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Moving to India can be a daunting task especially when it comes to choosing the right school and curriculum. Local schools in  India offer several choices of curriculum. The ICSE and CBSE curriculums are the most popular and offered across schools nationwide. Each state also has its own state board, which can vary in quality depending on the state. We’ve given an overview below:

Indian Certificate for Secondary Education (ICSE):  The ICSE curriculum originated from the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate and has been adapted to Indian standards. The board is not government affiliated and high school exams can be taken only through an affiliated school, not privately.  It is a very well-established curriculum known for its rigor and in-depth focus on subjects.

Academics: The curriculum structure has undergone periodic change and for the following academic year, students will have a total of 7(including the sub-branches it could be around 11) subjects split into 3 groups.

  • Group 1 which is mandatory includes English, Second Language - Indian language or modern foreign languages such as French, German or Spanish (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. Typically schools will choose to offer Math and Science
  •  Group III comprises subjects such as Art, Computer Applications, Yoga among others of which students need to pick one. 

Language Requirements:

  • Second language: is compulsory from grade 2 - grade 10. The language can be either Hindi, an approved Indian language (learnt  for 3 years) or a foreign language depending on what the school offers. The ICSE cannot be taken privately so the language option is tied to the school.
  • Third Language: Is required to be taken between grades 5 - 8. Indian nationals can take 2 Indian languages (incl. Sanskrit). Foreign nationals can take a foreign language if provided by the school or seek exemption altogether, replacing it with a different subject..

Comparing with other Systems:

  • ICSE is known to be more analytical and less rote-based (more project based) than some of the other Indian boards. The material covered is vast and of a high standard especially in English.  Course work is quite intensive with regular homework and exams. Reading, writing and math are emphasized in pre-primary and typically the kids get letter or number writing homework from Junior KG.
  • Criteria to keep in mind when evaluating ICSE over others is that among the Indian curriculum it tends to lay more emphasis on concepts and in-depth learning. However the quantum of homework and pressure can be high for a child. Some of the new and traditional ICSE schools are now trying to reduce the burden of work on kids and are focusing on no exams and reduced homework at least in the primary section. 

Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE): 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. The curriculum is set by National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). It is also known for its rigor and breadth of subjects covered.


  • Curriculum will have fewer subjects compared to ICSE - Class X for instance will have 5 core subjects including 2 languages, Math, Science and Social Sciences.
  • The workload is intense with an established, regular exam system and with homework starting from Junior KG.

Language Requirements:

  • Hindi is mandatory from grade 1 and children typically have a 3rd language from grades II to VIII. Language requirements can be dropped from grade XI onwards.

Comparing with other Systems:

  • The system is geared to exam taking and prepares kids from an early age to deal with competitive exams. 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)  and is generally the preferred choice of parents who want their kids to take the Indian competitive exams like CET, JEE.
  • CBSE is a reputed, rigorous curriculum which is demanding on the students. The schools are all over the country and transferring is easy. It prepares kids for the Indian standardized tests. 

Matriculation (State Boards): Various state boards in India have their own curriculum and schools that follow them. Upon clearing the exams these boards typically issue a Secondary School Certificate (Class X) or a Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC)


  • Core subjects at the X exam will typically include Math, Science, Social Studies and 3 Languages. The actual number of papers will vary since subjects will be further broken up.

 Language requirements:  

  • Typically starts with Hindi as the 2nd language in grades 2 - 3 followed by a 3rd local language in Grade 5-8 with the option of switching to an international language (depending on the school) from grades 8 - 10.  Different states and schools will have their rules around the language requirements as well as the languages offered.

 Comparing to Other Systems:  

  • The curriculum tends to be less intensive compared to a CBSE or ICSE and also relatively tends to foster a rote-based approach with few options for critical thinking or questioning.
  • Some states are now aligning their class 11 and 12 Math and Science curriculum  with the  NCERT curriculum so there is more alignment in terms of preparation for common entrance exams.


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