away that seat.

    It is debatable.. but then I agree that US needs to get more competitive.

  4. Wonderful reading...keep writing and we'll keep reading...

  5. Very interesting read.
    And I agree that in the Indian education system - the focus is primarily on being the best - at academics.
    Progressive changes have set in and there are more options these days, but even then, the competitive streak that is ingrained in our schools, refuses to go.
    A few years back, the competition started at Class 2 or 3. Now, it starts at Kindergarden. Parents are in a race to see how much their kids have been able to finish by so and so age.

    Poor children have become puppets at the hands of their over zealous parents. Parents take their kids as status symbols. "My kid plays on computer...goes to swimming class...karate". Yes, storytelling..because parents themselves don't have time to spend with kids. They've got money and they are willing to spend on as many "classes" as possible.

    To me, all this sounds really scary. We are taking away the childhood from our kids...

  6. @ MommyLabs - Thanks for reading this blogpost. I agree with you. From my experience it is more important to raise happy and confident kids rather than kids that do everything and come first at everything. It is not about creating a dream mini you or a show piece.

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