What is Best for Your Kids Future - CBSE or ICSE ?


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Seeking admissions for kids is a herculean task in itself. Parents ponder not only about the schools and their brand value but also about the syllabuses that would work best for their children. Couple of years ago, chose the state syllabus if they did not think they were going to shift cities and national syllabus if they were in a transferrable job. The arrival of schools following international syllabuses has made it all the more easier for parents who are internationally mobile.

For the remaining parents for whom this choice is not made easy by the nature of their jobs, have a tough time deciding between the two national syllabuses- the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Indian Certificate for Secondary Education (ICSE).

Let us first try and understand the difference between the two syllabuses:

All about CBSE

  • The CBSE board prepares the syllabus for schools affiliated with it from Lower Kindergarten to class 12.

  • The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) sets the curriculum.

  • This board conducts the two main board examinations at a national level- the All India Secondary School Examination for Class 10 and the All India Senior School Certificate Examination for Class 12.

  • The concentric curriculum is followed by the CBSE where the topics taught are built on where it was left in the previous class. For example- the topics motion, force and pressure are taught in science to class 6th students, force, pressure and frictional force are dealt with in greater details in the 8th standard.

All about ICSE

  • Previously known as the Senior Cambridge, the ICSE was set up by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.

  • The Council conducts two examinations - The Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) for Class 10 and the Indian School Certificate (ISC) for Class 12.

  • The board follows a spiral curriculum approach in which the basic facts of the subjects are taught first and then more details are introduced. Emphasis on basics is laid time and again so that they get into the student’s long term memory. The curriculum for the next year is built on what the student has learnt in the current year.

Other differences between CBSE & ICSE

  • Testing students: While these were the basic differences between the two boards, there is also a difference in how they test the students. The CBSE examinations are more application based while the ICSE exams test the true knowledge, understanding and application.

  • Tough syllabus in ICSE: The syllabus for CBSE is considered intensive while the ICSE is more extensive. There are more objective kind of questions in the CBSE system of teaching which help the students to prepare themselves for national level competitive exams. On the other hand, projects are an integral part of the syllabus under the ICSE board, which helps build analytical skills of a student.

  • Stronger concept building in ICSE: According to LathaDevraj, who has two daughters, one of whom was exposed to the ICSE syllabus till Class 10, “The ICSE board encourages the students to address a topic in detail and research it completely thereby strengthening the students’ concepts.” She says that students have their fundamentals clear in mathematics in the ICSE syllabus.

  • National level exams based on CBSE: Competitive entrance examinations such as IIT-JEE, NEET (AIPMT) and JEE Main are based on the CBSE syllabus which is another reason for the parents to prefer CBSE over ICSE in case they want their children to write any of these exams. CBSE students also have an edge over other students when it comes to the UPSC administrative services examinations like the IAS or the IPS. However, in terms of taking entrance exams outside India like SAT and TOEFL, ICSE syllabus is seen to be more beneficial over CBSE.

  • Emphasis on English in ICSE: Teachers feel that there is a clear emphasis on English and its literature in the ICSE syllabus. The way English grammar is taught under the ICSE syllabus is very systematic. On the other hand, in the CBSE schools, English is taught in a more functional way and it addresses the needs of all kinds of students despite their geographical location.The tough choice between CBSE and ICSE board is also felt by the Treamis world School, an international world school that offers IGCSE that provides CBSE also as an option.

  • Easy to shift from ICSE to CBSE: While ICSE students find it comparatively easier to shift to CBSE at higher levels, the vice-versa is not as easy for the students as the ICSE syllabus is quite heavy. An ICSE students who recently finished her 6th standard exams wrote her final exams in 13 subjects – English, History + Civics, Environmental Sciences, Geography, Maths, Hindi, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Kannada and General Knowledge. On the other hand, a CBSE student from one of the KendriyaVidyalas who finished her 7th standard exams wrote six papers in total – English, Hindi, Sanskrit, Science, Social Studies andMaths.

Most parents end up switching their children from ICSE/ CBSE syllabuses to the state syllabus in Class 11.Subha, who consciously chose the ICSE syllabus for her two daughters says, “I preferred ICSE because of its toughness. The girls will find the CBSE or state syllabuses easier, if and when they have to shift.” This practice is mostly followed to get the basic foundation right and then switch to something easier at a later stage.

Board is secondary

While syllabus is important for the children to hone their skills and get the right education, what’s more important indeed is the school and its interest level in teaching the kids. Education is certainly not dependent on boards. Choosing a board for the children is still something parents can’t do away with and it is necessary that they make an informed decision about the same. 


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