On August 1, Chennai will get its first French school. The Ecole Franco Indienne Sishya, on the campus of the Sishya school in Adyar, will open its doors to a group of eight expatriate students.
The school, set up over the last eight months with the involvement of tyre major Michelin India Tamil Nadu Tyres, will initially have only primary classes but will be expanded depending on the response.
"It's more like a French section right now as there are just eight students," says Dr Salim Thomas, administrator, Sishya. "The students will do French language, history, geography and a few other subjects with two or three teachers from France. For other subjects like mathematics and science, they will join our regular students. It is an effort to integrate different students," he says.
French tyre manufacturer Michelin has been the driving force behind the school as it requires a school that teaches children of its expat employees the basics of the French education system. Michelin is in the process of setting up a Rs 4,000-crore factory in Thervoy Kandigai Industrial Park in Tiruvallur district, about 50km north of Chennai.
"The school was inspected and approved by the French education department," says Nicolas Beaumont, managing director of Michelin in Tamil Nadu. "We're getting teachers from France who are approved by the French education department. The Lycée Français of Pondicherry (French school) has been helping with the syllabus, textbooks and structure," he adds.
Thomas says the school has got provisional recognition from the French education department. "They will conduct a review at the end of 2012," he says.
The school will have kindergarten to class eight, after which students will probably have to transfer to the school in Puducherry. Once the Chennai school is stable, Michelin will slowly withdraw, Beaumont adds.
"In the lower classes, integration of students is easier. But in the higher classes we will have to separate them as the French system is quite rigorous and different from ours," says Thomas.
In the first academic year from January to December 2012, the school will only have children of Michelin employees. "Students will start classes from August 1 so that they can get English lessons and come up to the required standard," says Thomas. From 2013 onwards, the school will be open to all French children.
Chennai is currently home to about 600 French nationals working in different sectors and companies, and most children study in the American International School in Velachery. By 2012, when the Michelin factory is up and running, it will bring in about 100 more expat families. "Local schools are hesitant to admit non-Indian children. They say they look different and will find the standard too high," says Beaumont, whose children study at the American school. "And it's true. The maths is at least two years ahead of what we learn. So we decided to help set up a school that will not only teach children in the French system but also expose them to the local syllabus," says Beaumont.