Which Curriculum: CBSE or the IB Diploma?

Students at work

Students in Dubai are increasingly switching from the CBSE curriculum at 16. This is less common in Abu Dhabi where the IB has yet to gain recognition.

Increasingly Indian students in the UAE are breaking tradition and opting for IB over the CBSE. The reasons are numerous, but a key issue seem to be the Diploma programme’s ability to open up the option of international universities as those in India itself get ever more competitive.

Strengths • Hugely rich, inspirational curriculum that offers all students the opportunity to develop academically, emotionally and creatively in ways that arguably no other curriculum can better

• Significant international recognition as a pre-qualifying curriculum by universities worldwide (although there are exceptions, including China)

• The quality of education afforded by schools delivering the IB DP is generally very high because the inherent demands of the curriculum require high calibre teachers if the school is to be successful

• Coursework component (between 20% and 40% according to subject) does recognise the different gifts of students outside examinations (except in Mathematics)

• A curriculum that offers academic polymaths the opportunity to develop their intellectual curiosity and potential to a very high degree

• Newly and markedly expanded range of subject options is enabling the CBSE to better meet the needs and talents of a broader range of children

• Excellent vocational stream meets the needs of less academic children keep to achieve swift, but educationally-grounded, placements in industry

• Remains the most widely accepted benchmark of senior school achievement in India

• Government backed qualification founded on uniform curriculum providing consistency across schools

Weaknesses • The IB DP represents a significant risk for students whose academic abilities are limited to a minority of the core subject blocks. The most outstanding students in only one area, because grades are weighted across all six subject blocks, may not secure enough points to gain admission to their university of choice

• The IB DP forces some students to study subjects in which they have no interest or ability – and then grades them in those subjects

• The alternative International A Level, in most subjects, offers much greater depth of study and enables students to study those subjects in which they excel and have an interest

• Subject specialists are likely to achieve significantly higher grades in International A Levels

• The academic focus of the qualification as a pre-university qualifier means that it is less relevant than alternative vocational qualifications for students seeking fast-track entry into industry at 18

• The reality on the ground, notwithstanding changes by the CBSE to broaden subject choice, is that many students are pushed into restrictively studying under two single streams in the majority of schools: Commercial and Scientific (often with very limited options within those streams)

• The opportunity to find schools offering study under the vocational stream are very limited in the UAE

• THE CBSE qualifications lack the currency and value of alternative international secondary and senior school equivalents

• In practice, students seeking to pursue subject choices in the Humanities are effectively excluded from CBSE post-16 study

• On-going change and evolution within CBSE education has led to an overly complicated system that lacks clarity and certainty

• The sole focus on Board XII examinations discriminates against students who are better able to evidence their talents and abilities through coursework. It remains unclear whether CCE will eventually be rolled out across CBSE based schooling to school leaving age.

Opportunities The choice by parents of which school curriculum is best for any given child is exceptionally important and mistakes can cost a child dearly.

Parents are advised to invest in researching curricular offers very carefully before making any decision.

The particular abilities and talents of child(ren) are the key factor in deciding whether the International Baccalaureate® Diploma Programme (IB DP) is likely to best represent a child’s talents for later university admissions.

Because of the way grades are awarded in the IB DP, students whose academic abilities are highly developed across the whole spectrum of disciplines – linguistic, mathematical, artistic and scientific are likely to excel.

Students, however, who have weaknesses in one or more areas, but who are academically gifted in one block of subjects (for examples the Sciences) will always score more highly under an International A Level based curriculum.

For academic, polymath children, the intellectual, creative, emotional and cultural opportunities presented by the IB DP are outstanding.

For children who are likely to return to India/work and study in India, the CBSE Board XII exams remain the most widely accepted and understood of the Indian qualifications.

The vocational AISSCE provides a genuinely good grounding for students seeking direct work placements related to the subjects undertaken, although this is restricted to India.

The All India Secondary School Examination [AISSE] offers no value to non-Indian parents seeking an alternative to mainstream European, US or Canadian curriculums.

The AISSE has extremely limited value to students seeking Humanity degree placements outside India, and even for Science and Mathematics based degrees, the AISSCE must be scored so highly as to preclude most students from applying to major universities outside India.

Curricula Employer Rating
Curricula University Rating
Curricula Global Rating
Curricula – Which country is it from? Switzerland India
Curricula – Who underwrites it? International Baccalaureate®
(Formerly International Baccalaureate® Organisation (IBO))
CBSE [Central Board of Secondary Education, New Delhi]
Curricula – Age when taken? Studied over two years, generally by students between the ages of 16 and 18 years, in Grades 11 and 12 of an International Baccalaureate® school Studied over two years from age 16 and sat at age 18.

CBSE conducts the final Board XII Examinations in the month of March. Results are announced by the end of May.

Curricula – Subjects available? The International Baccalaureate® Diploma Programme curriculum comprises study of:

(1) 6 subjects, usually 1 chosen from each of six subject blocks (see Note 2 below); and,

(2) the 3 DP “core” elements of (a) study and examination in the “Theory of Knowledge” (TOK); (b) a “Creativity, Activity, Service” (CAS) project; and (c) a 4,000 word individually researched “Extended Essay” (EE)

The six subject blocks are:

(1) Studies in language and literature
(2) Language acquisition
(3) Individuals and societies
(4) Sciences
(5) Mathematics
(6) The Arts

Note 1: usually three subjects are taken at Higher Level and three subjects at Standard Level, although students can choose to take four subjects at Higher Level and two subjects at Standard Level. Both Standard Level and Higher Level papers earn the same marks (although Higher level subjects require more hours off study and may award different total scoring for examinations and coursework)

Note 2: Students may opt to study an additional course from the Sciences; Individuals and Societies; or Languages subject blocks, instead of a course from the Arts block.

Subjects available within each subject block are:

SUBJECT BLOCK 1: Language and literature
Language A: literature (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Language A: language and literature (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Literature and performance (Standard Level only)

SUBJECT BLOCK 2: Language acquisition
Classical languages (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Language B (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Language ab initio (Standard Level only)

SUBJECT BLOCK 3: Individuals and societies
Business management (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Economics (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Geography (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Global Politics (Standard Level or Higher Level)
History (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Information technology in a global society (Standard Level or Higher Level) Philosophy (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Psychology (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Social and cultural anthropology (Standard Level or Higher Level)
World religions (Standard Level only)

Biology (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Chemistry (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Computer Science (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Design technology (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Environmental systems and societies (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Physics (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Sports, exercise and health science (Standard Level only)

SUBJECT BLOCK 5: Mathematics
Further mathematics (Higher Level only)
Mathematical studies (Standard Level only)
Mathematics (Standard Level or Higher Level)

Dance (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Film (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Music (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Theatre (Standard Level or Higher Level)
Visual arts (Standard Level or Higher Level)

The International Baccalaureate requires students to have a much broader education than, for example, International A Levels and they cannot specialise. Every student for the IB DP must study a native language, an additional language, a science, Mathematics, a Humanity and, for most students, a Performing Art.

There is a choice of 2 streams; academic (Divided in many schools between Commerce and Science) and vocational.

Academic stream students study two languages, one of which must be either Hindu or English; three elective subjects; General Studies; Work Experience; and Physical and Health Education. Students can also, optionally, study an additional subject, either an extra language or an additional elective.

The range of academic elective choices depends on the school but can include Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Biotechnology, Engineering Graphics, Economics, Political Science, History, Geography, Business Studies, Accountancy, Home Science, Fine Arts, Agriculture, Computer Science/Informatics Practices, Multimedia and Web Technology, Sociology, Psychology, Philosophy, Physical Education, Music and Dance, Entrepreneurship, Fashion Studies, Creative Writing and Translation Studies, Heritage Crafts, Graphic Design, Mass Media Studies and the Knowledge Traditions and Practices of India.

Vocational stream students study one language which must be English, two elective subjects drawn from the academic stream, two vocational subjects, industry placement for 60 hours; and personality development/soft skills. Students can also, optionally, study an additional subject, either an extra language or an additional elective.

The range of vocational elective choices depends on the school but can include Office Secretary-ship, Stenography and Computer Applications, Accountancy and Auditing, Marketing and Salesmanship, Banking, Retail, Financial Market Management, Business Administration, Electrical Technology, Automobile Technology, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology, Electronics Technology, Geospatial Technology, Foundry, Transportation System and Logistic Management, Ophthalmic Techniques, Medical Laboratory Techniques, Auxiliary Nursing and Midwifery, X-Ray Technician, Healthcare Sciences, Health and Beauty Studies, Medical Diagnostics, Fashion Design and Clothing, Textile Design Dyeing and Printing, Design, Beauty Services, Music Technical Production, IT Application, Life Insurance, Library and Information Sciences, Poultry Farming, Horticulture, Dairying Science and Technology, Food Production, Food and Beverage Services, Mass Media Studies and Media Production, Bakery and Confectionery, Front Office, and Travel and Tourism.

Curricula – Balance of coursework to exams? Heavily weighted to examinations in most subjects, between 20% and 40% of the final grade is, however, awarded according to coursework in most subject blocks. The exception is in Mathematics for which grading is based entirely on performance in examinations.

Each of the six courses are collectively worth a maximum of 42 points.

Only the the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and Extended Essay (EE) components are (externally) assessed on the basis of 100% coursework and together these elements are only worth 3 points.

Creativity, Action, Service – the remaining element in the DP core – does not contribute any points.

Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation [CCE] has not been rolled over to Class 11 and 12 AISSCE study. Scoring remains based on summative performance in examinations.
Curricula – How much is rote based learning? Rote learning (retaining of knowledge) is necessarily a core requirement for any student to be able to succeed in the IB DP because of the overarching role off examinations in assessment. Retaining knowledge, however, is viewed by the IB as a basic skill and high performance in examinations requires analysing and presenting information, evaluating and constructing arguments and solving problems creatively. Rote based learning is significant given the concentration on examinations in the Academic streams. This is less the case in vocational streams.
Curricula – How easy is it? Highly academic and demanding, many believe the IB DP is the most difficult of all the curricular to pass or master. Students who are not polymaths are disadvantaged over highly talented students in a single field and any weakness in one area of required study, for example in languages or mathematics, can cripple an otherwise exceptionally intelligent student’s score.

For many students the fundamental difficulty of the IB DP is not the complexity of any given subject, but this requirement to have abilities across such a wide breadth of very different subjects.

Student results are also determined by performance against set standards, not by each student’s position in the overall rank order so it is theoretically possible in a year with more complex examinations that a child could fair less well than an equally able candidate in another year.

It is argued that the highest 45 point IB DP score is equivalent to a student achieving 6 International A Levels at Grade A.

Students are required to obtain a minimum Grade D in at least five subjects of external examination (excluding the 6th additional subject) as per the Scheme of Studies and a Qualifying Certificate/ Grade Sheet at the Secondary School(Class X) Examination (effectively under CCE now a formality)

General consensus is that the CBSE is an easier curricular in comparison with its broader ICSE Indian counterpart, although the ICSSCE would be considerably less challenging for lower and mixed ability children if the CBSE system completely moved to CCE.

The option of vocational as opposed to purely academic streams is a significant strength of the CBSE over other curricular.

Curricula – Materials for private study? Materials are widely available. Extensive materials are available. Textbooks are standard NCERT available worldwide and there is little expectation or need to divert away from standard materials.

In vocational streams private study is more difficult and students are much more reliant on the quality of teaching and industry placements.

The CBSE approves both regular and private candidates to sit for its exams namely-AISSE (Class X) and AISSCE (Class XII) – unlike its ISCE counterpart.

Curricula – Grades awarded? Each of the six elective subjects are scored between 1 and 7 points.

The theory of knowledge (TOK) and extended essay (EE) components are awarded individual grades and, collectively, contribute up to 3 additional points towards the overall Diploma score.

The maximum score achievable is 45 points.

Although there is no consensus on an exact comparative relationship between IB scores and International A Levels grades, the following are approximate:

31 Points equates to achieving 3 International A Levels, each at Grade B
36 Points equates to achieving 3 International A Levels, each at Grade A
42 Points equates to achieving 3 International A Levels, each at Grade A*

Some argue that because the IB DP requires core study in six subjects, each should be treated as an A Level and the programme is thereby equivalent of studying the equivalent of 6, not 3, International A Levels.

A-1 Top 1/8th of the passed candidates; A-2 Next 1/8th of the passed candidates; B-1 Next 1/8th of the passed candidates; B-2 Next 1/8th of the passed candidates; C-1 Next 1/8th of the passed candidates; C-2 Next 1/8th of the passed candidates; D-1 Next 1/8th of the passed candidates; D-2 Next 1/8th of the passed candidates; E Failed candidates

The Board will award Merit Certificates in each subject to the top 0.1 % of candidates passing that subject.

In order to be declared as having passed the examination, a candidate shall obtain a grade higher than E in all five subjects.

Curricula – Cost? An International Baccalaureate® education is usually aligned with the most expensive Emirate’s schools. This is mainly because of the calibre of teaching staff required to teach it, and the number of teaching staff required to ensure its effective delivery – particularly within inclusive schools.

Whilst this is a general rule, alternative curricular schools can be more expensive, costs rising according to the number of subject options made available within each school.

Prospective parents are advised not to assess the quality of any school by its curriculum, but rather by a combination of factors including class sizes; staff:student ratios; faculty qualification and experience; the breadth of subject options; enrichment; school transparency; the quality and breadth of facilities; the degree to which a school is selective or inclusive (to determine added value); ongoing investment and development planning; the “feel of a school”; perception of existing students and parents; the “fit” of each child to the offer of each school (academic, vocational, polymath, single subject specialist etc); the quality of, and investment in, SEN and EAL provision – and the performance of a school’s students in examinations over time (is there an upwards curve?)

By far the most affordable of the curricular, Indian or international, although to deliver at its best, it is likely that schools will need small class sizes and high calibre teaching staff. This will increase significantly the cost of achieving the AISSCE, but should also result in higher scoring.
Curricula – Transfer-ability (to other curricula)? Mid-stream transfer to a non IB curriculum school is not recommended unless there is no alternative.

Transfer to an alternative IB school offering continuity of subject study in all electives is theoretically possible.

Almost impossible. Even a transfer to the alternative ICSE syllabus is likely to significantly impair a student’s performance as core subject deliverables lack breadth, subject detail in many cases limited and subject cross-over limited

The benefit of the CBSE is very simple transfer between other CBSE schools as the education is standardardised and based on universal NCERT textbooks, fixed materials and timelines.

There is also now an in-built driver to stop students transferring to alternative curriculum where students have not taken the CBSE Grade X Board examinations (now optional where children progress in the same school to Year 11 study)

Curricula – Where does it lead? Although there is some argument whether the IB DP enjoys the same global reach of the International A Level, it is nevertheless a globally accepted pre-university qualification that, if scored highly, likely to secure a student a place at any of the top universities worldwide.

There is some argument whether students who are gifted in an individual field and certain of their undergraduate degree trajectory should choose the alternative International A Level curriculum as it allows much greater specialisation and depth of study – and crucially does not penalise weaknesses a student may have in subjects unrelated to their trajectory of eventual career of further study.

With IB study an outstanding student in the Sciences but with a weakness in languages and humanities risks poor scoring relative to that the student would achieve in studying a cluster of pure science-based A Levels.

The degree to which employers recognise the IB is still very dependent on the country and clearly the dominant qualification in any country will generally always be better understood.

There is some research to suggest that in the UK, some universities under-value the IB DP relative to A Levels, making it harder for students to gain entry with equivalent scores.

There is some incidental evidence internationally that amongst otherwise equivalent students, those who have studied for the IB DP achieve higher starting salaries than those with alternative qualifications.

The All India Senior School Certificate Examination [AISSCE] enables students to apply to Indian Universities, although top-tier universities will also require further entrance examinations.

Whilst the AISSCE is also a basis for international applications, requirements are very demanding and in many cases students will only be considered for degree study in a limited range of subjects that excludes the humanities altogether.

Cambridge, for example, will accept applications from students taking CBSE (or ISC Class XII examinations) but only for courses in Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, Mathematics or Natural Sciences. To be shortlisted for interview applicants need to achieve a minimum CGPA of 9.8 and grade A1 in their Class XII examinations in the relevant subjects.

Any offers of admission are also conditional on performance in the IIT-JEE or, in the case of Economics or Mathematics, on performance in STEP Mathematics. Where English is a second language there is a high IELTS requirement of a minimum overall grade of 7.5 with 7.0 or above in each element.

To all intents and purposes, except for the very highest performing students, the AISSCE provides limited options for degree study outside India.

For students intent on returning to India, the CBSE based examinations are more widely accepted for both employment or higher education.

Curricula – Who is it best for? The IB DP favours the academic polymath who thrives in breadth of subject study. Linguists are significantly advantaged as second language study is compulsory.

It is likely to very significantly disadvantage students who excel only in a narrow group of subjects and who would benefit from greater depth of study.

The IB DP, unless it is delivered in extremely small classes with highly individualised learning, is also likely to challenge students on the weaker to mixed ability spectrum.

The core critique of the IB DP is that it does not cater to subject experts and devalues those gifted in individual subjects by forcing them to study in areas in which they have no natural ability or interest.

Ongoing changes to the All India Senior School Certificate Examination [AISSCE], particularly its extension to vocational subjects, have considerably broadened its value across the student spectrum of abilities and ambitions.

The continuing emphasis on examinations weights the AISSCE towards more academic children, although the examinations are designed so that few, if any children will fail. They will simply achieve lower grades.

Curricula – Global value? Internationally, the IB has a high value, although it varies considerably between countries and, like all senior school qualifications, becomes less important relative to final degree study and scoring. It is certainly the case that the IB is appreciated more by hiring individuals within industry who have also studied under its programmes.

As primarily a pre-university qualification, prospective parents should arguably focus less on its intrinsic value to employers than on on the likelihood of their child(ren) scoring highly on an intensely academic programme that demands breadth of skills and core linguistic ability.

Low – Internationally, the CBSE is arguably the least prestigious or acceptable of alternative curricular.

The weakness of CBSE English language teaching particularly degrades its value for global employers and non-CBSE post 16 education providers both overseas and within the UAE.

ICSSCE is particularly weak grounding for students seeking higher education or careers in the humanities and many Indian schools drive students to a binary choice between Commerce or Scientific streams.

Curricula – Employer’s opinion? For polymaths seeking fast-track entry into industry at age 18, the alternative IB CRP programme is a better option. High value in India, particular for those scoring highly.

Has very limited value outside India except in the Sciences.

University’s opinion? Widely accepted – and most universities have separate, defined criteria for measuring applications from IB applicants.

The degree to which those criteria help or hinder students who have studied the IB DP is subject to extended research and the final verdict is less than clear.

It certainly depends on individual universities, the proposed subject of undergraduate study, the intensity of competition for places and the country in which the university is based.

It is likely that faced with two applicants, one with three A Levels graded at A*, and one with an IB DP scored at 45 points, neither applicant would have the edge/both would be accepted.

The situation becomes extremely muddled in calculating the value universities accord to the IB DP as exam scoring moves from its extremes at either end of the spectrum.

In Mathematics and broader Sciences, the All India Senior School Certificate Examination [AISSCE] provide a clear benchmark for university entrance in India.

High scoring students in these subjects are able to apply for university places outside India, although the curricular does not have the perceived value of either the IB Diploma or (the) International A Level(s).

For Humanities students the AISSCE is not recommended as a course of study and further education options outside India will be extremely limited.

Heat Index 4188 4294
Views 3168 3294