How the `Eton of India' aims to climb the Ivy League

8th August 2014 at 01:00
Doon School calls in UK experts to ensure world-class teaching

A globally renowned boarding school dubbed the "Eton of India" is working with UK education experts to ensure its students can compete for places at the world's top universities.

The Doon School - founded under colonial rule to emulate Britain's elite public schools - has produced a stream of illustrious alumni, from India's former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to author Vikram Seth and sculptor Anish Kapoor, who created the Orbit tower in London's Olympic Park.

But now the boys' school is working with the University of London's Institute of Education (IOE) to create a bespoke two-year "iPGCE" for staff to ensure their teaching is world-class and give them the tools to offer international qualifications. The partnership is seen as a vital development, as around half of the school's students leave India at 18 to study abroad.

Doon, set on a lush green estate in the northern state of Uttarakhand, is now hoping its example of "upskilling" staff will be taken up elsewhere in India, rather than schools importing teachers from the UK and the US.

"Many of our teachers do have BEd degrees from India, but of course they are designed for the Indian system," said headteacher Peter McLaughlin. "We are introducing international examinations like the International Baccalaureate and the iGCSE and we want to upskill our teachers.

"We are competing in a global university environment.What it takes to get into Oxbridge, Russell Group or Ivy League universities is growing exponentially in terms of requirements."

Dr McLaughlin hopes that the prestige of the school will encourage others to follow in its footsteps. "Because of Doon's stature, the fact that we are taking a lead on this is making people sit up and take notice," he said. "The school was set up to produce students to serve a free and democratic India at a time when it was neither of those.

"We have a mission to develop exceptional boys who will create a truly meritocratic India. There is a huge demand for educational reform in India. People know the old system is not fit for purpose and something has to give; they are ferociously critical of it. We need teachers who can deliver 21stcentury pedagogy."

Having achieved success with the iPGCE at Doon, the IOE is now working with schools in Dubai. The collaborations are part of a wider trend for schools and governments around the world to look to the UK for educational expertise. In recent years, for example, the Kazakhstan government has worked with Cambridge International Examinations, the international arm of exam board OCR, to develop its curriculum.

Meanwhile, already high-performing countries such as China have also turned to the UK, especially for advice on school leadership issues.

IOE tutors have made regular visits to Doon to observe lessons and work with teachers; they are also conducting peer lesson observations, online discussions and workshops. In the second year, teachers must undertake an evidence-based enquiry into an aspect of improving classroom practice. The school is paying the full tuition fees for the course, rather than asking staff to contribute.

Maths teacher Manu Mehrotra was one of the first 10 staff to volunteer for the course, which he is due to finish early next year. He already has a master's degree in maths from the University of Delhi, a master's degree in education from the University of Michigan in the US and a teaching certificate from the Indira Gandhi National Open University.

Receiving feedback on his teaching after 10 years in the job was sometimes "a challenge", he said. "It's OK when you are young to be told you can't do something and this is the way to do it, but after you have had 10 years of teaching, to be told you can improve things doesn't come so easily."

Despite the discomfort, Mr Mehrotra said that overall the iPGCE had been a "wonderful experience".

Andy Ash, coordinator of the project at the IOE, said: "We are really pleased to be working with the Doon School and to be the first organisation to launch this exciting new teacher training programme in India. To be able to share these resources and to actively contribute to the Indian education system is something we are committed to."

India has entered the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests only once, in 2009, when two states, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, came second and third from bottom in reading and maths. Only Kyrgyzstan performed worse.

In 2012, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which runs Pisa, said: "India's challenge lies not only in having sufficient teaching expertise in specific fields or promoting analytical thinking but in encouraging creativity, critical thinking and communication skills."

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