An education board is responsible for implementing the educational policy in a city, state, or country. Given that education is a state subject but has repercussions on acceptance at centrally funded higher education universities or central government jobs, India has a mix of national (like CBSE and ICSE) as well as state boards. India has also allowed the international boards to coexist with the national boards in the spirit of democracy and globalisation. Examples of international boards include International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge Assessment International Education (Cambridge International/CAIE), etc. It is no wonder that the parents are perplexed about the plethora of these certifying bodies, while making a choice for their children

The boards differ in their ideology of ‘education’ and approach towards attainment of ‘learning’. The curriculum, acceptance level around the world, ease of transfer, grading system, instructional medium and many other aspects such as competitive edge show quite variability. These factors form the base to choose an ideal board catering to one’s needs.

The Tyranny of Choice: Difference between Various Boards (IGCSE, IB, CBSE, ICSE)

With multiple boards such as CBSE, IB, IGCSE and others, the vast majority of the parents are bemused with the choice offered by different education boards as each board vehemently broadcasts their best features. For selection of an ideal education board, a crucial step towards the development of the child’s education, the parents must be well-informed and follow a universal rubric to weigh the pros and cons of each system. Let’s understand how these boards came about to being:

 In 1965, the existing Board of Rajputana at Ajmer, which was dominant in five states, was reformed as the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). Funnily, within a few years, private schools were allowed to become connected with the CBSE because it gained popularity and Kendriya Vidyalayas’ found it difficult to expand anymore. 

Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), a Christian Minority board, passed down from the British, is comparable to the CBSE in terms of syllabus standards. The board is well-known both nationally and globally, and it employs application-based teaching methods. Students are evaluated on the basis of marks and percentages, and the board provides good training for global competitive tests. 

The State board uses a syllabus specified by the education department, and is relatively simple and easy for the students to follow. The state board lacks international recognition, and the training provided for global boards is fairly basic. Transitioning from State board to other boards can be difficult for some students who have grown up learning on one. Some make the leap for lack of subject options while others move to a different city or state. 

International Baccalaureate (IB) is a nonprofit organization offering the following four educational  programmes: IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) (aged 3-12), IB Middle years Programme (MYP) (aged 11-16), and IB Diploma Programme and IB Career-related Programme (aged 15-19).

Cambridge Assessment International Education(CAIE)/International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and Cambridge International AS & A Level follows the Cambridge International Examinations curriculum, where students earn credit points for the subjects they choose and only advance to the next level once they have earned the required number of credits.  

Growing prominence of Cambridge and IB

While the number of IB schools grew from mere 45 in 2007 to 215+ by 2017, the Cambridge board saw a rise from 100 to around 430 as of 2018. It almost seems like 40-50 schools were added year on year. In India, nearly a third of IB and a large number of Cambridge schools are in Maharashtra. The southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also feature in the top five states with Cambridge and IB system-based schools. According to ISC Research studies, in the last 7 years,  the number of international school students has grown by 45%. 

The reason behind these boards gaining such popularity and momentum lies in the culture and attitude toward education, and implementation across each country. These two boards are application-based, inculcate research skills, develop communication skills and foster better collaboration among children by working on projects, and shifting the mindset from acquiring knowledge to mastering the skill of acquiring it. 

Leading institutions in India, under the International Day School category, include Dhirubhai Ambani International School (DAIS), Mumbai followed by Aditya Birla World Academy, Mumbai and Oberoi International School, Mumbai and Ecole Mondiale World School, Mumbai jointly. According to the ‘Education World’ (EW) study, Prakriti School ranked 2nd in Noida and 7th in NCR under the International Day School category. Leading Cambridge (IGCSE) Schools in NCR region are:

  1. Prakriti School, Noida
  2. Scottish High, Gurugram
  3. DPS International, Delhi
  4. Ardee School (Delhi)
  5. Indus World School, Gurugram
  6. GD Goenka Global School, Gurugram
  7. Step by Step School, Noida
Are International boards better than CBSE?

The major concern around CBSE and ICSE is that both the boards are highly examination-focused. Teachers in the CBSE and ICSE schools teach to test. The schools focus excessively on the prescribed curriculum and de-prioritise creativity and real-life learning. Furthermore, the exposure to higher order thinking and communication skills especially in English as First Language is limited as most of the curriculum is tilted towards developing a good level of skills in Math and Science. Especially, in CBSE, there is no option for learners inclined towards arts or vocational subjects to not take the Sciences. 

National Education Policy 2020 recognized these rigidities and examination-centredness in CBSE and so it recommended splitting the examination over two years, making curriculum experiential and making the course streams liberal to offer a blend of Sciences and Arts. 

Boards such as Cambridge and IB provide an array of choices to the students. At the upper secondary (Grade 9-10) level both IGCSE  and IB MYP provide a range of subjects such as Art & Design, Drama, Global Perspectives, Design and Technology and World Literature. At Grade 12 or IBDP and Cambridge A levels the selection of subjects is wider although IBDP (Grade 12) tends to be more rigid than CBSE or IGCSE, with its structure of 6 baskets and Theory of Knowledge and Extended Essay. 

The other advantages of these boards include:

(a) Higher Education Prospects

International boards such as IGCSE or IB provide the launchpad to pursue higher education outside India. Higher education prospects open up due to flexibility in subjects that help a student experience a wider choice and apply to universities with a broader array of options such as liberal arts, design, and specialist sciences. University Grants Commission, through its division Association of International Universities (AIU), recognizes international boards paving the way to all national universities, including the centralised entrance examination such as IIT and NEET.  Prakriti recently conducted a webinar that discussed the higher education prospects, both in India and abroad, after Cambridge A Levels and IBDP. Watch the recording:


(b) Futurist Pedagogy

International boards are learner-centered. These systems encourage research, creativity and give equal importance to activity-based learning as to learning of abstract concepts. International boards are far more aligned to technology-based and project-based learning. The technological courses offered such as Design and Technology in IGCSE and Product & Digital Design in IB are about developing solutions such as an application or a robotic function.

(c) Focus on Skills vs Knowledge

International boards aim at turning students into global citizens by exposing them to a diverse array of backgrounds and cultures.  The programmes such as ‘Global Perspective’ under Cambridge lower secondary course inculcates critical thinking about topics with a global perspective. While the languages courses build an appreciation of world literature, the other subjects emphasize on examining and analysing issues and validating ideas with research. 

(d) Small class size and personalized approach

A higher level of personalized attention is required at all stages of development of school students, especially in the world full of distraction and competing priorities. International curriculum provides small class sizes which provide the opportunity of learning at one’s pace and the set of strengths of the individual student.

Cambridge IGCSE vs IB

The Cambridge system is among the finest, preparing school students for life by fostering informed curiosity and a lifelong love of studying. Cambridge qualifications are internationally recognised, have a strong reputation and will hold its value throughout a person’s educational and professional career.

There are clear merits of Cambridge over IB, especially with respect to subject flexibility, economics and popularity in India. The former enjoys a structured curriculum which alleviates the pressure over teachers in designing the curriculum over the latter. IB requires one to take Sciences and Math whereas IGCSE awards can happen without either. IB schools are more expensive because of the multiple workshops offered and the requirement of greater resources to develop the programme efficiently. IGCSE precedes IB in India as availability of teachers for IB is strenuous due to the requirement of curriculum design.

What to look for when choosing an international school?

Innovative adaptations in curriculum, outstanding teachers, cultural exposure, and supporting infrastructure are just a few of the numerous advantages of choosing to send your child to an international school. They provide hands-on learning that engages all five senses, and enhances cognitive, physical, social development and emotional aspects. 

The following parameters will help in making an informed decision regarding school selection from the plethora of available options:

    • Interdisciplinary Approach – What type of programmes does the school have in place? An international school must include integrative learning to make well-rounded individuals. Ideally, they should offer extracurricular activities such as the performing arts, writing, sports, and many others.
    • Small Class Sizes – Typically the class sizes in international schools are small to medium, which ensures high student-teacher interaction. Even better are schools that consciously limit the class-size to a maximum of 15-20 to allow personalised mentoring and support. 
    • Collaboration and partnerships – Schools that have the partnerships with research institutions, overseas universities and businesses thereby giving students a chance to work with on projects and academic research opens up real world experience before they graduate from school.
    • Exposure and future ready – Does the school give the students a platform for future thinking through sociological ideation or design thinking and technology skills?
    • Community work – How much does the school expose the students to solving the problems of the community around the school? Does the school offer social reconstructionist dialogues and a platform for student advocacy?

It is quite crucial for both students and parents to understand the different boards, the pros and cons when looking at moving to a higher level of education. It is not a simple black-and-white solution. Each student is an individual, and good institutes/boards are what will ensure they reach their maximum potential. If you would like to know about our school and our way of learning, kindly visit our website.