What's International about International schools? Don’t be fooled just by the name

by SchoolWiser Last Updated 10-Jan-20
What's International about International schools? Don’t be fooled just by the name | SchoolWiser Blog Featured Image

You have decided on the board and curriculum that is right for your child. Has the International curriculum topped your choice list? If yes, it's time to dive deeper into understanding International schools and how you may be able to shortlist the right one for your child.

Extending what William Shakespeare says in his play Romeo and Juliet:

What's in a name? that which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.

Adding International to the name of the school does not matter, but what matters is how International the school actually is.

As a global citizen with travel escapades in 70 cities in 19 countries and having lived on 4 different continents (not boasting, really :-)), I was spoilt for choices with a plethora of international and global schools for my daughter on my return to India a few months back. With that I was also made to wonder what a true International school is supposed to be, and are all schools claiming to be International or Global in their title true to their name. Through research, visits and a few first hand-experience (with a few burnt fingers) I believe to have solved this mystery. This blog is an attempt to share my understanding to help other parents considering an International school for their child.

What is an International School?

This debate does not have a conclusive answer as yet. But I am providing some of the different ways to define an International school, I am sure you'll get more clarity about International schools.

The definition of an International school on Wikipedia simply reads “School that promotes international education, in an international environment, either by adopting an international curriculum or by adopting a curriculum different from that of the host country.”

On the other hand, International Association of School Librarianship (IASL), an influential association worldwide, has established the following 8 criteria for a school to be an International School:

1. Transferability of the student's education across international schools
2. A moving population (higher than in state schools or public schools)
3. Multinational and multilingual student body
4. An international curriculum
5. International accreditation (e.g. International Baccalaureate, Council of International Schools, North Eastern Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges)
6. A transient and multinational teacher population
7. Non-selective student enrollment
8. Usually English or French language of instruction, plus the obligation to take on at least one additional language.

International schools in India

International schools in India can be classified in the following four categories:

1. Schools offering an international curriculum
2. Schools for Internationally  mobile students (targeted towards foreign nationals and expats)
3. A mix of 1 & 2 but with a large domestic student population
4. Schools with International and Global in their name without any apparent reason


The American Embassy School in New Delhi would fall in the second category. Below is an excerpt from the American Embassy School’s admission page as on 14-Jun-2019, “. . . The American Embassy School was established to enable American children to study under the American system of education, as well as third country nationals (non-Indian, non-US) that are in Delhi on a temporary basis for the purpose of employment. The American Embassy School is not in competition with Indian schools, and is neither designed nor empowered to serve the needs of Indian students.”

Schools such as Pathways World School in Gurgaon would be examples of the third category.

There are quite a few schools in the fourth category. The reason, though unknown to me, does not always seem to be to fool parents. Some of these are India’s most highly rated schools and have been around for ages even before many of us heard of International education. The Mother’s International School (MIS) and Bluebells School International seem to be two such examples in New Delhi. There are similar schools in most cities including Gurgaon. Make no mistake, many of these offer an excellent education and I have first-hand experience of a couple, but I am just uncertain of their international or global intent.

International Education and an International School are two different things

Simply put, a school that offers an international curriculum such as IB or IGCSE can be said to provide an International education in the Indian setting.

On the other hand, an International school provides an international setting, which is usually in the form of a multinational community, along with its international curriculum.

A Quick Round-up

Why choose an International School?

• Allows continuity in education for children of internationally mobile parents
• Offers easier transition
• Setting provides some protection from discrimination and perhaps bullying, as a diverse student population is usually more inclusive and acceptable of differences
• Nurtures home culture living abroad (specifically for category 2 above)
• Embraces diversity

Why an International Education?

Some of the common reasons include:
• Widely accepted across the world
• Innovative curriculum allowing freedom & flexibility
• Stress free learning methods suitable for a wide range of abilities
• Focus on all round development rather than pure academic performance

Who do International Schools cater to in India?

• Children of foreign nationals
• Children of expats who are not Indian nationals
• Upper-middle class to upper class Indian nationals

What to look for in an International school?

1. What makes it an International school?
2. Which body has accredited it as an international school? 
3. Which International curriculum is being followed? 
4. What is the level of Internationalism (diversity of student & teacher community)?

To conclude, the first decision for you to make is whether you are interested in an International school or an International education, not everyone needs both. Based on that, evaluate which school is right for your child. I suggest a personal visit to your shortlisted schools is a must to witness their internationalism along with feedback from existing parents of the school and senior children.

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