How Teaching Differs Across Education Boards In India
Whether or not it actually is, choosing which education board your child studies under can feel like the biggest educational decision you’ll make. But as parents, a lot of what we know about these boards is half-fact and half-rumour, or threadbare memories of our own schooldays. So how do the education boards in India actually differ?
We interviewed a variety of teachers and administrators — many of whom have worked within multiple systems — from the four* main education boards in India.
Some things became immediately clear: The national boards are in a state of flux, and what you remember from your own education may or may not hold true anymore. Also, all educators we spoke with discouraged students switching between boards.
Finally, regardless of which of the education boards in India your child studies in, he or she will follow roughly the same syllabus as all the other boards when it comes to core subjects like maths, science, language and social studies.
A brief intro to education boards in India
The CBSE Board
The Central Board of Secondary Education is the largest national board, with more than 17,500 affiliated schools in India and more than 200 affiliated schools abroad. The board is a government body under the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development. Within CBSE, the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT), headed by the HRD Minister, guides curriculum development.
The ICSE Board
More formally known as the CISCE or Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations, the ICSE is a private board that originated after Independence as a homegrown alternative to the colonial educational system. The ICSE board has more than 2300 schools in India.
The IB Board
The not-for-profit International Baccalaureate Organization is headquartered in Geneva. In India, 129 schools offer one or more of its four programmes. (Many IB schools are not standalone entities, but exist within the facilities of a national-board school.) Globally, the board has about 4,500 schools total.
The CIE Board
Cambridge International Examinations is the world’s largest provider of international education programmes for 5- to 19-year-olds, and is governed by Cambridge Assessment, a department of the University of Cambridge in the UK. The non-profit organization is about 350 schools strong in India (like the IB board, many CIE schools in India exist within the facilities of a national-board school), with 10,000 schools worldwide.
In this article, the first of a three-part series, we break down what teacher qualifications and classroom instruction is like across each of the education boards in India. Upcoming articles will explore learning and evaluation.
Teachers are required to be board-certified
All boards require teachers to hold a degree or diploma in education. Depending on the class level and subject, a postgraduate degree may be required.
However, only the IB board and CIE board require teachers to take a training programme that certifies them to teach within the individual board. These separate programmes focus on lecture delivery as well as the language of delivery, lesson planning, and setting and evaluating examination papers.
Teachers are required to take ongoing training
The CBSE board mandates teachers to attend at least one week-long seminar annually at any teaching institute recognized by the state or central government, or with any agency identified by the board. These workshops are intended to refresh or update subject knowledge, teaching skills and more.
Once certified, IB teachers are required to attend IB-provided trainings on similar topics at least once every three years. In both boards, the specific training attended by an individual teacher is left to the discretion of the individual school.
CIE and ICSE teachers are expected to continuously update their knowledge and skills and are provided with material and trainings to do so, but face no such requirement by the board. However, individual schools may set their own faculty requirements.
Instruction is discussion-oriented and promotes critical thinking
In theory, all boards promote this type of instruction. In practice, parents may find it varies within national board schools.
Traditionally, CBSE board has been known for its lecture-and-memorisation style of instruction. However, the board has made a conscious shift away from this style of teaching, to methods that encourage student participation through discussion and questions. However, this shift is no mandate, merely a strong suggestion to schools, and the change in teaching has not been uniform within the board. In many CBSE classrooms, the original style of instruction is still going strong.
ICSE board instruction has, from the board’s inception, focused on developing students’ critical thinking skills. Yet CBSE board instruction (in whatever form) and ICSE instruction has this in common: Teaching is comparatively ‘in the moment’ and concepts tend to be silo-ed within their specific subjects. The goal of instruction is thorough knowledge.
By contrast, the international boards’ goal is application. IB and CIE teaching styles encourage students to ask questions until no questions are left. Instruction focuses on reinforcing concepts learned earlier as well as concepts learned in other disciplines. Students may be asked to apply concepts not only to a specific subject, but to new and different scenarios as well.
Board pioneers best teaching practices
While all boards seek to constantly upgrade recommended teaching methods, the CIE board is widely acknowledged as the global leader in academic research. Its pedagogical approaches tend to be the most cutting edge and from where other systems take inspiration.
Instruction is exam-focused
In the 11th and 12th standard, the focus of instruction shifts to exam preparedness in CBSE schools and ICSE schools. While IB and CIE students must also take a 12th standard exam, teachers in these systems have more freedom to introduce and/or delve more deeply into topics beyond the scope of the exam.
*Because of their large number, state boards — all of which are different — fall outside the scope of this article.
Special thanks to educators Deepshikha Srivastava, Francis Joseph, Sudarshana Shukla, Manju Mehta, Neeru Dutta Sharma, Cross Hubert and Lipi Joshi for sharing their expertise.