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CISCE Vs CBSE: The Primary Curricula


CISCE Vs CBSE – which is best suited to your child?

With the recent news that DPS-Academy in Dubai is set to close, the spotlight has fallen on the Indian CISCE curriculum and the schools in Dubai currently utilising it.

To understand the pros and cons of the CISCE and discover its differences when compared to the CBSE, whichschooladvisor asked the principals from two of GEMS’ top schools to take part in our in-depth ‘primary-versus,’ series.

What subjects are taught, and how? When are students assessed? What are the learning objectives and which type of child does each curriculum ideally suit?

To gain a better understanding of how each system works at primary level, whichschooladvisor spoke to top UAE school principals; Teresa Verman, Principal, at CBSE curriculum GEMS Millennium School, Sharjah and Nargish Khambatta, Principal, at Outstanding rated CISCE curriculum GEMS Modern Academy to learn more about their school’s chosen curriculum.


Firstly, can you give us some background on your experience working within the Indian curricula?

Nargish Khambatta: I have worked with the CISCE Council in an advisory capacity for curriculum development and been a moderator and paper corrector for ISC Biology.


Teresa Verman: I have 25 years of experience in education, 15 years of which have been with Indian curriculum schools. After a very brief stint in Al Ain Juniors School in 1991, I worked in IB and IGCSE schools for about 11 years. My first real experience in an Indian Curriculum school was with the Amity International Schools in Gurgaon, India from 2002 to 2007.

I joined GEMS in 2007 and worked in Our Own English High School, Sharjah (Girls), Our Own High School, Al Warqa’a (Boys) and GEMS Our Own English High School, Dubai before taking over as the Principal of GEMS Millennium School, Sharjah in May 2016 – all CBSE schools.


Are there any broad points you would like to make on this comparison before we get started?

Nargish Khambatta: I am a firm believer in the breadth and balance of the ICSE curriculum and particularly when the emphasis on reading and developing spoken and written English along with the use of rich text books.

Teresa Verman: CBSE became the preferred curriculum in the late 1970s. Since then it has only grown in popularity and recognition. In countries like Singapore, students can apply for university admission on the basis of their CBSE score and are not required to write SATs. The ICSE was earlier the Cambridge IGCSE during British India. It is not recognized by the Government of India.

CBSE places greater emphasis on science and math whereas ICSE is arguably more balanced with an equal focus on language, arts and science.


What is the age range of child?

Nargish Khambatta: Starting Kindergarten at the minimum age of 4 years – to 17 years in grade 12.

Teresa Verman: GEMS Millennium School, Sharjah is a K-10 school (4 to 15 year olds). We will be extending it to Grade 11 in April 2017 and Grade 12 in April 2018.


Is the primary Curriculum broken down into further segments within the Primary level? If so, can you explain them further please?

Nargish Khambatta: N/A

Teresa Verman: The Primary School applies to students of Grades 1 to 4. Grade 1: Ages 5-7 Grade 2: Ages 6 – 9 Grade 3: Ages 7 – 10 and Grade 4: Ages 8 – 11

In the Primary School, we endeavor to nurture the child in all dimensions of his/her life – Spiritual, Moral, Cognitive, Emotional, Imaginative, Aesthetic, Social, and Physical. The curriculum incorporates child-centered principles and embraces new approaches and methodologies. It is activity-based and experiential in nature. It emphasises the importance of Literacy, Numeracy, and Language, while at the same time responding to changing needs in Science and Technology; Social, Personal, and Health Education; and Citizenship.


Can you explain how these segments are taught/assessed/monitored? 

Nargish Khambatta: NA

Teresa Verman: We believe that children learn best in a nurturing environment which is safe, joyful, and intellectually stimulating. The curriculum is a vehicle for discovery, and is designed to help the children’s understanding of themselves as individuals and as members of a global community. Opportunities are provided at all levels to encourage children to become active and independent learners.


What are the main subjects covered in your primary curriculum? (science, math, music etc.)

Nargish Khambatta: Under languages, we have English, Arabic and a choice of Hindi and French as second language. The other main subjects we cover are mathematics, social studies, science, computers, performance, visual arts, physical education and value education.

Teresa Verman: In the Primary, all students learn English, mathematics, environmental studies, information and communications technology (ICT), art, music, dance, swimming and physical education (PE). The programmes of study for these subjects are broadly based on the recommendations of the National Curriculum Framework 2005 (NCF 2005).

The Ministry of Education Arabic and Islamic Studies programmes are also taught.

Non-Muslim students do not take part in Islamic Studies, but instead learn moral instruction. Additionally, students also learn one second language from among Hindi, Malayalam and French.

Students use the Makerspace and the i-Lab to engage in high quality, hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), STEAM (STEM + Art) and Maker learning experiences.


How is assessment carried out and when?

Nargish Khambatta: The type of assessments are carried as continuous evaluation through Assessment for Learning to check progress and identify student needs/support; Assessment of Learning to measure attainment of skills. The frequency of the AfLs and AoLs are periodic and at specific intervals to ensure balance across the term and academic year. The methods and strategies in which assessments are carried out are engaging and provision 21st century learning with edtech integration, collaboration, learning through projects and critical thinking.

Teresa Verman: Continuous Assessments are an integral part of our evaluation system and are implemented to ascertain the knowledge, understanding, and skills attained by each child. Continuous Assessments occur at periodic intervals during the school year and are a part of regular classroom interactions. Parents receive regular feedback and updates on their child’s development and progress at school.


What would you say is the broad teaching style/objectives of your curriculum?

Nargish Khambatta: Apart from focusing on mathematical and logical thinking, we primarily focus on communication, language and literacy while incorporating 21st century Learning with the 4Cs approach – Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication.

We also instill awareness about the culture of UAE and Islamic values and contribution to the society to develop as a responsible citizen. A great deal of importance is given to expressive, creative, health, personal, social and emotional developments. We seek pedagogical approaches like a play-based, child centered, integrated multicultural approach with partnership with parents.

Teresa Verman: GEMS Millennium School – Sharjah, as a multicultural and diverse learning environment, aims to foster a mutually beneficial partnership with the home and community in an atmosphere of respect and trust, ensuring the holistic development of every student through a variety of curricular and co-curricular, value–based experiences thereby empowering them to excel as independent thinkers, respectful individuals, responsible citizens, leaders and lifelong learners capable of making valuable contributions to the global society.


What significant testing if any is undertaken prior to leaving the primary phase?

Nargish Khambatta: We usually gauge through attainment of age appropriate skills through pupil trackers, external Assessments participation for benchmarking – like IBT/CAT4/ASSET and importantly, involving students in understanding their test scores and providing a diagnosis on how it can be improved.

Teresa Verman: Students of Grade 4 take the CAT4, the IBT, TIMSS and PIRLS


What do you think are the main personal/character attributes/traits a student leaves your primary curriculum with?

Nargish Khambatta: Our students are holistic learners with analytical, logical and critical thinking to identify and solve problems. They’re growing by learning -confident individuals prepared for further education and lifelong learning, continually striving to develop their own potential. In addition, they work continually to exceed expectation and always ready to challenge convention and the status quo. Our students develop as social beings through cooperating with others and contributing positively to our society.


Can you explain broadly the role/frequency/expectations of homework in your curriculum?

Nargish Khambatta: Homework is given much thought to and is used for reinforcement of student learning or to develop new thinking.  The teachers believe that Homework should not be onerous or time consuming, but should be enjoyed by the students.

Teresa Verman: The purpose of Homework is to encourage students to develop the confidence and self-discipline to work on their own, an essential skill for adult life.

To consolidate and reinforce skills and understanding.

To extend school learning beyond the walls of the classroom, through additional reading, research, independent study and collaborative projects.

To support the home/school relationship.

Provides parents and caregivers with insights into what is being taught in the classroom and the progress of their children

Challenges and extends gifted and talented children.

Promotes independent thinking and research skills

Actual time required to complete assignments will vary with each student’s study habits, academic skills, and selected course load. The school has recently put in place the Homework Chart which limits the number of homework assignments per day to 3 subjects. These assignments are set with care and ample time is given for completion and submission. If a child is spending an inordinate amount of time doing homework, parents are advised to contact their child’s teacher and if necessary, study habits are probed and appropriate intervention sought from the counsellor.

Types of Homework:

Practice exercises – providing students with the opportunities to apply new knowledge, or review, revise and reinforce newly acquired skills, including:

Consolidation exercise e.g. maths, including memorization of tables

Practicing for mastery e.g. spelling words, annotations of diagrams, chemistry formulae etc.

Revising information on a current topic

Practicing words or phrases learnt in a language other than English

Reading for pleasure

Essay writing

Preparatory homework – providing opportunities for students to gain background information on a unit of study so that they are better prepared for future lessons, including:

Background reading

Reading e.g. English text for class discussion

Researching topics for a class unit under discussion

Collecting items e.g. geometric shapes.

Extension assignments/ Holiday Homework – encouraging students to pursue knowledge individually and imaginatively, including:


Presenting their research and findings through PowerPoint presentations and learning corner talks

Writing e.g. a book review

Making or designing something e.g. an art work

Investigations e.g. science, social science

Researching e.g. history, local news

Information and retrieval skills eg. using a home computer to find relevant information on the Internet and validating the authenticity of the source of information.

Wherever possible homework recognises the place of technology in today’s world and the benefits of using technology such as home computers, e-mail and the Internet for organising and accessing information. The school, however, has regard for equity issues when setting homework that relies upon the use of technology. Students who do not have access to such technology at home should not be disadvantaged.


What in your view makes your curriculum unique?

Nargish Khambatta: Mainly, the relevance of subject matter and connections between subjects, enabling students to see the links – real life connections that highlight career competencies. The curriculum is challenging, not merely engaging students, but challenging students reach beyond their grasp. Also, the transaction of curriculum is differentiated and a variety of differing teaching and learning methods and materials are used in all courses to suit students’ different needs, those with special educational needs and those who are gifted and talented (G&T). Modern is an inclusive school with excellent support for students with learning needs and disability. The curriculum enrichment activities provide and promote holistic development of students with a balance of academics and extra-curricular.

Teresa Verman: The curriculum is planned across areas of learning and experience and is based on pupils’ interests and learning needs, encompassing and supporting children in achieving as much as they can. We present our students with a wealth of opportunities to experiment with new ideas, develop new skills, explore different perspectives, and grow in areas of their natural talent.


What type of child do you think your curriculum is best suited for?

Nargish Khambatta: We do not stereotype children’s suitability for access to education/learning. Our admission process is fair, unbiased and open to all who pass the observation (KG), entry level and written entrance test (grade 1-3) and CAT4 (Grade 4-12)

Teresa Verman: For the curious – for all children who enjoy learning!

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