‘Where on earth are the little darlings going to go to school?’ - probably one of the top three contenders for the ‘sleepless nights prize’ for expats posted to Delhi. In this city, educational decisions for your children rank right up there with fears about health and safety but international schools are likely to be your chosen route.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you escape any major decisions by moving abroad. Expat educational choices in Delhi are a condensed version of those made by parents in their home countries. Location, fees, curriculum, staff, facilities, clientele and community all factor into the equation with varying degrees of importance, according to the family. The tricky part for many is that there is not as much choice as you may have in your home country, in fact less now than in the recent past. Compromises often have to be made and the small selection all have something a little different to offer.
It is important to note that due to the increase in expats moving to Delhi, it has become extremely difficult to secure a place in the two leading international schools, American Embassy School of Delhi (AES) or The British School New Delhi and both tend to have long waiting lists. Other than the Lycée Francais de Delhi and Metro Delhi International School (both very small and full) there are few other viable options and we have heard that some expats do not take postings offered to them, if they have children and there are no spaces available at these schools .
AES, the American school, has a charter which states that places must be offered to all students with US passports who meet the academic requirements. Right next door is The British School, often chosen by those who are committed to the British syllabus and National Curriculum for England, particularly if they do not expect to be in India in the long-term.
The French Lycée is often selected by non-native French speakers for language immersion and again for its smaller size and traditional programme. It is utterly French. The school attracts plenty of interest up to age twelve when numbers nose dive, leaving very few senior school children. Some leave to go to the American School or The British School for a larger choice of friends and activities, others return to their home countries. The small German School Delhi is almost wholly selected by German families or families, where one parent is German.
There is a newer school (opened in 2010) called Pathways School Gurgaon which lies on the outskirts of Delhi with a fantastic purpose-built campus and a diverse teaching staff from around the world. It offers the International Baccalaureate Programme all the way through from the primary syllabus. The school has the choice of boarding and also serves day students from the Gurgaon end of town – almost another whole new city, 40 minutes south of Delhi. To drive to this school from central areas of Delhi takes one and a half hours, even on a good day. There is a bus system on Monday mornings, returning kids on Friday evenings on a weekly boarding arrangement.
Despite the bagpipes and the army corps, the fifteen year old Scottish High International School (also in Gurgaon), is very much an Indian school, although one year it was voted the top international school in India. The curriculum is a mixture of Cambridge and IB and the impressive campus includes an integrated SEN department and three swimming pools.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Delhi considered by expats'.
The international school run
The American School and British schools offer a bus service. Otherwise the ride to school is done by the drivers, either with or without parents, with some car-pooling. The American and British Schools are adjacent to each other and pick-up and drop-off times, although staggered, can be very congested. At AES no ayahs, drivers or other staff are allowed onto the campus and children have to be met at the gate. Anybody, even grandparents, must be signed in by a family pass holder.
Most expats on short contracts do not seem to send their children to Indian schools but a few NRIs and long-term Europeans, who have married into Indian families, choose this system. There are schools worthy of note including Sanskriti School and the Delhi Public School chain, particularly the one in RK Puram. Classes are universally large, about 40 and above, and the style of teaching is didactic and very disciplined. The successful schools turn out engineers and electronic whiz kids by the score but they are hothouses and very high pressure with little or no extra-curricular activity. There are lines around the blocks on enrolment and admission days and grades have to be very high for children to be accepted.
At nursery age there are local schools which expatriates choose for their two to four year olds. Magic Years in Vasant Vihar is a Montessori school with a good sports programme in the afternoons. Little Senators (a Montessori pre-school) in Vasant Vihar is also popular. ‘Your kids’r’our kids’ in Jorbagh also takes expatriate children. All these programmes need to be visited as their styles are different. All staff are Indian and children often end up with a good smattering of Hindi and an adorable Indian accent.
Since most diplomats and corporate staff do not get help with fees at this stage, these local schools offer a good alternative to the oversubscribed embassy-run nurseries (Apple - American Embassy and Busy Bees - British High Commission). Both do take from outside the diplomatic enclave, but priority is given to embassy employees, followed by selection by nationality and finally the Joe Ordinaries.
There are tons of tutors who offer extra lessons for school work to children of all ages. At the American School, assistant teachers offer extra lessons to back up classroom work or assist with English after school. The British School offers extra lessons and prefers to use in-house teachers rather than external tutors. Extra lessons for senior school children can be arranged with a reputable private tutor who will come to your home for all subjects.
All the schools offer extracurricular activities for children and adults for a charge. There are also a plethora of additional activities available, either with private tutors in your home or nearby eg Piano lessons, Tae Kwan Do, Yoga, tennis coaches horse riding lessons, ballet and jazz. Nearly all extra-lesson teachers want pupils to take their classes twice a week, to make real progress. Children’s play-time gets eaten up very quickly and if you want your child to do a sport or activity, purely for the pleasure and not to achieve excellence, be prepared to stand firm for one lesson a week. Delhi suffers from the modern-day worldwide disease of parents overdoing the extra-curricular activities. Be warned: as the prices are reasonable, it is highly contagious.
As a woman, being posted to Delhi can pose practical problems, as the streets are considered some of the least safe in the world for women to walk in alone, but your children’s education and extra-curricular life will be well taken care of, provided you can find a place in the few available international options.