Pascal Chazot recalls the opposition he and Anjou Musafir faced in the late-1990s when they took over a school in Mithakali Gam from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. They wanted to refocus the school and rename it as the Mahatma Gandhi International School (MGIS). "There was much opposition to the idea of a municipal school teaching in English and an international curriculum. The fears were that the children of Gujarat would be negatively influenced by Western thought.
That there would a French director for the school didn't help either,"
recalls Chazot. They went ahead in any case, with support from the people and the "highest courts".
The project took shape in 1999 and in November 2002, the school got International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) authorisation to offer the IB Middle Years Programme for 11 to 16-year-old children. The IB diploma programme for 16 to 19-year-old students got the nod in 2005.
"We also offer Gujarat education board though the percentage of learners opting for SSC and HSC has gone down as parents have gained confidence in the IB system," says Chazot.
The IB programme started in Switzerland in 1968 when a group of mobile parents and educators felt the need for a rigorous education system that was relevant at every geographical location. Today, it has a reach of more than 1,920 schools across 124 countries reaching over five lakh students worldwide. "The IB programme is touted as one that inculcates cultural tolerance, global perspective, language fluency and a foundation for learning," says Chazot. The key feature of the IB programme is the inquiry method it adopts where the school tries to understand what the students want to and need to know. It then finds answers to them, thus turning students into knowledge seekers rather than passive recipients of information. Says Anjou Musafir, director of MGIS, "It is not just telling a student: 'Answer this' but giving them the opportunity to explore why it happened and the circumstances surrounding it." Chazot explains that international does not mean Western. It means to be more connected with the rest of the world while developing an understanding of your own cultural identity.
Though the school campus is small, the 200 students of MGIS get access to good learning aids including a state-of-the-art computer room, a laboratory and a library that can match many in Ahmedabad especially in Psychology and Literature. The approach is big on projects which makes learners over- come obstacles rather than learn from textbooks-a focus on 'how to learn' rather than 'what to learn'.
"When we first started, parents were worried about our unconventional approach and the IB programme's status in India though we convinced them that the IB is accepted by the Association of Indian Universities as an entry qualification to all universities in India. After seeing the improvement in their children, parents stopped doubting our concept. Our first batch cleared the Gujarat board with flying colours," says Musafir.
According to Musafir, Monique Seefried, president of the IBO Council of Foundation, commented that MGIS made a special impression on her though she visits schools worldwide. "In the IB World Magazine, she wrote about how, in our school, expat children and those from upper and middle income group families of Gujarat study alongside children who live in shacks. Privileged children from affluent families pay fees, which subsidises the education of the financially disadvantaged, and we also take children with special needs," says Musafir.
According Dr. Tarulata of the Ahmedabad International School (AIS), though Gujarat has been late in getting internationally affiliated schools compared to other Indian states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and the National Capital Region, Gujarati parents are increasingly opting for IB and Cambridge University's IGSCE.
"International systems of education have been developed with a structured approach incorporating best practices from across the globe," she says. AIS was started in 2000 by Gorsi Atul Parekh. She says they selected the IB board for the primary level as it encourages a positive attitude to learning. Children learn to ask challenging questions, critically reflect, develop research skills, participate in community service, analyse, interpret and become thinking individuals. AIS also offers Trinity College programme in music, drama, speech, dance, English, communication skills for three to nine year old learners.
Says Tajinder Kaur Munjal, IGCSE co-ordinator of the New Tulip International School (NTIS): "The Cambridge board has a balanced curriculum and a flexible course of study with a focus on model-making, projects and applying in-school syllabi to real life.
There is also considerable flexibility in combinations, rather than sticking to a 'stream' as is done in India, which gives students of all ability levels the freedom to choose subjects that are right for them. Thus they have the opportunity to score good grades as well as opt for a career," says Munjal.
"IGCSE students are examined by the Cambridge Checkpoint, a diagnostic series of tests that pin-point strengths and weaknesses in key curriculum areas. As it is less rigid with regard to age, capable students can give their exam earlier and save a few years of education," she adds.
Started by Yogesh Sridhar, managing trustee of the school, NTIS emphasises on learning aids with an audio-visual room where children watch educational films, a science lab, and an overall developmental approach that works to discover hidden talents. The campus has Whistling Woods International, a film, television and media institute by Subhash Ghai and is shortly starting a music academy by music director Annujj Kappoo with an audition centre for the talent hunt programme Sa re ga ma. "About 25 to 30 per cent of our students opt for the Cambridge IGCSE. Affluent and aware parents who do not mind the extra cost for a better methodology, those who want to send their children abroad to study, and NRIs who want their children to study in India, study here," says Leela Ashok, principal of NTIS, adding, "Having attracted the children of NRIs, the trustees have now acquired land in Los Altos, California, for the NTIS Inc which will combine an international curricula with Indian culture for children of Indian origin."
While New Tulip's trustees propose to open their school in California, Manjula Pooja Shroff of the Calorx School proposes to attract foreign students from West Asia, Africa and the Far East where English is not taught or at least not to the highest level to come to Ahmedabad and enroll at her school. She is also trying to attract children of expats working in multinationals and projects in Gujarat as well as NRGs so that the school becomes multi-cultural and multi-racial. The multi-acre complex at Nandoli on the outskirts of Ahmedabad has neatly manicured gardens, sound systems, an amphitheatre for performances and well-ventilated classrooms in cottage-like architecture set around lawns and gardens, with a hostel block under construction. The hostel will be of an international standard with a/c rooms, an attached bath shared among four students, with each child getting an independent wardrobe, study table and storage area.
"I want to make this a complete IB World School to give students a continuity through from pre-school to 19 years age," she explains, "I got interested in the IB because of their 'Inquiry Method' which helps activate students' curiosity about the world," she explains. Another interesting aspect of the programme, she feels is that IB does not teach copybook lessons but uses methods where the lines between different subjects are blurred, helping students realise how different subjects relate to each other. "For instance so often in the regular syllabus we repeat concepts in science and in geography, in history and in political studies. The third USP of IB is that the learning is spiral, for instance a maths concept brought up in the third grade may be revisited at a more sophisticated level in the fifth grade so the learners constantly build upon what they have learnt and take decisions about how to use the knowledge." In the campus, students will learn environment-friendly farming, carpentry, plumbing, masonry, product design, toy-making, computer applications. The meals for day scholars and boarders will include a variety of Indian, western and far-eastern cuisine, with learners being introduced to the art of fine-dining. The school will teach performing arts, visual arts, board games and a variety of sports, have clubs for students interested in different activities, celebrate important dates, and arrange a variety of field visits, excursions and workshops.
It is not just Ahmedabad that has jumped on to the international schooling bandwagon. Navrachana International School has been an IB World School with boarding facilities in Vadodara since June 2006 while Nalanda International School, also in Vadodara offers ICSE and IGCSE with an imaginatively designed campus using natural materials and traditional methods of environmental control.
Rajkot has Galaxy International School and BM Kiyada International School which are implementing international syllabi. Ryan International in Surat is part of a chain of IGCSE-based schools. Concludes Dr Tarulata, "It's a global world and Gujaratis have always looked globally for opportunities. Gujarat will be one of the leading states in India for international schools and foreign universities. Which is why even IB schools from cities like Mumbai are opening branches in Ahmedabad."