It is probably one of the top three contenders for the sleepless nights prize before a move abroad. Educational decisions for our children rank right up there with fears about health and safety.
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. Delhiites are fortunate in that there are at least three viable options and all have something a little different to offer.
It is important to note that, of late the expat population has been exploding in Delhi. It has become almost impossible to secure a place in the American Embassy School or The British School and both have long waiting lists (more details below). Other than the French School and MDIS (both very small and full) there are few other viable options and many expats are not taking postings offered to them if they have children as there is simply no space. 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. As the US contingent is increasing, the schools future looks destined to be less international and more bubble-like than ever (see comments below).
Right next door to AES is The British School, often chosen by those who are committed to the British syllabus and National Curriculum for England.
The French School 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 back to their home countries.
The small German School is almost wholly selected by German families or families where one parent is German.
There is a new school called Pathways which lies on the outskirts of Delhi with a fantastic new campus and a diverse teaching staff from around the world. It is offering the IB programme all the way through from the primary syllabus. The school offers boarding and serves day kids 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 1½ hours on a good run. There is a bus system on Monday mornings, returning kids on Friday evenings on a weekly boarding arrangement. Currently very few expat children but the word is spreading.
The American School offers a bus service for its pupils for all the main expat areas. The British School is about to do the same. Otherwise the ride to school is done by the drivers, either with or without parents, with some kids car-pooling from the farm houses. 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 kids to Indian schools. Some NRIs and long-term Europeans 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 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 21 mos/2 to 4 year olds. Magic Years in Vasant Vihar is a Montessori school with a good sports programme in the afternoons. Little Senators in Vasant Vihar is also popular. ‘Your kids’r’our kids’ in Jorbagh has expatriate children and is run by the overbearing Bharat and his wife Sunam. All these programmes need to be visited as their styles are different. They range in price but are all around $200 a quarter and require various deposits refundable and non-refundable. 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. The latter are Apple (American Embassy) and Busy Bees (British High Commission). Both do take from outside the diplomatic enclave, but priority is given to embassy employees and then selection by nationality and finally the Joe Ordinaries. Apple charges $5000 for the year and is a co-operative which expects full parental involvement, and Busy Bees $330 for the quarter. You can get lucky but at the time of writing, the waiting list for Busy Bees stood at 16 kids.
There are tons of tutors who offer extra lessons for school work with kids at 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 offer extra lessons and prefer 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 extracurricular activities available with private tutors in your home or nearby eg Piano lessons ($22 per hour for the best), Tae Kwan Doe ($4 an hour), Yoga, tennis coaches ($10 to $22 an hour for an hours lesson), horse riding lessons (approx $8 an hour), ballet and jazz (breaks down to approx $7 a lesson at AES). 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: at these reasonable prices, it is highly contagious.