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A look at how and what students learn across the CBSE, ICSE, IB and CIE education boards.

How Learning Differs Across India’s Education Boards

In this second article of our series on education boards in India, we look at how and what students learn in each board. (Check out other articles on how teaching and examination differ between education boards.)

We interviewed a variety of teachers and administrators — many of whom have worked within multiple systems — from the four* main education boards in India. Their insight made clear the national education 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 education boards.

So if you’re wondering how the student experience is different between the CBSE board, ICSE board, IB board and CIE board, read on.

Students learn in small classes

CBSE

ICSE

IB

CIE

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The recommended number of students in CBSE and ICSE classrooms is 40 and 45 respectively, whereas in both the international boards it is 20. Experts generally agree that smaller class sizes, particularly in the early years, are more conducive to learning.

Students will learn in English

CBSE

ICSEIB

CIE

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CBSE schools are either English medium or Hindi medium.

Students will learn core subjects

CBSE

ICSE

IB

CIE

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In broad strokes, class curricula doesn’t differ much between education boards, especially through Class 8. Students in any of these education boards will learn roughly the same things in Maths, Science, English, Language, and Social Studies, they’ll just be taught in different ways.

Students’ learning may be influenced by ideology

CBSE

ICSE

IB

CIE

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Because the CBSE board falls under the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, its National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT), the department that develops curricula, is headed by the standing Minister. This means ideological bents can creep into textbooks and teaching guidance depending on the party in power.

Students are able to individualise their curricula

CBSE

ICSE

IB

CIE

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Starting in Class 9, students in the ICSE board and CIE board have greater control over their course load. ICSE offers sub-groups (including the standard streams but also others, like environmental science, computer applications, art, etc.) from which students must pick one or two courses, while the CIE board allows students to put together any combination of subjects.

This freedom allows students to learn in-depth about subjects that interest them, or to pursue two areas typically separated in different streams. But it also means Hindi, science and maths are optional after Class 8.

The CBSE offers a broad range of electives from which students may choose, starting in Class 11, but they largely fall within the arts, science and commerce streams.

The IB system is also more regimented and senior class students must choose one subject from each of these six groups: language and literature, second language, sciences, individuals and societies (which includes commerce subjects), mathematics and the arts.

Students are able to suit challenge to ability

CBSE

ICSE

IB

CIE

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Unlike the national education boards, the international education boards offer students the ability to study the same subjects, but at different levels of academic challenge. In the CIE board, in Classes 11 and 12, students have the option to study at either the AS or A level for any given class.

While the syllabi do not differ between the two levels, the difficulty and depth of study in an AS class is exactly half that of the A level. The AS offering allows students to continue studying topics at which they may not excel, though there are implications for the 12th standard exams (see next article in this series).

The IB system gives students the choice between standard or advanced courses for some subjects in Classes 11 and 12, too, but the degree of difference between the two levels is not as great as it is in the CIE board.

CBSE and ICSE do not offer this flexibility outside of language courses.

Students learn in an interdisciplinary manner

CBSE

ICSE

IB

CIE

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While all education boards strive not to teach subjects in isolation, the IB system’s philosophy specifically calls for combining two or more subject groups to foster greater understanding, particularly in its middle years programme. This means in Class 6, students choose broad topics — for example, globalisation and sustainability, or, fairness and development — and work closely with a variety of teachers on a unique project that culminates in Class 10.

Students can take vocational classes

CBSE

ICSE

IB

CIE

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All education boards offer a variety of vocational courses, from creche management to architecture, and a diploma in a vocational stream is as valid as a diploma in a traditional academic stream.

The structure of the vocational syllabi varies across boards. For example, in the IB system, students must study some subjects from the main diploma programme in addition to their vocational courses, whereas in ICSE, barring English, which is required, the entire course structure is developed around the subject of specialization.

Students are expected to participate in extracurriculars

CBSE

ICSE

IB

CIE

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While the school affiliation procedure in every board mandates adequate opportunity and physical space for extracurricular activities, a value for extracurricular activities is built into the ethos of the ICSE and IB education boards. In IB, the arts are given particular weight, and all students must study one visual or performing art each year through Class 12.

The focus of ICSE extracurriculars is on language skills, through its annual all-India inter-school debate and creative writing competitions.

Beyond this, the additional extracurriculars offered vary between schools, including in the CBSE board and CIE board.

Related:

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*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.

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