Guest post by RAM KRISHNASWAMY
HRD Minister Kapil Sibal seems to be getting a lot of flak from so many quarters on Jan Lok Pal Bill, HRD Computer Tablet Aakash and now his backing of ISEET, one common national entrance exam for science and engineering. Now as HRD Minister he has inadvertently attracted the wrath of over 1,75,000 IIT alumni globally; as also faculty and students of all IITs who are opposed to his idea of killing IIT-JEE and replacing it with a common national exam called ISEET.
Yes, Kapil Sibal is the HRD Minister but he is a lawyer and a politician and is not a technologis. It appears that he is being advised by technologists who are misleading him and telling him what he wants to hear, as opposed to giving him solid advice in the interest of the nation.
Let us just look at IITs and JEE alone.
Let us see what truly is wrong with IITs & JEE and what recommendations the HRD Minister has received and from whom.
If we were to simplify the problem with JEE as it is administered in 2012 they can be listed as follows (not a comprehensive list):
1. It is virtually impossible for school leavers to pass JEE these days without coaching. JEE exams were made tougher and tougher by IIT Professors that no year twelve student had adequate knowledge to clear JEE.
2. Teaching standards at high schools in India are pretty bad, as school teachers in India get very poor wages, about (Rs. 20,000 a month if they are lucky) as compared to people working in the IT sector or even call centres. IIT JEE coaching schools pay at least Rs. 100,000 a month. Some top JEE coaching school teachers even earn Rs. 1 Crore per annum I am told. And we wonder why parents are willing to pay high fees for IIT JEE coaching and why students interested in a career don’t mind attending JEE schools for a couple of years or more.
3. JEE Coaching has become so expensive, about Rs.1 to Rs.2 lakhs for two years of coaching, that gifted students from poor families cannot afford and have no chance to succeed at JEE
4. JEE originally in the 60’s & 70’s was a written exam in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and English and these papers were corrected by faculty members manually. What was important was to see if the student’s method of solving a problem was correct; not just the answers. This was okay when smaller number of students took the exam.
5. Over the years as IIT alumni received accolades and recognition globally, the demand to join IIT’s grew exponentially and as many as 500,000 students sat for IIT JEE in 2011
6. As more and more students wanted to succeed, the demand gave birth to many coaching schools nation- wide to satisfy this demand.
7. As it became impossible for IIT Faculty to correct 500,000 papers, IIT JEE Committee headed by Prof. Idichandy switched the IIT JEE in 1998 to a Multiple Choice type exam. You had to pick a correct answer from four options.
8. Some where along the line JEE was conducted in two parts perceived as an improved filtration process.
9. Multiple Choice exams while they looked a good way to solve a mega problem of number of papers to be corrected gave birth to a new problem & a much bigger headache.
10. JEE coaching schools were training students to recognise JEE question patterns and two years of continuous training helped these students to guess answers correctly with ease without actually having to solve the problems.
11. This meant that while the top 30% of students were still the cream of the cream the remaining 60% (approximate) passed JEE partially by guessing correctly. Their failure has been evidenced by the fact that about 30% of students failed in Maths, Physics and Chemistry in the 1st Year of IIT itself.
12. Then we had IIT faculty cry foul and blame IIT-JEE coaching schools for decline in student quality instead of the remodelled JEE.
It was the Chandi Committee that recommended giving weightage to year IX marks in 2008 besides many other good suggestions that have been ignored.
Then it was the Acharya Committee of IIT Directors who made recommendations to HRD ministry on what needed to be done. Acharya committee report did not sit well with HRD for reasons unknown and so HRD Minister Kapil Sibal formed another committee headed by Dr Ramaswamy. Dr Ramaswamy Committee’s recommendations gave birth to ISEET, a Common National Science and Engineering Exam that assigns weightage to marks scored in Year 10 and 12.
All along these recommendations have come from none other than IIT Directors themselves. So why is every one blaming the HRD minister now ? Obviously IIT Directors that headed Acharya Committee & Ramaswamy Committee failed to consult faculty, students and alumni in an extensive manner. They just did lip service by posting a survey in some obscure web site requesting people to comment.
Ramaswamy committee knew where the IITs were and where faculty, students and alumni could be contacted had they had genuine intentions to get reasonable feed back. All these committees failed and gave the wrong advice to HRD Minister.
Dr Ramaswamy committee claims to have conducted an extensive survey and is overwhelmed with 2500 responses when we have 175,000 IIT alumni, over 5000 faculty members, 10,000 fresh B Tech students in the 1st year alone, over 50,000 students on all campuses put together, and over a million aspiring students studying at coaching schools. Looks similar to FDA’s fraudulent surveys to give quick approval to a new cancer drug…….
Why are these recommendations to create ISEET wrong ?
1. Dr. Ramaswamy had no hands-on experience with either IITs or JEE. So as Chairman he was guided by his committee members and rubber stamped their recommendations. Only alumni who have cleared JEE will appreciate the true value of JEE. Any sportsman who trains hard for many years will tell you how it feels to make it into a national squad for the Olympics or Cricket Team in India.
2. ISEET’s idea of giving 40% credit to State and Central Board exams is very flawed. In many states question papers for HSc exams become available to people willing to pay, teachers correcting high school exam papers are known to take bribes to give high marks, plus we do not have an established standard for all schools nation wide. CBSE touted as a good standard has been condemned by many faculty and students as being very substandard. ISEET will now indirectly encourage all State Board schools to boost the marks for all their students so they can score well in ISEET. ISEET will create a situation where over night we will have majority of the students being classified as 1st Class students scoring more that 75% in State school exam nation wide.
3. There is no real evidence that students who clear JEE have not also done well at School Board exams.
4. To state that students who do well at school exams also do well at IITs is again a questionable assumption.
5. ISEET will not eliminate coaching schools or encourage students to focus on school studies as assumed by expert committee members. It is shocking to see how these committee members are so out of touch. Common sense tells us that students already attending JEE coaching schools will now be attending ISEET coaching schools and studying extra subjects other than Maths, Physics and chemistry, so that they score well in High school exams too. This means ISEET coaching schools will grow exponentially. ISEET will feed coaching schools even more increasing their demand.
6. ISEET makes it harder or should we say virtually impossible for a poor student to compete with those attending ISEET coaching schools for all school subjects. ISEET means that Education in India is reserved for children with oodles of money. Is this fair? Is this what HRD Ministry wants ?
ISEET does not serve smart students who are poor. Further, ISEET will give rise to hundreds if not thousands of ISEET Coaching schools nationwide defeating the very purpose of killing off IIT-JEE. The crop of students who clear ISEET will be worse than the kind they have had the last decade. When this happens IITs have only themselves and Dr Ramaswamy to blame for killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.
Is the HRD Minister barking up the wrong tree? Unlikely, it is the Chandi Committee that mooted the idea of giving weightage to high school marks, followed by the Acharya committee that wasted a great opportunity to evaluate real problem faced and find a unique solution. Ramaswamy Committee did not do much more than try and iron out Acharya committee report. There is nothing original in Dr. Ramaswamys report, not that anything was expected.
If ISEET gets implemented, poor students can say goodbye to their dreams of becoming slumdog millionaires (!) by studying at IITs. JEE coaching schools will over night become ISEET schools teaching all subjects, and established JEE schools like the Bansals will franchise their business mode. Last but not least the standard of students entering IITs will plummet, and there will be a mass exodus of talented and good faculty from established IITs.
In less than ten years time IITs will be dead; all seventeen of them and the nation can salute various JEE expert committees who dug the grave for IITs from within.
Who killed IITs & JEE?
IIT’s were all about merit until JEE exam papers were made so hard that no school student could succeed without coaching. Today it is not the meritocracy but aristocracy who get into IITs only because their parents can afford to send their children to coaching schools and faculty members wonder why these students are not motivated and why about 30% of them fail in the 1st and 2nd year…
It will neither be HRD Ministry that is killing off JEE as we are led to believe nor the JEE coaching schools that have done nothing illegal in meeting demand but the very custodians of IIT JEE and the succeeding committees of so called experts in Acharya Committee and Dr. Ramaswamy committee who drove the last nail into JEE and IIT Coffin.
Are there better alternatives to IIT JEE?
Yes there are a number of ways, where all identified problems can be addressed and resolved, if only people are willing to step outside the box and take all factors affecting quality of students entering IITs.
What should HRD Minister Kapil Sibal do ?
Create a National Competition for designing a better JEE and give a big national award to any individual or team that comes up with the best solution for an improved JEE that will save Brand IIT for many more decades by allowing alumni to fly the IIT flag globally.
Brand IIT belongs to B.Tech Graduates from IITs who passed JEE. There are no ifs and buts about this claim.
If the PG’s from IITs were outstanding we wouldn’t be complaining about lack of good research in India.
Wiping out all other entrance exam and making ISEET the only exam is wrong, as it is possible for a good student to perform badly in one exam and succeed in others. HRD has no business in interfering with opportunities for higher education in all States.
Young aspiring students in India cannot afford to put all eggs in just one basket called ISEET and no government has the right to deny young people opportunities to succeed even if they fail to do well in ISEET.
The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.
— John F. Kennedy
Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.
— Robert F. Kennedy, 1966 speech
US Democratic politician (1925 – 1968)
Ram Krishnaswamy is an IIT Madras Alumnus