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The power of a top school

Some of the most important and powerful bureaucrats in Delhi have been known to tremble when bringing their offspring into principal Shyama Chona's office. She has the power to give a thumbs up to the 1 in 200 applicants who make it in to Delhi Public School, one of the most competitive in the country.

"The future of India depends on us, and schools like ours," says Ms. Chona, who developed DPS and similar satellite schools in the 1970s and who runs her flagship like a no-nonsense ship's captain. "We want to educate these young people to their fullest potential."

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Everything about the atmosphere on the sunny campus of 6,000 students speaks of rigor, excellence, and discipline. Gleaming trophies for math and science line the walls in Chona's office, in the administration building, foyers, and in an elaborate basement computer center that receives contributions of hardware and advice from Hewlett Packard. Classes start at 7:20 a.m. Teachers move from class to class to limit distractions in the hallways.

Students wear green coats. But those with marks above 80 percent three years in a row wear blue coats. If their marks stay consistently high, they go on to wear blue badges, and then blue ties, as symbols of achievement.

While many of the children cultivate what might be considered a counterculture attitude, they uniformly agree on the importance of study. "Everyone strives to have a badge or blue coat," says Vyoma Jha, a close friend of Ankana Dagga. "That's not uncool."

Teaching at DPS, moreover, is a prestigious job. Instructors' days start at 5 a.m. They take seriously the idea of sacrifice, meeting in long faculty seminars to brush up on their subjects. Most teachers ride to school on the bus with students, where there seems to be a friendly and easy exchange between the two; no large walls or imposing generation gaps seem to arise between them.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society