School Boards In India: History And Development

Have you ever wondered how the various school boards of India came into existence? Well, here's your chance to learn about the history behind their creation.

By V Venkatachalam

School Boards In India: History And Development
Education comes in different shapes and sizes


In 1965, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) was reorganized from the existing Board of Rajputana at Ajmer, which was prevailing in five states. The board was given an all-India character under the chairmanship of Zakir Hussain before he became President.

The CBSE curriculum was adopted by the Kendriya Vidyalaya schools – the schools attended by the children of people serving in the armed forces and the government. At that time, the CBSE was called Higher Secondary. People liked it because there was no requirement of a pre-university course (PUC) after this, which amounted to a one year ‘saving’ in education. Later after the 10 plus 2 was introduced, this advantage was lost.

Owing to the huge popularity of the CBSE and the inability of Kendriya Vidyalayas to expand, private schools were allowed to get affiliated to this Board. Until 1975, all the CBSE schools were following their own curriculum when Dr K Venkatasubramanian, a renowned economist and eminent educationist introduced the Plus 2, standardising the Board level exams. In 1985, in Chennai alone, there were around 237 schools, of which 85 were affiliated to this system.


The Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) is a Christian Minority board, that has been given the status of a national board. Handed down from the British, It is relatively less popular in the country. In terms of syllabus standards, it is close to the CBSE.

Other Boards 

Across the country there are totally 32 boards, excluding the two national boards CBSE and ICSE. Most of the others follow state patterns like the Manipuri pattern, Punjab pattern, West Bengal pattern, Tamil Nadu pattern. Some like the Anglo Indian Board, the Madarasa Board or the Oriental Schools have community or religious undertones. The 32 boards, instead of trying to complement each other to promote value-based education, compete with each other and bring cleavage into the system.

In Tamil Nadu for instance, the late Chief Minister M G Ramachandran popularised the Matriculation Board to compete with the growing popularity of the CBSE board. Earlier the Matriculation Board was under the Madras University, subsequently taken over by the state. At the Plus 2 level alone, the Matriculation schools shared a common syllabus with the State government and Corporation schools. The Matriculation schools offered English and Hindi languages, which the public wanted and which were not offered by the state schools. Since the CBSE system was perceived to be tough and these schools commanded more fees, Matriculation schools became popular.

Today, the Tamil Nadu state has introduced Samacheer Kalvi, and the Matriculation schools have to follow the state syllabus even at the lower classes. Nothing prevents the Matriculation schools from offering more than what is mandated, but with the restriction on school fees, these schools may not be incentivised sufficiently to do this. Though content-wise the CBSE Plus 2 and State Plus 2 syllabi are on par with each other, the actual class room transactions vary a great deal due to lack of infrastructural facilities or trained/ committed human resources. A system that lacks these facilities will be liberal in evaluation.

The national boards are therefore better than state boards in recall and application, and in encouraging a higher order of thinking skills. The ICSE does not have continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) yet, so the CBSE has an advantage. CCE has been instituted with the idea of leading to a better learning environment by

  • Minimizing misclassification of students on the basis of marks
  • Eliminating cut-throat competition among high achievers
  • Reducing societal pressure and providing the learner with more flexibility


The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and A level is certified by Cambridge and EDEXCEL – Pearson in India. EDEXCEL IGCSE is followed by a few schools in the North, but they only offer ‘O’ level. EDEXCEL is not aggressive in its marketing, while Cambridge has its own ‘oomph’ to it. This is preferred by the socially affluent people having diverse cultural needs, and the global Indian. The International Baccalaureate (IB), like the IGCSE, encourages thinking, research and analysis, application and skill development, even decision-making depending on the subject. Unlike the Indian boards which are product-oriented, the IGCSE and IB are process-oriented. IB requires huge investments in teacher training and the fee is very steep for students.

The ‘social’ evolution of education

Whatever the Centre and State governments may do to provide uniformity of syllabus, they cannot bring about ‘equality in education’.

There is a distinct hierarchy even in education, despite a comparable curriculum overall. As the earnings of people improve, their aspirations also improve. The person who studied in a Corporation school will aspire to put his son in a Government school. For parents who have passed out of Government schools, their children will invariably go to a Matriculation school. The aspiration levels move onwards to CBSE, ICSE, IGCSE, IB. So whatever may get done to provide ‘uniformity in education’ and ‘education for all’, there will always be different fee structures, to accommodate the growing aspirations of people.

Samacheer Kalvi has managed to downgrade the Matriculation system (to accommodate the learning capability of students from lower hierarchies) and upgrade the Corporation and Government schools.

There is another important observation to be made in this context, which is ‘capability’ versus ‘copability’. Why are there such high suicide rates inside the IIT campus? The reservation has not ensured ‘copability’ despite apparently providing ‘capability through curriculum’. For many students entering a ‘CBSE or Matriculation’ standard when their parents have not been educated, the ‘copability’ is that much more difficult. Even for me, though I am a Dean of a prestigious institution today, I would have been better off if my grandparents were educated! That would have resulted in two generations of education before me and I would have done better in life! The greater the education levels down the generations, the better the capability and copability of the subsequent generations.

I also feel that as systems become more popular, there will be dilution in content. CBSE exams in 1975 for instance, used to be very tough. Getting distinction (above 75 per cent) was a great achievement. Today many schools follow CBSE and all are orienting their students to pass, preferably with distinction. I predict the same thing will happen to the IB and IGCSE patterns, ten years down the line. If they have to sustain themselves in terms of viability they will have to grow in reach, so there is bound to be some dilution in their offering.

See also: Choosing The Right Curriculum For Your Child

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