If you were to open any parents’ group on social media or on WhatsApp, you will find that the most intense and heated debates centre around which board and curriculum is best suited for children. There are some who advocate the international curriculum for the global citizens of tomorrow, while others reject this outright, calling it a “free-floating, fluid organism without the rigour of an Indian board”. There are similar discussions on ICSE, CBSE, GCSE, NIOS, AISSCE and more, with each parent propagating their own choice and thought process.
Why is this debate on the right board becoming more and more heated—and confusing? Some would say it’s because parents are still attempting to understand the choices available. The pandemic has shaken things up further, opening up possibilities of home schooling, open schooling and hybrid teaching.
We always thought our parents had it easy. For them, the debate was restricted to whether to send a child to an English- or Indian-language-medium school. The choice of boards was limited to ICSE, CBSE and state. Parents didn’t need to know phonics for their child to make it to their favourite school; they assumed (rightly) that the schools would do a better job of teaching that.
Today, the admission process is discussed ad nauseam at every play date or dinner party, with harried parents contemplating the merits of International Baccalaureate (IB) versus progressive. So, what is it that dictates a parent’s decision?
We open with the chicken-or-egg debate. Which ought to be the first choice? The school or the curriculum? “Obviously, the school”, says Swati Popat Vats, president, Podar Education Network, Mumbai. “The vision of the school should match with your family’s vision and goals for your child,” she asserts.
However, Howard Gee, head of secondary at the DSB International School, Mumbai, says the curriculum is a good starting point at a time when there are options galore. If one were to go by experts’ observations, CBSE and state boards continue to be preferred options for parents with transferable jobs within India, while those looking for options abroad for their children opt for IB and IGCSE.
Sameer Arora, vice-principal of the Shiv Nadar School in Gurugram, Haryana, says, “Go by your child’s needs and assess their learning style.” That decision heavily influences the choice of curriculum and school, he explains.
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Many parents I spoke to confessed that choosing a board matters. It is believed that the JEE and NEET exams are better timed for students who study at schools following the state board, ICSE and CBSE curricula. However, if your child wishes to take up animation or development law in later years, and may want to head abroad, IB may be a better option. For many, the choice is also determined by the economic resource pool, as some boards are clearly more expensive than the rest.
One of the positives of the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) and the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) is the fact that some schools today are open to the idea of a hybrid or blended curriculum—combining virtual and in-class learning, and a teaching methodology that assimilates the best of, say, the experiential learning of progressive, real-life based pedagogy of international schools and the rigour of the Indian curriculum. “If you are uncertain about your curriculum preference, consider schools that offer such flexible options such as hybrid curricula,” says Namita Mehta, president, The Red Pen, a Mumbai-based independent education consulting company. Not many schools in India offer this at present but this is changing. Avnita Bir, director principal at Podar Education, Mumbai, explains how schools are leveraging technology to bridge the gap between the various boards and, in turn, need to be adaptive to stay relevant.
The IB website states that between 2018-22, the number of IB programmes offered worldwide grew by 34.2%. This coincides with the pandemic years, which made parents understand that we are raising our children in a borderless world. And that a curious kid, who has global exposure, combined with grit, will perform better. Though IB came to India in the 1970s, when the Kodi School in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, opted for it, the real boom only happened in the 2000s, when households were able to spend more. Today, around 200-plus schools offer IB.
There are some parents who worry about whether their child will be able to transition from an Indian board to an international one during middle and high school. Mehta says it is quite a smooth process. The same, though, might not be true in reverse. “When making this choice, you should also contemplate your child’s future educational and career aspirations,” she says. However, some, like Arora, believe this choice and ensuing shift needs to be made by class VIII.
Many popular ranking reports have shown that the top ones on the list are not always the legacy schools but the new-age schools founded in the past decade or so, with a flexible and interdisciplinary curriculum, that are open to change. “It can’t be a one-size-fits-all policy. Parents need to observe how the school has adapted to changing needs over the years,” says Fatema Agarkar, founder, Agarkar Centre of Excellence, Mumbai.
Is this signifying winds of change? “A child’s happiness and academic success hinge on how well the school’s values and curriculum resonate with them,” says Mehta. “It all boils down to leadership and how they take the school forward with the changing times, while keeping in mind our children’s needs and future plays a key role,” observes Gee. Has this led to many legacy schools adopting the IB curriculum so they don’t lose out on their badge as top-reckoned institutions and still stay relevant in the race for millennial parents? I wonder.
The labyrinth of choices can be overwhelming. When parents see fellow parents post about the wonders of their school and board, it makes them question their decisions. That’s when it is time to step back and shut out the noise. “The choice of the best board and school is one which most resonates with your values,” explains Arora. It also needs to be in sync with your child’s specific needs—whether they can handle competition or are more creatively inclined, etc.
“Find comfort in your choices and resist the temptation to compare or contrast notes with a fellow parent,” says Mehta. To me, that is the take-home message.
Mansi Zaveri is CEO and founder of Kidsstoppress.com.