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The local business of international schools

Wednesday, 31 October 2012 - 8:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
The annual fees for a child in kindergarten in Navi Mumbai’s newest international school is Rs1,20,000 – more than what my father spent on my entire education, or for that matter, more than what I spent on my son’s entire schooling.

The annual fees for a child in kindergarten in Navi Mumbai’s newest international school is Rs1,20,000 – more than what my father spent on my entire education, or for that matter, more than what I spent on my son’s entire schooling.

And while my good old AFAC School in Chembur increased the fees by Re1 every year — Rs5 in Class V, Rs6 in Class VI and so on — this international school hikes its fees by 10 per cent every year and still charges Rs3000 for the toddler’s annual day activities.

The Vashi school with a glass-and-chrome façade is just one of the two dozen self-claimed international schools that have sprung up in the satellite city in the past few years. Where traditionally, international schools were institutions where children of diplomats and expats studied a common curriculum that allowed them to move globally with their parents’ transfers, these new-age international schools neither have any international students nor an international curriculum.

While international baccalaureate (IB) is the benchmark of international schooling, almost all these schools are affiliated to a local board like CBSE or ICSE and dispense an indigenous mix of education in the classroom. In fact, international is just an operative word in Navi Mumbai and a branding exercise to attract students – or rather, their parents.

A prominent educationist in Navi Mumbai attributes this trend to two key factors. First, the very well off trader fraternity of Marwaris and Gujaratis who want the best for their children and for whom the word ‘international’ is an assurance of quality. And second, the nouveau rich society set for whom the child’s school is a serious topic of discussion at the kitty party. Just go to the gates of the international schools when the kids leave for the day and you will know what I’m talking about.

So, if there are schools charging a bomb and there are enough takers for them, what’s the problem?

The problem is that even other schools affiliated to CBSE and SSC board are getting affected by the value-addition game and are finding ways to join the rat race. This translates into an increased focus on events and window-dressing and a reduction in teaching and character-building; a larger focus on revenue generation and reduced attention to schooling.

At the end of the day, parents across the satellite city shell out much more to pay for their children’s education as compared to their counterparts in Mumbai.

Though reasons like pay commission salaries and secure school buses are being cited for the sharp hike in fees in the past few years, my suspicion is that the internationalisation of education is coming at a price. What else explains even the most nondescript school in a far-flung node charging as much as Rs50,000 per annum while a school like Fr Agnels, with a truly international-standard infrastructure, still charges a fraction of that amount. And AFAC still charges Rs5 for Class V and Rs6 for Class VI!


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