Which board to choose from?

by | Mar 20, 2021 | Curriculum

As parents, we are often posed with this dilemma “which board amongst CBSE, ICSE and IGCSE is good to pursue”?

This is a tough question to answer. There is no one glove that fits all and our choice depends upon many factors – our aspirations, our location, child’s aptitude and interests and last but not the least, our values.

Put forth here is Cogitare’s experience of teaching 500+ kids across all these boards.

Easy links are provided should you want to quickly jump to a section of choice

Overview of the curriculum

CBSE Board

Group 1: Compulsory subjects: Language 1 and Language 2, Science (Physics, Chemistry and Biology), Math and Social Sciences.

Group 2: Optional Subjects: Introduction of Skill Subject as an Optional Subject.

For optional subjects, the choice is from academic electives or 3rd Language (other than Language 1 and Language 2) and any one subject from vocational skills.

Skill subject (or vocational subject) is new and will be offered from 2021 onwards. List of skill subjects offered in Middle school and Secondary School is added as an appendix.

If a student fails in any one of the compulsory subjects in Group 1, he/she will still be declared as “pass” if he/she takes the optional subject and the grades will be computed accordingly.

Art Education and PT are for Internal assessment.

ICSE Board

Group 1: Compulsory subjects: English, Second Language (or Modern Language), History, Civics and Geography.

Group 2: Two subjects out of : Commercial Studies, Economics, Mathematics, Environmental Science, Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology), A Modern Foreign Language, A Classical Language.

Group 3: One subject from: Art, Commercial Applications, Cookery, Computer Applications, Economic Applications, Environmental Applications, Fashion Designing, Home Science, Hospitality Management, Mass Media and Communications, Modern Foreign Languages, Performing Arts, Physical Education, Techinical Drawing Applications, Yoga.


IGCSE offers subjects under two streams: Core and Extended. Student has to take a minimum of 5 subjects and has the option to take a maximum of 14 subjects.

For each subject, a student is offered an IGCSE certificate. A minimum 5 certificates and a maximum of 14 is allowed.

The Cambridge ICE (International Certificate in Education) Award is a group award for completing 7 subjects selected from the five IGCSE curriculum areas/groups.

Core: English, Mathematics, Sciences.
Note:* The highest grade you can get if you choose CORE is Grade C.

Extended: Core + Supplementary topics in each subject to improve depth.
Note:* The highest grade you can get if you choose EXTENDED is A*.
Grades – A*, A, B, C, D,E
Languages: Grp I
Humanities + Social Sciences: Grp II
Sciences: Grp III
Mathematics: Grp IV
Creative, Vocational, Tech: Grp V

ICE Award is for completing 7 subjects with one from each group mentioned above.

*Though there is no hard and fast rule on selection of Core subjects apart from English, Math and Sciences, each school offers its own flavor.


CBSE is stress-free (till 10th)

  • CBSE Board is the easiest for the child. Portions are less, especially in the 9th and 10th grades.
  • The science subject is a “combined paper” with around 10-12 chapters for all these three subjects, Biology, Chemistry and Physics combined. 
  • Students will find the topics easy to understand and depth is avoided. The 10th grade board paper  is not tough and the student is not intimidated by science.
  • Math portions are also the least when compared to other boards.
  • Similarly, social studies is also a combined paper of History, Civics and Geography. Marking scheme is relaxed, questions are predictable and students find it easy to score and secure good grades.
  • Most number of schools all over India, ideal for Indians with transferable jobs!!

CBSE has a quantum jump for science students after 10th grade

  • Students who score well in 10th grade may choose to take science after 10th. Beware!! The transition is a huge jump and requires at least 3 times the effort put in grade 10 to succeed in grade 12. Please discuss this with the child with respect to final goals and then take the plunge.


  • Quantum jump aside, the NCERT questions in the exercises are the de facto starting ground for any NEET / JEE / Engineering aspirant. Questions are thorough and provide adequate practice for students, should they choose to do them.
  • Most of the ICSE student population shift to CBSE in grade 11/12. This is because the syllabus and difficulty levels in CBSE are in line with the entrance examinations conducted in India for the professional courses (engineering and medicine). The preparation becomes easy by choosing the CBSE Board. 


Offers flexibility in dropping science after 8th grade:

  • Biggest advantage of ICSE is that, the flexibility of choosing Science stream or commerce stream is given to the student in 9th grade itself. So a student not inclined towards these subjects, can opt out accordingly in grade 9.
  • Economics, Commercial Studies are offered as a part of Group II for kids. This option is not available in CBSE.

Focus on language, option of foreign language:

  • A lot more focus in given to languages. ICSE has two papers for English (Compulsory subject), one for language and one for Literature.
  • Students have the option of taking a foreign language like French as their second language OR any of the Indian Languages as a part of Second Language.

ICSE requires more effort than CBSE in grades 8, 9 and 10.

A note on Sciences:

    • ICSE Board treats sciences under three separate subjects – Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Physics and Chemistry have around 8-10 chapters and Biology has around 20 chapters. The number of questions in the textbook and volume of work, in general, is around 50% higher for an ICSE student when compared to a CBSE student in the same grade.
    • However, this means that that the students can easily transition from grade 10 to grade 11.
    • This also means that a good foundation for the student has been laid in grade 9 and 10 itself, with more practice and depth for these subjects.

A note on Social Studies:

    • ICSE board also has three separate subjects for social studies – History, Civics and Geography. And the effort a student needs to put in is 50% higher than CBSE as mentioned in the above section.


Advantages of IGCSE over ICSE

  • International Curriculum offered in IGCSE has world wide recognition in all foreign universities.
  • IGCSE offers Math and Sciences in two flavors – CORE and EXTENDED.
  • Core offers basic foundation of the math, sciences or any other subject chosen. Students who want an exposure to Math, Science or any other subject but not too much depth can choose CORE.

Note* A student who chooses Core can get at best a C grade.

  • Extended offers supplementary topics, in addition to CORE. These supplementary topics offer more depth in certain concepts across Math/Science or any other subject chosen by the student. This is good for students who show proficiency in Math and sciences and are likely to pursue Engineering or Medical Streams.

Note*  Best grade possible in A*.

Advantages of ICSE over IGCSE

  • In ICSE, if a student wishes not to pursue Math and Science after grade 8, he/she is allowed flexibility and could choose the commerce stream. This flexibility is not allowed in IGCSE.
  • ICSE scores over IGCSE, if you want to study in India and have a good curriculum. Cost wise it is way more effective.


A note about pedagogy


Lesson Approach in Textbooks

  • NCERT tries the experiential learning route by giving experiments and seeking observations. This is the right approach, but the effectiveness is left to how various schools implement in spirit.

Textbook Quality (NCERT), Grades 9 and 10

  • Paper Quality is poor, lack of colorful and good illustrations, the content is presented in an unimaginative way.
  • Questions and exercises in the NCERT book test the understanding of basics. NCERT provides EXEMPLAR as a supplement which is of much better quality. It is recommended that students attempt questions from NCERT Exemplar.

Textbook Quality (NCERT), Grades 11 and 12

  • Quality of the book again is not good, illustrations are poor.
  • However the questions in the textbook are very well designed, tough and test the depth of the knowledge. NCERT has the exemplar series which offer superior HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) questions to students. These books are the de facto reference for first level preparation for JEE, NEET and other engineering entrance exams.

COST – Generally CBSE schools are cost-effective.


Lesson Approach in Textbooks

  • Instructional in nature. Approach to experiential-learning or inquiry-based learning is missing.

Textbook Quality: Fair

  • Many textbooks are available. Selina is the preferred book for Science. Some text books like Viraf Dalal are more like guides and students tend to be put off by these highly uninspiring textbooks.
  • Textbooks are more expensive than NCERT and quality of paper and illustrations are better.
  • However the numerical section given in these exercises are of good variety, but do not focus on connecting the dots across concepts learnt. And most of the topics lack HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) questions.


Lesson Approach in Text Books

  • There are many reference textbooks for IGCSE subjects. But most of them are instructional in nature.

Textbook Quality: Good

  • One combined text book for grades 9 and 10.
  • Superior textbooks, international authors, rich colorful illustrations.
  • All round quality is much superior.
  • Numerical in the exercises are much tougher and students sometime need to study beyond the textbook to answer these questions.
  • Focus on Application of concepts is high.

COST wise MOST expensive of all the three boards.

Merits of CBSE


  • Most number of schools in India
  • Stress Free Syllabus till 10th.
    • Common paper for all Science subjects.
    • Limited number of chapters per subject when compared to other boards.
    • Common paper “Social Studies” for all three subjects History, Civics and Geography.
  • Curriculum attempts to make the child think – Experiential learning in science.
  • Most economical of the three boards.
  • Ideal for parents who have transferable jobs within India.
  • Children can score good grades.
  • Lot of material is available online for exam preparation, like past papers, solutions, videos – All free.
  • Questions in exercises of ncert book for grades 11th and 12th are of good standard and the de facto starting point for all Indian based entrance examinations.


  • Science and math is easy till 10th grade. This may be viewed as an advantage by few and as a disadvantage by many others.
  • Rigor and depth needed in science is missed till grade 10.
  • Transition to 11th grade is the steepest for science students, because grade 11 portions become vast and students have not been pushed hard till grade 10.
  • Students who are not keen on Math and science cannot opt out of these till 10th grade. (This option is available in ICSE).
  • Text book quality is poor, no colorful illustrations (however, the way the concepts are introduced is good).

Merits of ICSE


  • 2nd Largest number of schools in India.
  • Flexibility in opting for either commerce stream or science stream in Grade 9 itself.
  • More concepts are covered in ICSE than in CBSE for all subjects.
  • More depth in each of the topics.
  • More focus on Language, ICSE has two papers for English Language and Literature.
  • Kids who are in science stream till grade 10 in ICSE are better prepared to handle the transition to grade 11.
  • Text books are of better quality than CBSE.
  • More number of exercises and numerical but lack HOTS questions.


  • The content in text book/s is instructional in nature, the student does not get time to reflect through thoughtful questions; The CBSE board tries to make the concept more experiential based.
  • Though the exercises and questions are many in the text book, they do not provoke thought. There are no ‘connect the dots’ questions.

Merits of IGSE


  • IGCSE offers international curriculum, well accepted and recognized throughout the world.
  • This is one curriculum whose assessments are completely application based and the questions test the ability of a student to connect the dots across concepts. In a nutshell, the assessments test the depth of conceptual understanding.
  • Well suited for students who are NRI’s and who are likely to relocate to country of citizenship or simply can afford foreign universities later on.
  • Its curriculum is focused towards making the students apply the concepts learnt.
  • It offers flexibility in terms of offering two flavors in its curriculum for all subjects in grade 9 and 10 – Core and Extended.
    • Core is suitable for students who seek an overview, but not too much depth.
    • Extended is for those who show inclination and aptitude for these subjects.
  • Many choices for studying optional subjects.
  • Most of the schools offer great infrastructure and facilities to students.
  • Assignments, project work, discussions, research are all learning methodologies used to instill knowledge in students.
  • Textbooks are of excellent quality with rich illustrations by international authors.


  • The Methodology in the textbook is instructional in nature and does not provide the student with thought provoking questions before the concept introduction.
  • They have a common book for 9th and 10th and some schools do not do justice to the topics being introduced in 9th. Either too much or too little gets covered in grade 9, based on the school that is offering IGCSE in India.
  • Many schools have great infrastructure, but do not have quality teachers to ignite the minds of children. Hence the merits such as application based assessments, connecting the dots across concepts etc. can all be lost if it isn’t taught well. So this is a HIT or MISS (at least this is the stage we are in right now with the IGCSE schools in India).
  • The fees are higher than ICSE and CBSE.


This comparison exercise of curriculum effectiveness does not identify one curriculum as clearly superior to others. Instead it is our attempt to summarize the facts so parents can make an informed decision early on.

As educators, our goal is to find opportunities to incorporate the best from each curriculum and make it part of the learning process. For example, incorporate the inquiry-based approach used in CBSE curriculum to introduce concepts, introduce questions that connect the dots across various concepts in all assessments, just the way IGCSE curriculum does and so on.

The role of a teacher in any curriculum is very important to contextualize the content and bring the curriculum alive. Our goal at Cogitare is to always stay true to the above.