Schools are aplenty in Bangalore. There are schools of every shape, size and hue occupying every street in this sprawling metropolis - from 'international' schools to unpretentious playhomes for toddlers.
Finding a good school that meets all your criteria, on the other hand, is a near-impossible task.
The only criterion I had in my mind for my son when we first moved here was that his school should be within walking distance from our house. Under no circumstances was I willing to put him (my baby!) on a bus to and from school. So we picked a house that was close to a school with kindergarten classes.
He had been going to a Montessori school in the US and it had worked beautifully for both myself and my son. He was happy at school, I was happy with the pace at which he was being taught and at which he was learning. As luck would have it (or so I thought) the school we picked in Bangalore also followed the Montessori method (they had all the Montessori materials - many of which my son recognized and was very happy to be in the midst of - and they followed the concept of mixing age groups in their class rooms).
That illusion was shattered within the first week of school. My son came home with three pages of homework. By the end of the week, he'd had three pages of homework every day, and about eight pages to complete over the weekend. And he arrived from school every day, exhausted from the amount of writing work at school, in addition to working on the materials.
I had a chat with his teacher, and her justification was this: he had arrived late to the school, and she was loading him up with work because she had to 'finish the portions' for the year. That of course, is antithetical to the Montessori method, and, it was my reality check. As the year progressed, it was obvious that all these young kids (3, 4 and 5 year olds) were being prepared to face the entrance tests for first grade!
Yes, there are entrace tests for first grade. And get this: they test the children on skills that are beyond the first grade curriculum. As for the logic behind that, I am at a loss.
The reality here is that the schools, especially in Bangalore, are catering to a wide variety of demands - those of the returning NRIs many of whom have had their children in Montessori or alternative environments in the US, and those of the parents who are more intimately aware of the demands put on young children in grade schools. So the schools call themselves Montessori schools to attract the NRI population, but follow a strict, rigorous, curriculum to train the children to pass the inevitable entrance tests. I've heard of parents complaining that the schools don't work the children hard enough.
Most parents, frankly, are scared. Admissions to the schools that are considered good (although overpopulated, understaffed and in many instances, on the outskirts of town) are extremely hard to come by. Parents stand in line for days to get registration forms at these schools. So that first grade entrance test is a defining event in a scholastic career.
There are the international schools of course, but these too merit close scrutiny. There is nothing preventing a school from slapping on the 'international' tag. Moreover, they are expensive because they mostly try to attract and cater to the expat population.
The thought that I want to leave you with is this: there is nothing wrong in children learning to read and write and do math (and color, although my son hates it) and, if you want your children to grow in this school system, they do need to. Unless you want to be an outlier and send your children to schools that have no tests whatsoever until high school (Valley School, for example).
But, if you want to be in the mainstream, be prepared to put your foot down if your child is being pushed too much. You are the best judge of your child's mental framework and nothing is worth squashing his creativity (which I guarantee the reams and reams of repetitive homework will do), not even a seat in a "good" school.
So, suck in your breath and steel yourself for the 'untidy' or 'could be neater' comments on his homework. It's a safe bet that neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates has pretty handwriting, and remember neither finished college.