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Which Education Board Is the Best?

Which Education Board Is the Best?
ISCE, CBSE, IB, or Cambridge? Which Education Board in India is the best?

There’s recent debate about which board are best for our child.

Things were simpler when we were growing up in the 1990s. Choosing a career path after Class 12 was one of the few significant life events back then. However, in today’s technology-driven and hyper-competitive world, decision-making begins even before the child is born, or more precisely, conceived.

Where should one go for treatment? What should parents read? Which yoga class should one attend? Then there’s a recent debate about which school and board are best for our child.

In the interconnected world of WhatsApp, I almost daily come across conversations about choosing the “right” school.

In the last few weeks, my team and I surveyed various stakeholders, including parents, administrators, and teachers, about various board in Jaipur, as well as a few from the National Capital Region. The results of our survey are presented in this article.

It may be useful to parents, students, and anyone else interested in learning more about the modern Indian school education system. We begin with highlights from the Department of School Education and Literacy’s recent Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) report, which presents data on schools.

Highlights from MoE’s UDISE+ Report 2021-22

According to the UDISE+ report, over 26.5 crore students are enrolled in pre-primary to higher secondary levels in 14.89 lakh schools, with over 95 lakh teachers employed. The GER for primary to higher secondary levels increased in 2020-21 compared to the previous year, as did the number of SC, ST, OBC, and disabled students. All major infrastructure facilities have been upgraded. However, the number of schools and teachers fell by 1.34 and 1.99 percent, respectively, as a result of school closures.

In accordance with the NEP 2020, the report presents disaggregated data for the first time for government, semi-government, and private schools, as well as data on indicators such as integrated science labs, co-curricular activity rooms, and initiatives for sustainable development.

Affiliation is not required up to the elementary level in nearly 11.96 lakh of the 14.89 lakh schools. Nearly 2.5 lakh students are affiliated with the CBSE, 1.5 lakh with the State board, 22,000 with both the State and the ICSE, 351 with the ICSE, and 2,200 with others.

According to an IBEF report, nearly 85% of schools in India are located in rural areas. As a result, the educational spectrum is broad. On the one hand, some people in rural areas face basic infrastructure challenges. Posh urban ones, on the other hand, compete for cutting-edge amenities. Among the latter are various education boards, as discussed further below.

A comparison of the boards

Aside from CBSE, ICSE, and State boards, there are international boards such as IB (International Baccalaureate) and Cambridge Assessment International Education, various systems such as Waldorf, and ‘radical’ options such as homeschooling, unschooling, and road schooling.

We surveyed stakeholders to learn more about the boards based on parameters such as (a) minimum admission age, (b) curriculum, (c) assessment, (d) recognition, (e) cost, (f) learning pace, (g) relationship with parents, (h) diversity and inclusion, and so on. Following are some key conclusions.

I) Age for Admission

According to the 2009 Right to Education Act, elementary education must be free and compulsory for all students beginning at the age of six. In India, the minimum age for admission to Class 1 is usually between five and six years old for all boards.

CBSE, ICSE, and state boards all follow the Class I-XII structure. Simultaneously, the IB has introduced primary-years, middle-years, and diploma programmes equivalent to classes I-V, VI-X, and XI-XII, respectively.

II) Curriculum

The boards typically offer six to eight subjects at the primary level, including English, Mathematics, Science, Computers, Physical Education, Arts, and a Second Language. Additional courses offered by IB and Cambridge include yoga and stretching, life experiences, global perspectives, digital literacy, music, and students’ participation in creativity, activity, and service. Along with basic subjects, Waldorf education includes exposure to theatre, movement, recorder (musical instrument), and handwork, such as knitting and crocheting.

These topics appeared to be of great interest to us. However, expert opinion was divided.

Anita Sharma, a primary school teacher in Jaipur, said, “It’s amazing how our children have so many opportunities to explore these days.” They are exposed to a wide range of skills, and discovering their calling at a young age will benefit their mental and physical health in the long run.”

“Advertisements must not sway parents, and dismissing options without any analysis is not useful,” said Anshita Gupta, founder of Sun-India pre-school in Jaipur. Each board has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. IB boards allow for more experimentation and foster a research aptitude. Similarly, CBSE teaches children how to deal with pressure and become hard workers.”

She emphasised the importance of a “balanced approach” in all schools. Some schools, for example, place a strong emphasis on typing or oral communication. Students must be able to work with computers as well as write. Writing skills are inextricably linked to a child’s future development.

III) Assessment

CBSE, ICSE, and state boards use a combination of written tests, projects, and viva to assess students. Fieldwork, artistic performances, essay writing, and case studies are also evaluated in IB. Cambridge accepts written, oral, coursework, and practical evaluations. Waldorf, on the other hand, is based on child-centered learning, and the pace can be adjusted to suit each child. They provide detailed individual feedback. Open-board examinations are an option for unschooling and homeschooling parents.

While traditional assessment focuses on lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, such as remembering and understanding, international boards emphasise higher levels, such as evaluation and creation.

“I am delighted with the assessments in IB because rote learning is not encouraged,” Monika Gupta, who returned from the United States a few years ago and chose IB for her children, said. The International Baccalaureate aims to develop lifelong learners who are responsible, caring, and open-minded global citizens. It takes a more comprehensive approach to education. My school provided few opportunities for experimentation, and sports were almost non-existent. The only difficulty is that we are involved throughout the year because the assessment is ongoing.”

IV) Cost

The cost of education emerged as an important factor influencing school choice in our survey.

International boards are relatively costly. To put things in perspective, a centrally located CBSE school in Jaipur charges approximately INR 75,000 per year for Class I, a Waldorf school approximately INR 1.25 lakh, and an IB school approximately INR 2.5 lakh.

The fees may vary depending on the location, brand, and type of facility. Nisha Gupta, an HR professional, consciously chose a CBSE school over an IB school for her child. School, in her opinion, is only a small part of a child’s life, and learning occurs everywhere — at home, in the park, and at social gatherings.

“What happens outside of school is just as important.” I chose the CBSE board because I wanted my child to be grounded and to study alongside students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Such an environment is lacking in an IB school because it is only accessible to upper-middle-class families,” she explained.

When we were growing up in the 90s, things were relatively simpler. In those days, choosing a career path after Class 12 was among the few significant life events. But as we transition to today’s technology-driven and hyper-competitive world, decision-making begins as early as the child is born, or to be specific, conceived. 

Which hospital should one go to? Which book should parents read? Which yoga class must one join? And then comes a debate of recent origin — which is the best school and board for our child? 

In the interconnected world of WhatsApp, I encounter conversations almost every day about selecting the ‘right’ school. 

In the last few weeks, my team and I surveyed different stakeholders including parents, administrators and teachers about different boards in Jaipur, as well as a few from NCR. This article presents the findings of our survey. 

It may be helpful to parents, students and everyone interested in exploring the contemporary Indian school education system. We begin with highlights of the recent Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) report by the Department of School Education and Literacy, presenting data on schools.

MoE’s UDISE+ Report 2021-22: Key highlights

children in blue uniforms write and scribble on the board

India has one of the world’s largest school education systems. 

As per the recent UDISE+ report, over 26.5 crore students are enrolled in pre-primary to higher secondary levels in 14.89 lakh schools, employing more than 95 lakh teachers. The Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) for primary to higher secondary levels increased in 2020-21 compared to the previous year, as did the numbers of SC, ST, OBC and students with disabilities. All major infrastructural facilities improved. However, the number of schools and teachers declined by 1.34 and 1.99 per cent respectively, due to the shutting down of some schools. 

The report presents disaggregated data for the first time for government, semi-government and private schools, as well as data on indicators like integrated science labs, co-curricular activity rooms, initiatives for sustainable development etc, in line with the NEP 2020.

Out of 14.89 lakh schools, affiliation is not applicable up to the elementary level for almost 11.96 lakh schools. Nearly 2.5 lakh are affiliated with CBSE, 1.5 lakh with the State board, 22,000 with both State and ICSE, 351 with ICSE, and 2,200 with others. 

According to an IBEF report, almost 85 per cent of schools in India are in rural areas. Thus, the spectrum of schools is vast. On one end, some in rural areas struggle with basic infrastructural needs. On the other hand, posh urban ones compete for state-of-the-art facilities. Among the latter, there are various education boards, as discussed ahead.

V) Diversity and inclusion

Aside from socioeconomic diversity, the boards show varying degrees of concern for students with varying abilities and needs. CBSE provided information on exemptions for special-needs students in a circular issued in 2019. According to experts, in some cases, such as students with Attention Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder (ADHD), IB may be more appropriate at the beginning. However, when there is little room to change the pace of learning in a system, the school may unintentionally admit students with similar abilities or needs.

Waldorf is appropriate for students with a variety of needs because the system uses a child-led learning approach.

“My search for a school for my daughter led me to start Uday Waldorf in Jaipur,” said Gurpreet Kaur, the founder of Uday Waldorf Inspired School in Jaipur. The journey has been difficult but rewarding. Inspired by Waldorf philosophy, the school seeks to foster a child’s individuality and love of learning. Unlike the traditional approach, which focuses primarily on the head, the curriculum places equal emphasis on the head, heart, and hands. Music and theatre are taught as part of the curriculum. Our design is supported by scientific research into human development stages.”

VI) Pace of learning

In contrast to homeschooling or unschooling, the learning pace in a school is similar because everyone moves together. Unschooling is the deliberate decision not to enrol a child in a traditional school.

Pooja Somani, a freelance writer, decided to homeschool her child. “She is learning at a faster rate. She is a voracious reader who easily grasps logic. We spend an hour a day studying, and the rest of our learning is built into our routines.”

Unschooling may appear unconventional, but it has been the best experience for her. We asked if she was ever concerned about her daughter’s social well-being. She did not, and she stated that her daughter has many friends, including those from the neighborhood, common circles, community gatherings, and extra classes she chooses to attend. Pooja is a member of several unschooling communities and online groups where parents support and advise one another. Because of moving careers and frequent changes in cities, some people prefer unschooling.

VII) Recognition

Homeschooling or unschooling is prohibited in Germany, Greece, Greenland, Turkey, and Iran. Aside from that, all of the boards are internationally recognised and have a presence in multiple countries. CBSE, for example, has over 250 schools in 26 countries worldwide.

“The schools have come a long way,” said Biju MP, vice principal of a well-known CBSE school in the city with more than 28 years of experience. Even CBSE schools have gone global. We now have electives that are creative and one-of-a-kind. However, implementation is difficult. Students in higher secondary show little interest because they are preoccupied with preparing for competitive exams.”

VIII) Relationship with parents

Another factor that was not frequently discussed but emerged in our survey is the school’s relationship with parents.

Some parents prefer a school that encourages feedback, which is not always encouraged in older, more established schools. “We chose Waldorf because we felt connected when we visited the school,” said Vaibhav Aggarwal, founder of an NGO promoting sustainable development in Jaipur. In contrast to an older school where we were not allowed to go beyond the gate, they were very open to listening to us. Even today, the most important thing is that our child is happy and does not fear going to school.”

Making the final decision

We received a wide range of responses in our survey. Each had a story to tell. In some cases, the story began when the parents were children. In others, it was rooted in the culture of the family. We discovered that parents’ choices were neither good nor bad — they were diverse and genuine.

Harshita Aggarwal, a freelance corporate trainer based in Bangalore and Jaipur, spent months researching before deciding on a school for her daughter. “The boards, to me, can be compared to different feeding types,” she explained. Some are similar to baby-led weaning, while others are similar to spoon-feeding. Both options are available.”

As a result, each board has advantages and disadvantages. To begin with, affordability is a critical consideration. Curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment follow. The overall philosophy, culture, and relationships are also important considerations.

However, a lesser-known aspect that stood out in our survey was teacher quality. “During my visits to various schools, I felt teachers had a key role in driving the curriculum,” Harshita said. Even if the curriculum or examinations were designed to measure the ability to remember the solution rather than analyse the problem, the best teachers never encouraged rote learning.”

Finally, the child must make the decision about which school to attend; parents can help with transportation.

“Until the children are old enough to understand if they have made the right choice,” said Anil Sharma, a child psychologist, “parents may gauge if the school is their child’s happy place.” Being a part of a system where one is unhappy or uncomfortable can have a negative impact. There are no rules to explain; the parents would simply understand.”

Written by Ritika Mahajan, assistant professor at Malaviya National Institute of Technology’s Department of Management Studies (DMS); survey conducted in collaboration with Manish Joshi and Sebin S John, second year MBA students at MNIT Jaipur’s DMS.

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