By Kiran Merchant, Academic Director and Principal, Chettinad Sarvalokaa Education, International School, Chennai.
Being an educator for the last 20 years, I have witnessed increasing preference for international boards in the country. A lot of this can easily be attributed to the globalization of the world, which has led to a rise in demand for international education.
International education can mean different things for different people and I frequently come across parents and students with certain queries and misconceptions. The most prominent concern is whether opting for an international curriculum will affect a student’s higher education prospects
Here are some of the widely prevalent myths about the international boards in the country and I would also like to briefly mention why they are not true:
Myth # 1. All International Boards offer the same curriculum:
In India, there are multiple international boards, and each has its own distinct curriculum. While they all the offer flexible subject choices, follow progressive pedagogy, and focus on conceptual understanding and skill development, there are some notable differences in the way each curriculum is structured, approached and assessed. These boards offer a continuum of international education, through different programs and qualifications.
Myth # 2 International school students are not prepared well for the competitive exams in India
The rigorous curricula offered by the international boards ensure that the student’s conceptual understanding is clear and strong with a high degree of application skills. To achieve success in the competitive exams, students need to develop speed and accuracy by practising past papers. This applies to any student from any board of curriculum. Therefore, it is not the curriculum, but the persistent efforts and consistent practice put in by the students to prepare for these exams that is important. The Cambridge International board offers an exam series in March to enable students in India to focus on preparing for the competitive exams, and receive their Cambridge International A Level results in time to attend the college counselling sessions for local universities.
Myth # 3 Indian boards are tougher than International boards or vice-versa
The question here is what kind of education you are looking for. Most Indian boards emphasize on theoretical learning and knowledge accumulation. Their qualifying examinations give weightage to memorization, recall and written content. The New Education Policy attempts to change this, but it will take some time for the boards to implement the change at the ground level. Success will depend on the professional support provided by the schools or the boards to the teachers. The International curriculum focuses on conceptual understanding, practical application and developing academic skills. Many students who transition to International curriculum midway during schooling, find it very liberating because of the active learning practices which allow for critical and innovative thinking, independent research and promote higher order thinking of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
In an International curriculum student have the option to decide on their rigour level based on their ability and personal and academic goals. For example, , Cambridge International students can opt for an Extended or Core syllabus in some subjects, keep their subject choices to a minimum or opt for more subjects, choose to focus on a particular discipline or have a broad based curriculum, and aim for Cambridge ICE or AICE Diploma certification. These choices make the courses relevant, interesting, engaging and meaningful for the students.
Myth # 4 Students of International schools only get admissions abroad and not in Indian Universities.
This is far from the truth. Findings from Cambridge International’s annual Student Destinations Survey 2018-19 highlighted that there is a steady increase in the number of students seeking to pursue higher education in local universities. The introduction of the March series in India since 2015 has enabled Cambridge students to meet the admission deadlines of local universities.
The higher education landscape in India has changed significantly in the last decade. Keeping in line with the worldwide educational trends, many local universities are now offering interdisciplinary and liberal arts courses either independently or through twinning programs with reputed foreign universities. Students from International Curriculum are at an advantage as they come from similar settings and the twinning structure works well for them financially and academically. One of the biggest advantages of International Curriculum, especially in Cambridge International, is the flexibility of subject choices and combinations. Students here can opt for a combination of subjects from different disciplines for broad based studies, or focus on a discipline of their choice and specialize in it. Both these options are well received by the Indian Universities.
This also dispels the myth that Indian universities do not accept students from International Curriculum. The Association of Indian Universities recognise the International Curriculum.
Myth # 5 International Schools are rooted in western culture
Some parents believe that International Curriculum does not promote culture appreciation. Boards like Cambridge International follow a global approach to education but encourage schools to develop learning within local, national and global contexts, ensuring that learners develop wider perspectives while recognizing and valuing their own culture. Syllabuses can be adapted to include content and examples that are relevant to students. The diverse student population in most of the International schools helps in developing cultural sensitivity, gives the learners an opportunity to learn and appreciate various cultures, enriches their schooling experience and prepares them for a global world.
Myth #6 International boards and schools are expensive
Schools with international curriculum incur heavy operational costs to meet the prescribed standard of the curriculum delivery. Through a continuous and stringent inspections the board ensures that these schools maintain high academic standards, a safe and learning focussed school climate, high standards of school management, recruit teachers with appropriate skills and experience, have sufficient learning resources to support the learning program, use up-to-date technology to enable quality learning. This along with the annual affiliation fees for each level places a financial responsibility on the schools, the returns of which are beneficial to the learners in many ways. Apart from a well-rounded, learner centric and customised educational program, the international curriculum involves in-depth study which helps students to develop skills of analysis, evaluation, innovation, reflection and communication. These skills are highly valued by the universities and employers both in India and abroad.
Apart from the academic programs, international curriculum offers programs and activities to develop soft skills such as teamwork, time management, decision making, problem solving, confidence building and organizational skills. The Cambridge International works with the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation to develop the above-mentioned skills. These programs add to the expenditure but provides holistic education to the students. The international curriculum offers greater value for money to the students.