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Masti ki paathshala (for the First Grader Wannabe)

(Note: This started off as a school-centric post for both our 5.5 year old and the almost 3-year old but is now focused entirely on the former.)

We had seen Rang De Basanti earlier this year so the song Masti ki Paathshala was still fresh in my mind. Masti ki Paathshala (in Hindi) translates to School of Fun. Our goal was to find a school with the right balance between academic rigor and masti. When I made the 2-week trip to India in June, I was fortunate to meet a VC in Bangalore. This VC had moved back to India 3 years earlier and had done a thorough research of the Bangalore schools. He shared his perspective in a most useful way. He categorized the four major school boards (ICSE, CBSE, Karnataka State Board, and IGCSC) across two dimensions:

  • Emphasis on theory vs. practical education
  • Strictness of the teaching staff (e.g. “Very Strict” = rule by fear, “Mild” = American-style)

This is how he drew the table:

School Board % Theory Teaching Strictness
State Board 95% Very Strict
CBSE 70% Strict
ICSE 50% Mild-Strict
IGCSE 20% Mild

Most Indians are aware of the first three types of school boards. The last one was unfamiliar to me until we started planning our move to India in full earnest. IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education), started in 1988, is a two-year programme, spread over Class 9 and 10, and leads to the final examinations offered every year in May and November. It is conducted by two UK assessment bodies: Edexcel (also known as London Examinations) and Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). IGCSE is described as a balanced curriculum and a flexible course of study with an emphasis on practical approach to teaching and learning. This Rediff article provides a good primer on IGCSE.

Both P and I had attended ICSE schools and neither of us had any complaints about the ICSE board. What I recall is that there was always a healthy debate on whether CBSE or ICSE schools were better. I vaguely recall reading that CBSE school students did better in engineering college entrance examinations. I’ll confess that the State Board schools didn’t figure high in our calculations due to the following reasons: majority of our peer group are either ICSE or CBSE school alums, mandatory local language, and a high pedagogy coefficient.

In this post, I’m not attempting a comprehensive analysis of Bangalore schools. Bangalore Schools and Chitra Aiyer’s blog post (A list of good schools in Bangalore) are noteworthy sites on this front. Our perspective was biased by a small number of recommendations from our social graph. While some parents finalize the schools first (which automatically impose a certain residential zone), we picked Koramangala for the following reasons: its community, location convenience, and comfortable commuting distance. The clincher was that our top school picks were all within fighting distance from Koramangala:

  • National Public School (Koramangala & HSR Layout Branches)
  • Greenwood High School
  • Delhi Public School (DPS)
  • Bethany High School

The odds were stacked against us since we arrived in Bangalore a few months after the school year had started. You are already aware of our initial tryst with NPS (described in The curious case of the traveling chairman). They didn’t have any open slots for midyear admission but we applied for the next academic year. At the time of writing this post, we are awaiting news from both NPS Koramangala and NPS HSR Layout on whether they’d invite S for an admission test (in Jan and March respectively). Bethany also didn’t have any open slots for midyear admission but we had heard enough good things to keep on our list for next year. DPS, by virtue of being a solid national brand, was a strong contender but we didn’t try for midyear admission since we didn’t want S to have a long commute in the first year. Which brings us to the reasons why we ended up picking Greenwood High for S:

  • Several friends (including that VC friend) recommended it as a very good ‘soft landing’ for returning-from-America kids
  • While it’s a new school, the school administrators have a shared pedigree with the venerable Bethany
  • Curriculum, teaching style and facilities suggest an International bent with an emphasis on extra-curricular activities

The main criticism we heard about Greenwood was its high teacher turnover. We figured we’d keep an eye on that trend for the first year and take our chances. Our current thinking is to continue S at Greenwood High unless he gets admission into one of the NPS branches.