Monday, December 12, 2011

Finding an Institution for the Kids

Listening to: Random Indian cartoons
Mood: Happy

Finding a school (yep, that kind of institution) for your kids in India can be challenging, to say the least. It’s even more challenging when you have someone moving to India with kids already in school and not used to the Indian system.  Most people here get all manic crazy about sending their kids to excellent schools and turn into, well, I won’t say psychos for civility’s sake but you get the point, about preparing their 3 year olds for nursery school entrance exams. No joke.  Depending on where you are in the economical hierarchy, you try to send your kids to the best school you can afford right from the beginning. This is especially true of those who are on the lower spectrum. If you can afford for your kid to go to school and not work, you do everything possible so that they can possibly have a better life.  Ahem. Back to the point here. Most people choose a school for nursery school and do all the work of entrance exams (and the extra first year fees to be sure) when kids are 4.

There are a few different options for school here. The common man’s option is a traditional Indian school.  These range from bad to very good academically. Most do not have the money to hire well educated teachers and offer lots of extra-curricular activities.  The good ones are very good with academics, but not so good at life balance. My husband went to a school of this sort. They may turn out super smart, super hard working students, but they tend to not be well rounded as all of the emphasis is only on academics. Most of these schools do not take students half way through the year  (June – April) and may be extremely picky about who they admit, especially the schools with excellent reputations. Most of them are very cost effective. One caveat for these schools: Unless your kid is exceptional in academics in every subject or you have tutored them to 2 grade levels above their age, they will suffer. American schools, even the best of them, do not cram knowledge into little heads like these schools do.

The next option you can choose is a hybrid school. This is the option that we’re currently looking at for our daughter. These schools also can range from meh to excellent. The difference is that they often have a lot of additional activities kids can participate in (sports, clubs, lessons). Accordingly, the better the reputation and the more options they offer, the more expensive they are. The better the reputation, the more likely the school will be picky about mid-year admissions (most will be full) and giving exams to get in.  While not as cheap as the local state schools, these are much more affordable than the true international schools, which we’ll talk about next. We’re looking at Delhi public school for our daughter. It’s worth noting that since they ask for more money to send your kid, they have nicer, bigger facilities, and slightly better teachers. Finding and retaining good teachers in India is a challenge because there are tons of positions and teachers tend to bounce around depending on who is offering the best rates. They also have a half western approach to teaching (i.e. the teachers don’t throw chalk at students, they are more patient, the learning is less listen and repeat style).  Your child will have an adjustment period, but shouldn’t struggle for too long to catch up.

The last option are the truly international schools. They have western standard facilities, teaching style, and charge accordingly. If you are earning in rupees, this usually amounts to paying an arm, a leg, and your first born. There are no discounts for siblings. As per the crazy school fee, they offer tons of extracurricular activities and air conditioned busses. Only the truly rich (think rock star or really rolling expat executives) send their kids to these schools. This just wasn’t for us for obvious reasons. The standards are still high at these schools, but the feel is less one of making kids feel bad to be behind and more of a let’s help you catch up quickly type.  One important thing to note is that no matter where you send your child, unless they speak/write Hindi, they will struggle with that too. Hindi is not at all the same as the romance languages (English, Spanish, French, Latin, etc)

After you sort through the plethora of information on line (and there is indeed too much info, very, very little of it helpful) and decided your price range, you will need to stop a minute and think about your child’s birthday. As mentioned, the school year here is June – April. Your child must be 4 by June of the year you intend to send them to Lower Kindergarten.  You can count up and do the math yourselves for the rest of the grades. The reason for this is that at the end of 10th grade (the end of highschool here) kids must be 16 to take the exam to pass out of highschool.  Unfortunately for my kids, they have November and December birthdays. This means that even though my eldest has completed 2nd grade and almost half a year of 3rd grade tutored at home, she still has to go to 2nd grade for the remaining 3 months of the year because her birthday didn’t fall before June this year. I think I’m much more traumatized by it than her, but only because I feel that she’s smart enough to be in 3rd grade. We don’t want her to be the youngest in her class though, and we don’t want her to struggle academically while she’s adjusting to a new school. I’m saying this like we have a choice – I assure you, we don’t. We argued the point with the principal for a while, saying that she had already completed 2nd grade +, but nothing doing.

The next thing you need to consider is where the school is in relation to your house. If at all possible, decide on a school first, close to your work, and then find a house or apartment. Indian traffic (especially Bangalore) is brutal. I’ve heard horror stories of people who have had 1 hour commutes to work and 1 hour commutes for their children to school. The reason this happens is because they underestimate how long it will take to get from point A to point B during rush hour. Take the time and test drive it if you can. Most of the bigger schools here have busses that wander around the city, especially to the bigger apartment buildings. It pays to live close to your chosen school. We are trying to get a house in an apartment complex that is 10 minutes from my husband’s work, and 3o minutes from my daughter’s school. It works out very well for us.  One more thing to check, especially midyear is whether the bus will be able to pick up your child. As with classes, busses fill up quickly, especially those that travel to large apartment complexes. Unfortunately for us, the busses are full to the complex that we are trying to get in until next year. That means I will have to bring my daughter to school in the am and pick her up in the afternoon. Because my youngest daughter doesn’t meet the cut off for lower kindergarten, they wanted to put her in nursery school for these three months. Nursery school has different hours than regular school. There was no way on earth I was making 4 half hour trips to the school every day, so we’ve decided to keep her home for these three months and admit her next June.

You’ll then need to go and visit the school, because everyone has all different kinds of things to say about every school and doing online research is pretty useless. I’d put aside a whole day for this, especially if you’re going around to more than one school and need travel time too. Our visit to Delhi Public School North took 3.5 hours. There’s paperwork to fill out, wait times to take entrance tests, wait times to find entrance tests for your other children, and wait times to see the principal. In the end, if you’re willing to pay the fees,  it smoothes a lot of things out, but like with everything else in India, it will probably take some time to get done. After you pay your feels to your school of choice, you can enroll your child.


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