Indian Education Debate CBSE, ICSE, IB – Which one to choose?

The debate between concerned parents and educators on whether a CBSE or an ICSE system is better has been going on for years. With the increasing numbers of schools offering the International Baccalaureate, International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) from the University of Cambridge International Examinations and the Waldorf system; the debate has widened, providing both stress and options to parents.

Not surprisingly with 12 million students in 12,504 schools including 1,002 Kendriya Vidyalayas, 1,944 government schools, 8,966 independent schools, 562 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas and 30 Central Tibetan Schools, CBSE remains the hot favourite, followed by ICSE with 1,900 schools in India and about 1,40,878 students (including 232 abroad). Experts believe that this bent can be credited to their accessibility and the result-orientated approach in content.


The CBSE board focuses on preparing students for entrance examinations for engineering and medical. This can be a beneficial aspect since all the entrance examinations on the national level are conducted as per the CBSE syllabus. SNBP is regarded as one of the top CBSE schools in PuneThe board uses NCERT books.

The CBSE syllabus is comparatively more rational and scientific in its approach. It has been designed for a specific year and is divided into various segments and every segment is given a specific number of periods so that it can be completely and thoroughly taught in one year. As a result, the CBSE system enables the teachers to prepare the teaching of various subjects in a coherent manner. Moreover, this system helps the students allocate time to different subjects in a balanced way.

This board strives to provide quality education to students through a practical approach. Students can choose across a large variety of subjects and streams for their plus two. The importance is given to science, arts, and language. The CISCE syllabus is vast and comprehensive, and the curriculum is structured in a way so as to provide the maximum amount of knowledge to the students in a practical way. Some of the best schools in Pune are affiliated with this board.

Both CBSE and ICSE (CISCE) have a slightly different focus in terms of course content. The course content in CBSE is more focused on science and mathematics with lots of attention paid to the application of knowledge. CISCE (ICSE), on the other hand, is more balanced with an equal focus on language, arts, and science. Both the boards have undergone a significant change over the last 10 years and the focus has shifted from passive learning to learning through experience and experimentation.

How is an IB school curriculum different from that of CBSE/ICSE?

IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) students must choose one subject from each of five groups, ensuring breadth of knowledge and understanding in their best language, additional language(s), social sciences, experimental sciences and mathematics. Students may choose either an arts subject from Group 6 or a second subject from Groups 1 to 5.  There are three core elements of IBDP which distinguish it from all other pre-university programmes. These are:

Extended Essay: An independent research work, culminating in a 4,000-word paper. It allows students to engage in in-depth study of a chosen subject, which can come from any of the six areas of knowledge. During this process, emphasis is given on developing the capacity to analyse, synthesise and evaluate knowledge.

Theory of Knowledge: TOK aims at developing a coherent approach to learning that unifies the academic disciplines. In this course on critical thinking, students inquire into the nature of knowing and deepen their understanding of knowledge as a human construction.  Students are expected to make an oral presentation and write a 1,500-word essay that is assessed and graded.

Creativity, Action, Service: CAS, as it is known, aims to engage students in a range of activities. These can vary from enhancing physical activity, arts or even creative thinking. Each student must dedicate 150 hours to CAS to earn the full Diploma.

How is IGCSE different from CBSE/ICSE?

IGCSE is a comprehensive two-year programme, spread over Class IX and X, with final examinations offered every year in May and November. Its assessment is conducted by two UK assessment bodies—Edexcel (also known as London Examinations) and Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). A student who has passed IGCSE is eligible for any +2 level qualification, like Class XII CBSE/ ICSE or any international pre-university programme, like the IB Diploma, Advanced Placement Diploma (US), and A/AS Level & AICE (UK). Assessment is not limited to conventional written papers and they consist of a variety of tests. It is aimed at a wide ability range of students, with an eight-point grading scale, from A+ to G, with A+ being the highest.

Facts at a glance

CBSE was officially started in 1962 with 309 schools and today has 12 million students in 12,504 schools including 1,002 Kendriya Vidhyalayas, 1,944 government schools, 8,966 independent schools, 562 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas and 30 Central Tibetan Schools.

ICSE is available in 1,900 schools in India catering to about 1,40,878 students (including 232 abroad)

At present, there are 197 schools in India offering a Cambridge education while 99 others impart the Geneva-imported IB programme and Maharashtra, with 109 IB and IGCSE schools, leads the tally, followed by Karnataka coming a distant second, and Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

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