Satya Pandey, a finance executive at the Colombia Embassy, was some years ago in a dilemma over the schooling of her sons. The choice was between CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) and ICSE (Indian Certificate of Secondary Education)-affiliated schools and she didn’t know which one to opt for.
After much thought, like most parents in India, Pandey admitted the children to a CBSE school in Gurgaon. She was happy with the standards of education, but at the end of it, felt the learning and grooming process could have been more thorough. Both boys were then enrolled at The Shri Ram School, Aravali, which offers the ICSE curriculum. “I was happy with the CBSE teaching methodologies but felt that the ICSE curriculum is more thorough as it includes detailed study of subjects. My sons can now absorb more knowledge, are consistent with studies and also have a good understanding of English,” says Pandey.
Her elder son, Utkarsh, a Class 12 student, also liked the transition. “It does not encourage selective study or rote learning. The fact that we are given more choice of subjects is an advantage. I’m currently studying English literature and language, physics, chemistry, economics and environmental studies,” he says.
Another student, Rishibha Kawatra, an arts stream topper from The Shri Ram School, feels lucky to have been in the ICSE system “I joined The Shri Ram School in Class 8 after I came back from Dubai where I studied at the Dubai College that followed the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) curriculum. I preferred ICSE as it was more suited to the way I study. The fact that whatever we learn is application- based and we get a choice of subjects much earlier as compared to the CBSE, makes it more student-friendly.”
Kawatra is among several students who feel ICSE curriculum beats CBSE in many ways. “We don’t have to study from a set of textbooks. We can refer to any book but have to learn the topics prescribed by the Board. We also have a lot of combinations that we can opt for — such as computer science, environmental science and even interior design,” adds Kawatra.
On the other hand, the CBSE curriculum does not provide the students such ‘luxuries’. However, the fact that tutors who can help students with the CBSE syllabus are more accessible makes life easier for CBSE students. They can easily find tutors for various subjects throughout the year, be it private tutors or group coaching centres, whereas in the case of ICSE, it’s much tougher due to a lower number of schools following this curriculum. But in cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore, ICSE tutors are in abundance.
Things are now beginning to change for students who study at schools who follow the CBSE format. The introduction of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) scheme by the CBSE in 2009 has allowed them to learn beyond books.
“We take part in activities round the year and give equal emphasis to studies. Recent initiatives by the CBSE such as the decision to introduce Mandarin, hospitality, media studies etc as subjects at senior secondary level makes the CBSE curriculum unique,” says Aakansha Ratan, a student of Manav Sthali School, New Rajinder Nagar.
The CBSE pattern till a few years ago focused on giving scores just on the basis of what a child learnt in class. However, this has changed in the last few years. “The CBSE’s ability to reform itself in terms of curriculum and evaluation has taken it to new heights. Not much importance was given to personality development but now students are given plenty of opportunities to nurture talent in different areas, which makes it more vibrant,” says Ashok Pandey, principal, Ahlcon International School, Mayur Vihar.
On whether it’s easy for ICSE students to compete on the same platform with their CBSE counterparts when it comes to higher studies, Monica Sagar, vice-principal of The Shri Ram School, DLF Phase 3, Gurgaon, says, “It is as difficult as it is for the CBSE students to get into Delhi University, which, at the end of the day, is a number-crunching game because of the unreasonable cut-offs. Many students prefer to venture abroad to pursue higher studies due to this. But we have a large percentage of students making it to premier colleges in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
Professional courses have common entrance tests for which all students — both CBSE and ICSE — take special coaching,” she says.
Since ICSE offers a lot of choices in terms of the subjects, does studying so many subjects stress the students out? “At times it does get stressful but we enjoy the rigorous pattern that helps us to prepare for higher studies,” adds Utkarsh. With both curricula having their own pros and cons, it’s a win-win situation for students.