What's in a board: Factors to consider while choosing the right 'board' for your child's education


If we don't shape our kids, they will be shaped by outside forces that don't care what shape our kids are in.

~ Dr. Louise Hart

An essential part of having children is decision fatigue: to sleep train or not to sleep train? Is it okay to give infants sugar or wait till they're old enough to demand it? Should they be raised with or without religion? Can you use television as a proxy parent when you just don't have the time to watch your child? Corn flakes for breakfast or healthy homemade Indian breakfast?

Parenting is like moulding a lump of clay into a decent-shaped pot, and each little decision can seem like the decision that will shape the lives of your children. Education of your child is a sphere of their lives that brings in a whole bundle of decisions that can set the course your child's life and keep you up at night: which school should you enrol them in? How much should you push your child so that they achieve their full potential? Should the focus be on academics or extracurriculars?

The school you choose for your child will determine who their friends are, and you know what Vladimir Lenin once said about predicting the future: "Show me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are." With the recent boom in the education sector in India, it is not as simple as choosing the oldest/most reputable/most convenient school anymore. A couple of decades ago, this decision was based on just a few variables: hostel or day school? And if the parents had jobs that required them to move from state to state often, the parents would choose the best Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) school.

Schools that follow the Secondary School Certificate syllabus are perceived as the least coveted option, both by children and parents, if Rohan Joshi, the popular stand-up comedian is to be believed. In his show "Wake and Bake" aired on Amazon Prime, Joshi jokes about how his nephew goes to an IB school, and that "SSC isn't just shit compared to IB, it's also shit compared to the choices I had back then. " According to Joshi, there was ICSE (the best), CBSE (second best), and SSC (the worst). Despite this perceived superiority of CBSE and ICSE schools, and in recent times International Baccalaureate (IB) schools, there is no evidence to prove that these schools offer any long term benefits to students, or that their syllabus equips students with more practical skills to conquer working spaces in later life.

That said, your child's school will also shape their worldview, influence which colleges they go into, provide the discipline/conditioning to face the world. It is, therefore, one of the biggest decisions you can make about your child's future, which is why it is important to consider all the relevant factors before making this decision:

Pros and cons of CBSE & ICSE

CBSE is becoming an increasingly popular option in India, with approximately 20,299 schools in India and 220 schools in 28 foreign countries affiliated to the CBSE. It is also seen as the more prestigious option, compared to the state boards. The CBSE curriculum, set by the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT), is considered advanced and is said to prepare students for competitive exams such as the IIT--JEE and NEET. One of the major advantages CBSE offers is the uniformity of its syllabus all over India, which means that if you're likely to move around a lot, this may be the best option for your child.

On the other hand, the CBSE syllabus is vast compared to the state board syllabus, and leave little time to pursue other interests for your child. While the CBSE syllabus develops analytical skills and equips students to crack competitive exams, going to a CBSE school does not necessarily indicate guaranteed success in competitive exams: students across boards crack these exams.

Pros and cons of state boards

"If SSC taught sky diving, amazing things would happen. Everyone would get on the plane, ICSE kid, CBSE kid, and SSC kid. Plane goes to 15,000 ft, ICSE kid is chilling in business class, CBSE kid is in economy class, SSC kid is crying in cargo. Go up high enough, door opens, time for the exam. ICSE kid gets a parachute, CBSE kid gets a parachute, and SSC kid gets a textbook about parachutes."

—-Rohan Joshi, Wake and Bake

Yes, Rohan Joshi is joking in this bit about the SSC syllabus being all theory and no practical knowledge. But in truth, the CBSE and ICSE syllabi are no more practical knowledge-oriented than the SSC syllabus.

Every state and union territory in India has its own board of education. In Maharashtra, this is the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, with headquarters in Pune. State boards have an easier syllabus compared to the other boards, and have been criticized for the top-down system of teaching and their focus on rote learning. One of the most frequently used acronyms scribbled inside state board textbooks is "LBH," which stands for "learn by heart." Students are expected to memorize passages of English literature, history, geography, science, and even the sums and problems of mathematics -- by heart.

State board schools, however, offer a few advantages: the syllabus being less stressful, students can use their free time for extra activities that contribute to their all-round development. Students are also expected to learn the regional language and regional history. This is an advantage for students who go on to develop an interest in fields that require a basic knowledge of the regional context. Journalism, law, writing, politics, academia, and art, for example, are greatly benefitted when you know the regional language and culture.


The pertinent point to consider in this decision is: The board merely sets the agenda of the syllabus to follow, it is up to the school to implement it, and up to the parents to create an environment conducive to facilitate learning at home. Though the school you choose is a major factor in shaping your child's future, it is not the only factor. Other factors to consider are the teacher--student ratio, reputation of the school, whether the school offers extra activities, distance from home, and the values they impart to your child.

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