CBSE vs. ICSE vs. IB vs. IGCSE, which board is better?

Which board is better? | pic credit:

The classic dilemma

The classic dilemma of every parent – ‘which board is better?’, is even bigger now, with more options to choose from. Each board strives to provide quality education to the learners; however, they differ in philosophy, curriculum design, and execution. Thus, it is not right to say if one board is better than the others. All the boards keep on revising its syllabus and curriculum design to align their curriculum with contemporary learning requirements. In fact, every board, now focus on critical thinking, application oriented curriculum, communication skills and new age learnings. More often than not, how a school implements the board’s objectives and guidelines, is more important than just the board. And finally, selection of a board is a very subjective decision; every parent has unique preference, depending on learning expectations, location constraints or economic choices.

In India, there are five major examination boards for class 10 and 12 or equivalent, which have presence across the country:

  • CBSE: Central Board of Secondary Education
  • CISCE: Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination
  • CAIE: Cambridge Assessment International Education
  • IB: International Baccalaureate
  • NIOS: National Institute of Open Schooling

Other than these five, most of the states have their own boards too. Many state boards have similar curriculum to CBSE with additional focus on regional language and information about that state. Besides, the fee structure is generally very low in comparison to other boards. Thus, state board could be a good choice if parents and student have great interest in learning about that state and/or if fee is the constraint

A guide to examination boards in India

To help parents/students in their decision process, we have prepared a detailed analysis and comparison plan about four most popular board in India – CBSE, CISCE, Cambridge and IB. While each one of them have excellent curriculum, they differ in few aspects. Below are the snapshots of key decision criteria for choosing a board.

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Now, let’s analyze in detail, about the main elements of these boards such as focus area, subjects offered, and also how future decisions about higher education and place may influence the selection.

Focus of the curriculum

All the boards revise their curriculum periodically – applications, critical thinking, new age learnings, communications, sports education etc. are the focus areas for all of them. However, there are subtle factors that make each of the board unique.

  • CISCE: Each subject is learnt analytically and in detail. Concepts are absorbed with real life learnings. Thus, syllabus is comprehensive, and curriculum is considered as tougher than the CBSE. CISCE is specially focused on English literature. The perception is that CISCE board is the best option, when a student is planning to take management or humanities as career path. However, CISCE has now aligned its XI-XII science syllabus to engineering/medical entrance exam syllabus. Also, CISCE students as having good language skills, it reflects in their personality too.
  • CBSE: It is focused on building knowledge without burdening students. Thus, syllabus is tightly knit and prominently comprises of loads of theoretical concepts and applications.  A highly concept based curriculum goes well with science and mathematics, hence general perception is that CBSE curriculum is more focused on Science and mathematics. In an initiative to instill creativity, art as a medium to learn, has been integrated with the curriculum. Also, many initiatives have been taken to include sports in mainstream education.
  • IB: IB curriculum encourages both personal development and academic achievement, challenging students to think critically, to ask the right questions, and think across disciplines. It encourages students of all ages to consider both local and global context. The five categories of skills – thinking skills, research skills, communication skills, social skills and self-management skills, span across all IB programmes.
  • Cambridge: Subject content, applying knowledge and understanding to new as well as familiar situations, Intellectual enquiry, flexibility and responsiveness to change, working and communicating in English, influencing outcomes, cultural awareness are the focus area in Cambridge learning.

Read more about CBSE

Read more about CISCE

Read more about IB

Read more about Cambridge Assessment

A comparative fact sheet of boards:
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Curriculum Design

Mandatory Subjects:
  • CBSE ensures that students get exposure to major streams in class 10, so that they have good knowledge of subjects when they decide on course and career selection after 10th. CISCE also have mandatory subjects in class 10, but only language and humanities subjects. International boards let you select your courses and customized your curriculum from class 10th itself. Nonetheless, customization could be limited to the courses offered by schools. Moreover, in IB, students are required to complete mandatory long-term projects in 10th and notable DP Core projects in 12th. In all the boards, students are free to choose courses of their interest in class 12
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Subjects offered/Flexibility:

Each of these boards offers a variety of subjects to choose from. Students can pick subjects of one’s interest without any restriction for a particular stream. Nonetheless It should be noted that, student need to contemplate about career/study preference after 12th, and pick the subjects accordingly.

Medium of Education:

In CBSE, medium of education can be Hindi or English. For all other boards, it is mandatorily English. So, if someone wants to study in Hindi medium, he/she should opt for CBSE.

Learning Levels:

Each board is unique, so is their curriculum. However, there is a perception about the toughness of the boards, based on their assessment design. CBSE boasts of its student friendly, stress free curriculum, whereas Cambridge board, which is aligned to UK education curriculum (GCSE, A& AS levels), is perceived as one of the toughest boards. CISCE and IB boards fall in between these two.

Place of study in future

Relocation within India:

CBSE has significantly higher number of affiliated schools than any other board in India. Given its large base, so it is often preferred by parents who has to relocate every few years. Moreover, all Kendriya Vidyalaya and Navodaya Vidyalaya are affiliated to CBSE, one of the reasons CBSE being the most popular board in India. CISCE has also a good number of schools affiliated across India. In fact, all metro cities have all the major boards, and thus any of these options can be explored, if relocation to a metro. For other cities, towns and village, CBSE is the most prevalent board followed by CISCE.

Planning to relocate outside India:

Cambridge being one of the oldest boards in the world, has the largest base among these, followed by IB schools. Almost all big cities of the world have Cambridge and IB boards. If there is a plan to move outside India, these two boards are more suitable for the continuity of the learning plan. CBSE and CISCE also have some presence outside India, and numbers are growing. If one wish to continue CBSE/CISCE curriculum even after relocation, one must look for school affiliations in that country.

Planning to Study outside India after 12th:

All the boards have English language and literature in their curriculum, however they differ significantly in syllabus width and learning levels. CISCE put special emphasis on English literature. Thus, student of CISCE board tend to do well in TOEFL, IELTS, and other standard exams that serve as a standard score for entry to foreign universities, as they study English expansively. Also, IB and Cambridge boards have international English curriculum, which helps students in qualifying standard English tests. Moreover, IB and Cambridge boards are by design have global curriculum, thus are the preferred choices if one wants to study outside India after 12th.

Learning Support

Structured vs Innovative Syllabus and school’s competence:

Among these, IB is supposed to has the least structured curriculum, whereas CBSE has the most structured one. More structured means, there are specific and detailed guidelines for courses, pedagogy and assessments. Boards with less structured curriculum gives principles as instructions and let schools to decide on pedagogy and implementations. It also gives scopes for innovation in teaching methodology, but schools should have capabilities of that level, and parents should enquire and assess the implementation competences beforehand.

Availability of External Learning support:

Availability of External Learning support: As CBSE has very wide base, it is very easy to find tutors. Also, as it follows NCERT curriculum, resource and supplements materials are standardized and easily available. CISCE schools are in good numbers, so it is easier to find tutor and resource material than for the IB and the Cambridge boards. Finding external learning support and materials are challenging for international boards.

Field of study after 12th

Engineering/Medical Competitive examination in India:

Almost all the competitive exams, such as NEET, JEE etc. are based on NCERT curriculum, which is the basis of CBSE courses. Thus, it is the most preferred board, if one wish to prepare for competitive exams for engineering/medical after 12th.  CISCE being national board, has also updated its curriculum to cater these requirements, and presents itself as a good option too. IB and Cambridge are truly international boards, and not really aligned to competitive exams. Note that, it is student’s effort and perseverance, and sometimes environment of the school are more significant factors than solely board’s curriculum, for cracking these exams.

Management/Humanities Related Fields:

Cambridge and IB and CISCE students tend to do well in the fields related to management and humanities. As syllabus and assessment of these three boards give good importance to internal assessments, analytical projects and language skills, thus help in building student’s core personality traits.

Economic Reason

School fees vary school to school, depends on city, facilities and management. However, in general CBSE is the most affordable option followed by CISCE. Fees at IB and Cambridge schools are significantly higher. Among these two, IB is more expensive. Given very high fee structure of IB and Cambridge schools, it is important for parents to understand the values added from these curriculums.


Each child is unique. And, each school is unique. Environment also plays an important role. Thus, how a student will perform in a particular field, can not be solely dependent on board’s curriculum. Choosing a board is very important decision for a parent and decision should be made considering individual’s preferences, constraints and a school’s ecosystem.

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e – Examination Boards in India

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