Comparing CBSE and ICSE Boards

Which board of education to choose? That is a question that occurs to every parent who happens to have a choice. Now as the nation is developing the numbers of parents with such choice is bound to grow. There are various opinions that end up shaping the choice of the parents with regard to the education board.

A variant of the same question is faced by people planning to start a school in any of the states in India. The school promoters have labored under the question whether to start a school affiliated to the CBSE or the ICSE. There are several factors to consider for deciding upon the board of affiliation for one’s school. The priorities of parents, community in which the school is being planned, the medium of instruction, availability of qualified teachers for additional subjects of ICSE board etc.



We have therefore decided to offer some perspective. Before we come to opinions let us state some facts - Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is the leading national education board followed by Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE), Popularly known as ICSE. CBSE is a state body whereas ICSE is a private educational body. Both of them conduct class X and XII school certificate or board examinations. The textbooks commissioned by CBSE are provided by the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT). ICSE does not have a fixed set of commissioned textbooks, however there is a comprehensive list of recommended readings.

It is important to understand that CBSE is what can be called an educational board for the masses, ICSE, on the other hand, can be considered a board rather elite in outlook. The CBSE reflects the national tilt towards Science and Mathematics. ICSE is more balanced between sciences, arts, and humanities. The CBSE’s theoretical orientation can be attributed to the limitations of government schools in providing state of the art teaching aids and laboratory equipment. Private schools running CBSE curriculum can provide better resources but generally speaking, CBSE orientation remains liberal and accommodating when it comes to the standards of science practicals. Arguably, CBSE prepares students for conventional careers like medicine, engineering, banking and government services and prepares them well. ICSE has stringent standards regarding teaching aids, the medium of instruction, practicals and language acquisition. ICSE has more to offer to students who want to excel in literature, management, journalism, arts etc. The ICSE students have also performed better in scholarship exams and competitions like Math and Science Olympiads.

There can be no contest that before deciding on the board of education the interests of the children must be considered by their parents besides affordability and location.

Both boards of education have their respective advantages and relative limitations. We have attempted to examine both —

As stated above, CBSE is the national education board and government schools and schools run by bodies like Defence, Railways etc. are affiliated to it. Examples include Navodaya Vidyalayas, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Sainik Schools, and Army Public Schools. There is also a notable number of private CBSE schools in India. There are over 17000 schools in India affiliated to CBSE.

CBSE's Advantages

  • CBSE conducts several competitive exams of consequence including Indian Institute of Technology- Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE), the All India Pre Medical Test (AIPMT) Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET). In fact, CBSE has been the biggest exam conducting body in the world. Naturally, the syllabus figures attuned to that of these competitive exams.
  • The CBSE syllabus is constituted by fewer subjects and is more intensive than extensive. Conventional science subjects Physics, Chemistry, and Biology are included in science and subjects like Environmental Science and Computers comes in electives. History, Geography, and Economics are included in Social Sciences. After class X Political Science, Sociology, Psychology are introduced in Arts Stream. Students of commerce do not necessarily study Mathematics.
  • There is a large number of CBSE schools and lots of coaching institutes catering to the needs of the students.
  • Leading educationists, educational psychologists and members of academia inform the NCERT. NCERT textbooks are considered to be important resources for exams like UPSC and state PSC exams and familiarity with them comes as an advantage.
  • The medium of Instruction is not compulsorily English
  • For people holding transferrable jobs, the CBSE offers a gateway to uninterrupted learning owing to their sheer numbers which is more than 8 times when compared to ICSE schools.


  • The restricted choice of subjects comes as a disadvantage for some students.
  • Arts and Humanities do not get as much emphasis and their textbook content is not comparably rich to the Science and Mathematics until they are chosen as separate streams after class X board exams. In science subjects, the balance is tilted towards theory at the expense of the practicals.
  • The CBSE syllabus does not actively encourage language acquisition.




Now coming to Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (ICSE). It is also a nationally recognized education board and conducts certificate examinations in classes X and XII. There are over 2100 schools affiliated to the ICSE.  ICSE syllabus substantially varies with that of CBSE. The ICSE syllabus is known to be more extensive.

ICSE's Advantages

  •  The syllabus is extensive and offers more subjects. The content is considered comprehensive. It makes students more rigorous and diligent.
  • The syllabus is more advance i.e. it is considered ahead of CBSE by one year till class 10th. Definitely, it makes it more difficult.
  • It offers more volume and richness of content in Arts and Humanities. For science subjects, practicals are equally emphasized relative to the theoretical part.
  • With the advent of competitive exams including Common Law Admission Test and Management Studies, the relevance of the ICSE syllabus has become direct.
  • Certificates of ICSE have some international recognition. Grades in English are particularly recognized at par with grades in English language assessment tests like CLAT and TOFEL.
  • Language acquisition is markedly better in ICSE students. Education in English literature and language is widely recognized as superior and closer to international standards


  • ICSE students are prone to be overburdened by the extensive syllabus. 13 subjects in ICSE class VI, as opposed to 6 subjects in CBSE in the same class, is a case in point.
  • The ICSE exams are considered to be very stringent and much higher in frequency. This might be considered as undue pressure for students.
  • It may be difficult to get assistance in form of coaching classes.




Both education boards have had their share of excellent scholars although they provide fairly diverse scholastic experience. Both of these boards have seen to work well if the school running them have concentrated its efforts in adhering to the teaching standards and curricular demands without compromising.

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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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