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For parents moving back to India with school age kids, the question of the right curriculum and school choice is paramount. Often factors such as distance, cost, curriculum structure rule out the true international schools. Parents then grapple with the decision on whether to seek admission in a CBSE or an ICSE school. Here are some pointers to the differences between the two systems and the factors a parent can keep in mind when evaluating one system versus the other.

The ‘Boards’: The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is an autonomous organization under the Human Resources Division of the Govt. of the India.   Started originally with the intention of providing schooling to children of government employees in transferable jobs, it is now widely spread across the country with public and private affiliated schools.  It conducts two main exams:
•    All India Secondary School Examination  (Class X)
•    All India Senior School Certificate Examination  (Class XII)

The Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) is a private, non-government body that conducts the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) exam for Std X and the Indian School Certificate (ISC) for Std XII.

CBSE accepts private candidates who meet certain eligibility crtieria (including physically handicapped candidates) and allows them to take the examination. CISCE does not allow for private candidates and requires all students to come from one of their affiliated schools.

Geographical Spread: With probably the exception of Mumbai, in most metropolitan cities in India (and some Asian cities outside India) CBSE schools are more prevalent than ICSE.  Globally, there are around 10,000 CBSE schools across 21 countries.  ICSE schools are fewer in number, so if you’re considering moving to a new city, then you might need to factor in thelocation first if the preference is for ICSE. That being said, many of the newer hybrid international schools – i.e those that offer either CBSE/ICSE in lower grades followed by IGCSE are opting for a combination of ICSE till primary or grade X.

Curriculum:  The difference in curriculum between the two systems can be encapsulated in one word which is ‘breadth’. The ICSE curriculum especially towards the latter years is vast and for Grade X spans 3 years of material covered. The curriculum structure has undergone periodic change and for the following academic year, students will have a total of 7 subjects split into 3 groups.
•    Group 1 which is mandatory includes English, Second Language -  Indian language or modern foreign languages (depending on child’s nationality and length of time child has studied abroad) and History/Geography. 
•    Group  II includes  subjects such as Math, Science , Economics, Computer Science of which students need to choose 2.
•    Group III comprises elective subjects such as Art, Computer Applications, Yoga among others of which students need to pick one. 

Within each subject, there could be multiple papers and on average students may have to take around 10 papers.   The curriculum also stresses on practical/lab work and students can apply their conceptual knowledge to question and explore the subject further. Much of this will also depend on how the curriculum is implemented at each school level.

CBSE curriculum tends to be a little less spread out with fewer papers. Class X for instance will have 5 core subjects including 2 languages (English and an Indian language or a limited number of foreign languages such as Arabic, Persian French, German. Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Nepali, and Tibetan (to name a few),Math, Science and Social Sciences.  However, students are required to study and pass a third language till Grade VIII.

With the popularity of international schools growing, CBSE has also begun to offer a more integrated curriculum called CBSE- International via certain affiliated schools abroad and in India. CBSE-I is has a more international scope - it incorporates study of the local country in which the particular school is located. It also includes more technology-based education. Currently CBSE-I is in the pilot phase.

Innovations are also taking place in testing with CBSE looking to introduce an open book style component in its testing (starting   in 2014 for class X and 2015 for class XII exams) in order to emphasize application of knowledge and analytical skills over rote learning. Although students will not be allowed to carry their books into the exam hall, the exam will be based on analysis of a case study that has been provided to students 4 months in advance of the exam.

Preparedness for College:     A large part of the decision on which system of education to follow ultimately depends on what you want/think your child will be interested in pursuing in college. Given that CBSE conducts key competitive entrance exams such as the All India Engineering Entrance Exam (AIEEE) as well as the All India Pre-Medical Test (AIMPT) it is the widely favored board for students aspiring to enter the premier engineering and medical institutes in India for their undergraduate education.

ISC on the other hand is seen to be very demanding in grade XII and students pursuing the certification may find it difficult to juggle between the course work and the preparation required for the competitive exams. The ISC/ICSE systems due to their depth and challenging English language curriculum are widely thought to benefit students who wish to go abroad for further studies.

Many students wishing to go down the medical/engineering track in India switch to the easier state boards after grade X so that they get more time to prepare for the demanding competitive exams.

To sum, the preference for a particular board can be dictated by one or more of the following factors - availability of schools offering the board, language constraints for kids especially if they are moving to India from a foreign country, and college preferences after high school.  Do you prefer one or the other? Share your views with us!

For more of our articles on education visit Schools ‘N More

If you’re looking to move back to India learn more about our personalized school search assistance.

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