This is the first in the series of articles with a special focus on Boards of Education and their respective Curriculum Frameworks.
I grew up attending a state-affiliated school. A few handful in my social circle attended ICSE and CBSE schools until 10th class who were then assimilated into the University umbrella after 10th, 11th and 12th grades. This was technically a part of high school – ‘junior’ college or ‘pre-university’ and followed a university recommended syllabus and curriculum that led to choosing a field of broad study after high school graduation. This was then.
The problem of too much choice.
The new millennium has seen a schooling boom. For instance, in just 10 years from 2005 to 2016, the total number of schools in India have increased from 12 lakhs to 15 lakhs. For the digital generation, we have a veritable buffet: state-affiliated schools, CBSE, CISCE (ICSE/ISC), NIOS and IGCSE/A levels and lastly IB. It’s bewildering and disorienting. Is there really that much of a difference between these boards? Parents are confused when their kid moves from kindergarten to 1st grade. Which is a better board or curriculum? Is there a ‘best’ board or curriculum?
In this article, we begin by examining the accepted belief of “right board/right school = superior education”. Thereafter, I’ll suggest criteria to help in decision making.
Is there one right curriculum/Board of Education (BoE)?
Some BoEs place a high value on memory versus application. Or certain subjects are favored over others. Or there is too much breadth and not enough depth. Too many mandatory subjects or too many electives.
Although mainstream media and society keep repeating messages of this school/BoE is the best if your child wants to be a doctor or engineer or (insert occupation), the truth is that there is no one right answer or the right fit for all parents at all times.
Educational decisions are contextual, so the practical side of schooling and also the underlying values advocated by the BoE and its affiliated school must also be taken into consideration.
When I decided to enroll my daughter into a CIE registered school in class 3 after two years of homeschooling, my educational goals for her were to develop analytical skills and an application-oriented curriculum seemed to be the best fit at that time. But, little did I know that in practice, the curriculum which I thought was fairly rigorous (albeit in theory) would turn out to be a different beast in practice. I’d forgotten to account for the secret ingredient- Teachers! It is the teacher who ultimately transacts the curriculum in the classroom. Most teachers in foreign BoE’s like Cambridge or IB schools in India are…Indian and educated in Indian systems. They fall back on what they know best, to teach the way they themselves were taught. It takes a lifetime, if at all, to unlearn our own educational experiences during our schooling. So I don’t blame the teachers at all.
On the contrary, their task as teachers in a foreign BoE affiliated school is monumental. They have to interpret the curriculum as it is meant to be taught, the values of which are often diametrically opposite to their own educational journeys. For instance, memorizing multiplication tables is not encouraged in foreign BoEs whereas heavily emphasized in Indian schools (and with good reason). Calculators are introduced in class 1 or 2 in most schools with foreign BoE affiliation versus Indian BoEs prohibit calculators until class 12.
These differences might seem trivial but they have a huge impact on the teacher-student relationship within the classroom and (Indian) parental expectations of their children. I personally had a tough time accepting the heavy calculator use and the lack of automaticity in math.
In short, the curriculum does not exist in a vacuum or just on paper but is constantly interpreted, in the classroom and at home. A BoE that looks superior in theory may or not be the best bet in practice.
Educational choices, like most choices in life, have trade-offs.
When I chose to homeschool my daughter, I traded certainty of educational outcomes for uncertainty. When I enrolled her in a Cambridge affiliated school, I traded tried and tested for the unfamiliar. There were pros and cons to each path that diverged from the mainstream. For instance, at eight, my daughter was well versed in different kinds of poetry but couldn’t name all the Indian states because Indian history, geography, and civics were not covered at all in school. What was not covered at school had to be done at home depending on the criticality of subject matter.
In my earlier articles, I’ve emphasized the role of family and parental involvement in educational achievement. I’m repeating it once again: An involved and informed parent will, in my experience, compensate for almost all shortcomings of a syllabus, curriculum or BoE. An aware parent can focus on application at home if the school emphasizes memory or vice versa. I had a daily schedule that my daughter would follow to reinforce math facts and encourage automaticity because I could see the negatives of calculator use before math automaticity.
“So, I’m convinced there is no best BoE or school but I’m still confused. How do I choose a suitable board/school?”
Begin with first asking yourself:
- Am I comfortable teaching my child if s/he goes to a different BoE than what I was educated in. If the answer is yes, then move on to question 2:
- What are the different BoEs in India at present?
Take your time and browse through each of the above-linked sites. Get a feel of each BoE through their web pages. For instance, I was surprised by the proverbial flood of information provided on the CBSE website right from all circulars sent to CBSE schools to pdfs of textbooks from class 1 to class 12, all available publicly and free.
Start your research early, possibly a month or so before the frenzy of admissions begins in October/November.
“OK, I’ve gone through the sites and I’m overloaded with information. What next?”
Stay tuned for the upcoming articles in our series focus: Curriculum where we will dig deeper into each BoE to help you make an informed decision.
Have a question with regards to schooling/education? Shoot us an email @ [email protected] and we will cover it in the forthcoming articles of the series.