CBSE versus ICSE, the Key Differences

CBSE is usually synonymous with Indian curriculum, however ICSE is also a strong curriculum on offer. We find out the major differences between the two and the salient features of both the curriculums.
CBSE versus ICSE, the Key Differences
By Veathika
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The two popular Indian curricula – CBSE and CISCE/ICSE have always confused  parents. While some think ICSE is easier than CBSE, some think CBSE is the end all and be all.

The CBSE stands for the Central Board of Secondary Education and is recognised by the government of India. The ICSE, its main competitor, is not recognised.

CBSE is a Government of India Education Board, with 21243 schools. CISCE is a private Education Board and has 2106 schools. CBSE is the largest examination conducting Board in the world.

In Dubai there are a number of CBSE schools but very few ICSE schools.

We ask principals of three schools – Ms. Nargish Khambatta, CEO and Principal of GEMS Modern Academy; Mr. Ramesh Mudgal, Principal of Global Indian International School and Ms. Sangita Chima Principal / CEO of GEMS New Our Own Private High School, Sharjah, the key differences and strengths of each curriculum.

What are the strengths of CBSE and/or ICSE curriculum?

Ms. Khambatta: The strengths of the ICSE curriculum are manifold: It serves to make learning purposeful and progressive while promoting the achievement of educational aims and objectives in a planned and positive manner. The Council (CISCE) has made a concerted effort to incorporate the latest trends in the field of Education, while ensuring that flexibility is provided to teachers to adapt the curriculum as per their requirements and contexts. It is a holistic curriculum, which is child centric, encourages the development of life skills and focuses on a wide range of learning experiences. It follows the principle of spiralling.*

Ms. Chima: All CBSE Schools follow the NCERT (National Council of Education Research and Training), New Delhi, curriculum defined by an exceptionally progressive NCF 2005 (National Curriculum Framework 2005). The core strengths of CBSE are -
1. Connects knowledge to life outside school
2. Ensures that learning shifts away from rote methods
3. Comprehensive and continuous assessments are flexible and integrated with classroom life
4. Nurtures the identity of Indian culture and values
5. Syllabus is same as that of the common entrance examination for engineering and medicine colleges

ICSE is not a board, but the abbreviation for the Grade 10 examination conducted by the Board abbreviated as CISCE (Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations) or the Council for short. Its core strengths are -
1. Excellent content in English language and literature
2. Emphasis on practical, application and reasoning skills
3. Syllabus is more in volume and excellent for entrance examinations in Law, Business Administration and Humanities colleges

Mr. Mudgal: CBSE has more than 20000 schools in India and more than 200 schools outside of India which makes it an easily accessible curriculum for Indians abroad. The syllabus is more compact than ICSE. Moreover, since the content is less schools stand a better chance to plan other skill-based activities during the school time. CBSE mainly emphasises on Science and Math. Language learning is focused on communication rather than literature.

What are the three main differences between the two curricula?

Ms. Chima: CBSE is more structured and defined while ICSE is comprehensive and balanced. There’s emphasis on Science and Mathematics in CBSE, while ICSE gives emphasis on English, Humanities and Commerce. Varied continuous and comprehensive evaluation is done in CBSE versus internal assessments and practical tests aggregated to the total score in ICSE.

Mr. Mudgal: CBSE focuses on functional & Communicative English, whereas ICSE focuses on English Literature and grammar. Subjects like Science and Social Studies are treated as one subject up to Grade 10 in CBSE, whereas ICSE usually prescribes separate books for Science and Social studies like Physics, chemistry, economics etc

Ms. Khambatta: The CBSE syllabus is very structured, highly predictable and controlled. CISCE  on the other hand is more balanced with equal focus on language, arts and science. With the changing times both the boards are aiming for active learning. 

Which of the two is more academically focused and why?

Mr. Mudgal: Both curriculums give ample of focus to academics that is holistic, and the high quality of education provided by both the boards commendable. But both also pay enough attention to co-curricular activities as well to ensure an overall development of a child. So, it would be incorrect to say that CBSE/ICSE are only academic driven and no co-curricular are encouraged. Both curricula maintain a very evident balance.

Ms. Chima: Both Boards have rich content and are academically focused and endorse interactive teaching and learning through experience. The standard of English is much higher in CISCE.

Ms. Khambatta: Both curricular are equally academically focused. Both certificates are recognised and well received by all major universities across the globe including the Ivy League and Russell group as our students get a high level of acceptance in these universities.

How does the curriculum or board mark the 10th and 12th grade board exams like best of 4 or an average percentage and why?

Ms. Chima: Both the Boards give percentages in five subjects in Grade 10 and Grade 12. A minimum pass mark in all the subjects is mandated to be declared pass in grade 10 and grade 12. All the five subjects are given equal weight ages. English with the best of three are considered for admission in some colleges/universities.

Ms. Khambatta: Pass certificates are awarded to students who appear for at least 6 subjects in ICSE (grade 10) and 5 subjects in ISC (grade 12). The students need to attain a minimum PASS standard in at least 5 subjects in ICSE and at least 4 subjects in ISC (which must include English in both cases). This works well for university admission acceptance as well.

What are the challenges faced by educators of each curriculum?

Mr. Mudgal: Being in Dubai, the expectation of the education regulators is that the classrooms have to be absolutely interactive. Which means the teacher talks for 10 to 15 minutes and the remaining part of the class is engaging the students in self learning. This is where the main challenge for the teacher lies in planning activities, finding resources, creating groups and keeping students engaged in activities. Content wise the textbooks usually have limited activities and teachers must rely on their own research and preparation for making classroom lessons more interactive and engaging for the students.

Ms. Khambatta: The syllabus is content heavy. In the senior grades, the ICSE curriculum does not always provide sufficient opportunities for research and enquiry-based learning.

Ms. Chima: The main challenge for CBSE is understanding and implementing the NCF 2005 in its true spirit which clearly endorses all round development - physical, mental, social and emotional and school readiness. Incorporating the constructivist approach to learning and implementation of group work evaluation are also some of the other challenges faced by the teachers.

* A sequential arrangement of learning experiences, that will provide a spiral of cumulative learning. As they progress through classes, children will revisit certain topics/themes/ concepts which are repeated consciously as an entry level behaviour to build new learning. However, the depth and complexity of the theme or topic/concept will increase with each revisit. The new knowledge would be put in the context of the pre-existing knowledge which would serve as a base or the foundation for the next level of learning.

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