I'm an American mom of 3 living in India. My kids learn multiple languages, and their schools focus more on STEM subjects.

  • I went to public school in Ohio, and now my three kids are going to school in New Delhi.

  • There's a lottery system to get into the most sought-after schools, which puts pressure on parents.

  • My kids have been learning multiple languages since they were in pre-K.

My foray into the Indian school system began with education — not my children's, but my own. I met my husband during my study-abroad semester in New Delhi. We got married in 2010 and made our home there. We now have three sons, aged 10, 8, and 4, who are enrolled in an Indian school.

I grew up attending a public school in suburban Ohio. My experience living in the megacity of New Delhi and navigating the school system here vastly differs from what I grew up with.

Here are my firsthand perspectives on the disparities between schools in India and the US.

Formal schooling starts early

One of the most striking differences I noticed is the age at which formal schooling begins for children in India.

In our case, my kids started in a formal pre-K program when they were 3 years old. The immense demand for quality education, especially in India's cities, where competition for school admission is fierce, drives this early start. This leads to the prevailing notion that if you don't enroll your child in the formal school system early, you might miss the window of opportunity to secure a spot in one of the more coveted institutions later.

There's a lot of pressure to get into some schools

School admissions in New Delhi are a high-stakes endeavor, unlike the public-school system I grew up with in the US, where your address mostly dictates which school you attend.

The admissions process here is complex and multifaceted, incorporating factors such as proximity to the school and alumni status. But schools also consider things like parents' education levels, giving preference to better-educated parents with the idea that it may signal the family prioritizes education. Even factors like a child's gender are taken into consideration. Historically in India, many families prioritized the education of sons over that of daughters because the sons would continue to care for their parents in old age. Schools, in awarding additional points in admissions consideration to girls, are trying to advocate for girls' education and correct that longstanding gender bias.

After students meet these criteria, schools select them through lotteries. The acceptance rates at some of the most sought-after schools are staggeringly low, hovering at around 1%. The pressure on parents to secure their child's admission begins months, if not years, in advance, and this intense competition can be incredibly stressful.

There are more one-day school holidays

I remember growing up with leisurely summer and winter breaks that ranged from three weeks to three months in length. My kids, on the other hand, only enjoy a six-week summer hiatus from mid-May to late June, and a 10-day break in January.

However, the Indian school calendar compensates with frequent one-day holidays throughout the year. These single-day "chuttis"— "holidays" in Hindi — encompass an array of religious and public holidays, including Eid, Christmas, Buddha's Birthday, Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, Diwali, various Hindu gods' birthdays, Sikh gurus' birthdays, and national holidays such as Independence Day and Republic Day.

My kids are learning several languages

Most Indian schools adopt a bilingual approach to education. In our case, instructors teach our kids in English, our kids have studied Hindi since kindergarten, and they'll begin learning a third foreign language in the fourth grade. This multilingual approach reflects the diverse linguistic landscape of India and prepares students to communicate effectively in both a country as diverse as India and in the wider world.

There's more emphasis on STEM subjects

Indian schools place significant emphasis on STEM subjects. While they do teach basic grammar, there is often less emphasis on reading full books as part of the curricula.

In my children's English textbooks, there are excerpts from works such as "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," "Treasure Island," and "The Jungle Book," but teachers assign few full novels as reading. In contrast, in his environmental-studies class, my fifth grader is delving into topics including human and plant anatomy that I didn't encounter until my freshman year of college in the US. This focus on STEM subjects sometimes comes at the cost of arts and humanities education, requiring parents to supplement their children's learning in these areas outside school.

While navigating the Indian education system — and the education system in any country, for that matter — has its own set of challenges, our family has embraced this adventure. We are excited to see how it shapes our children's futures, and opportunities for growth, learning, and adaptation.

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