CBSE, ICSE vs IB, IGCSE; Which is Better for Indian Students?

School Education in India is witnessing a dynamic shift with the introduction of International programmes like IB and IGCSE curricula in Indian schools. It can be argued that the international education is years from catching up to the levels achieved by countries in Western Europe and Americas but it can hardly be denied that it has changed the educational ecosystem of the schools that have opted for it. At any rate, the change is significant enough to spark a series of comparisons between CBSE, ICSE and the international IB and IGCSE education. The questions asked about the international education systems are generally regarding its suitability in the Indian educational context.



Let us see how IB and IGCSE fare in comparison to the CBSE and ICSE boards, which are the leading established school education systems being run by the best of Indian Schools. Some say that the International schools are better versions of our best schools, few believe that the two are entirely different education systems. Answering these questions requires a rather complex analysis of both the international and national educational systems. We have tried to point out the major differences and also the questions that are asked by the parents and school promoters, accustomed to CBSE and ICSE, about the IB and IGCSE.

CBSE has an extensive Science and Mathematics syllabus and conventional teaching methods coupled with laborious self –study produces good results. The arts and humanities are not as intensive as their science counterparts. The revised NCERT books, especially those of social sciences, have been designed to make classes more interactive and chapters have been designed thematically to bring out imaginative faculty in children. The issue remains that the exam centered approach makes the change in teacher’s attitude hard to come by and especially when it is giving fairly ‘good results’. The question which needs to be asked is whether the best scoring CBSE students are as competent as their IB or IGCSE counterparts.

CBSE has also brought out The CBSE international (CBSE I). CBSE I is believed to have a global tilt and a proximity to the international curricula. It is opposed to the theoretical intensity of the CBSE national syllabus and has more space for analytical and practical learning skills. We see on closer inspection that there is indeed a difference between IB, IGCSE, and CBSE I mainly in terms of pedagogy and methodology of education.

Coming to the ICSE, it has a clear advantage over CBSE in areas of arts and humanities syllabi, language acquisition and emphasis of practicals in science. Although we can say that these ICSE schools are better in terms of infrastructure and educational facilities not to mention extracurricular activities but that cannot be taken as a difference as CBSE inherently does not restricts infrastructure development etc. yet on the ground, the situation is that generally, ICSE schools are better in terms of teaching facilities and innovation. Some CBSE schools are exceptions. Now the question is whether  IB and IGCSE schools better than ICSE also.

Some of ICSE students have made a transition to IB at class XII level i.e. they have opted for IB Diploma Programme instead of opting for ICSE certificate examination. The experience of these students is very useful in understanding the difference between national and international education system. Now, there are some quite particular reasons for deciding to shift from ICSE to IB. These include the international recognition that comes after subscribing to IB. The IB curriculum is customized to the need of the target students and teachers are much more engaged in framing such curriculum.

The points that come out in favor of international education programme of IB are--

  • It has been seen that students have developed a genuine interest in subjects in which they were not originally interested thanks to the teaching methodology which makes them more receptive.
  • The teachers share their experiences with other IB teachers around the world and are better placed to reinvent their teaching styles.
  • The students have a lot of activities besides the regular classroom attending drill that engages them more intently with academics.
  • There is no particular reason why IB students cannot fare better in Indian competitive exams given their good subject knowledge.

There are certain questions that remain in the minds of the parents and school promoters about IB education in India.

  • IB is marketed on many themes one of them is the ‘continuum’. The question remains that if the Indian students who have studied in CBSE and ICSE boards in their early school years or sometimes as long as class X will ever become the beneficiaries of this much-publicized continuum.
  • Is it equally easy for the teachers of the IB schools to adapt to such big a change in their role? Can they really be comfortable with playing a major part in curriculum design? Do they have necessary skills for the job? Do the workshops, training programmes they attend suffice in this regard?
  • Do the expenses that are incurred by the parents by getting their children IB education act as a deterrent for many? Are the expenses really commensurate with the said up gradation in the quality of education?
  • IB does not have a centralized examination conducting body although it decides the education framework. It provides certification to the students graded by the schools that follow the assessment guidelines. So, are the assessment exams taken by the schools well calibrated and are the school grades objectively comparable globally?
  • Do the career options in the country require the much publicized international perspective in education? Will they leave enough time for the students to compete with the students from ICSE and CBSE in competitive examinations?

Coming to the IGCSE, run by Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE), a department of the University of Cambridge, the IGCSE or the Cambridge board is the other international education programme that is adopted by Indian Schools that makes them a part of the global community of Cambridge Schools. IGCSE has a class X equivalent certificate examination conducting body incorporated within it. The certification provided has international as well as national recognition. The IGCSE students have to take Cambridge A and AS level exams to gain class XII equivalency. The students can also opt for IB Diploma Programme after IGCSE. Cambridge programmes have a designed curriculum and assessment is rigorous which is central to the programme. It has subjects like Development Studies, Indian Studies etc. in the social science curriculum besides languages like Sanskrit and foreign languages. It also has a course titled Global Perspectives besides conventional subjects. The syllabus is comprehensive and is said that it inculcates an affinity to learning and discipline required for higher studies. It is believed to link academics to the global trends and incorporates revisions informed by educational researchers and adds additional courses to the curriculum.

The questions that generally crop up with regard to Cambridge board are—

  • The curriculum is fixed and examination centered approach makes them analogous to the national boards
  • There is a clear proximity to UK’s school’s curriculum which may be undue and does not make it “International”.
  • The “rigor” of the curriculum enforcement may be excessive to the teachers and students.

When compared to the national education boards IGCSE and IB appear to have an advantage as they have an international orientation in addition to the ingredients for subject knowledge building. The emphasis on language acquisition also gives them an edge over CBSE, and to a lesser extent, over ICSE.

School promoters and parents have to scrutinize the curricula comparatively to check the compatibility of the international educational programmes with Indian schools. There are views suggesting that as IB and IGCSE, that have been adopted fairly recently, are in “experimental stages”. However, some see their international school experience and success as enough to consider them reliable. If trends are anything to go by, we can see that the popularity of IB and IGCSE is growing. CBSE and ICSE are well grounded and are undergoing changes themselves, there are new avenues also opening for an interface between the two groups constituted by National and International education systems. With time the distinctions will become more vivid and the choice will become clearer.

Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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All Comments:

Mandava nataraj asked

Which syllabus is better in IGCSE or IB

Vinod Kakumanu answered

Hi, Mandava, we wrote the article above just to address this question. There are a lot of factors to consider before reaching at a verdict on which of these is better. however, the latitude IB offers to the students in terms of choice of subjects and streams, gives it an edge over Cambridge. Having said that, Cambridge has its own distinct advantages and could prove to be a much better choice for a certain set of students.

chintan asked

i am little confuse which board is better for my daughter

Vinod Kakumanu answered

Hi Chintan, your dilemma is shared by many parents. The best thing is to consider your daughter’s interests and aptitude, and of course her future goals. You can consult a academic counselor to understand the spectrum of your daughter’s abilities and aptitudes and then help her decide.

Nikhil Sahal asked

I am confused with cbse icse and ib board which one will be better for my child. I have heard lot of stories that of you want your child to pursue education in India than ib board is not so good

Vinod Kakumanu answered

Hi Nikhil, you are completely justified in taking time and seeking consultation on the subject. I always say that the parents must consider their children’s aptitude and interests before selecting the board of education, especially after 10th. All of the boards have their own uniqueness and they also have things in common. Your reservations about the IB sound premature to me. Don’t listen to the stories circulating around, IB is not at all a handicap for students who want to pursue higher studies in India. In fact, it gives its students a range of scholastic capabilities that make them outstanding learners.

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