Reporters: Abhi Suri, Akshay Soni, Alankar Jain, Manu Sahay, Neha Innanje
With inputs from Mukul Gupta and Vivek Upadhyay
September 14, 2011, the day the government announced the abolition of the JEE and AIEEE while at the same time announcing a nationwide common exam for all engineering colleges. A day of shock, as the JEE, a robust contextual exam that checks the aptitude of a student in core science subjects and their ability to apply concepts in an application oriented sphere, was replaced by a system that could place a much greater emphasis on aptitude over raw intelligence, and factored in the widely perceived ‘lottery’ of the board examinations. Most students were feeling hard done, but some welcomed the new changes, stating that they were long overdue. To study the shortcomings of engineering entrance examinations, the “Acharya Committee” was established which included representatives from the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of Science and Technology and National Informatics Center, Chairman and the members of the IIT Council, Directors and Experts from ISI, Directors of all IITs and various other distinguished personalities. As per the findings of this committee (available here: http://www.iitsystem.ac.in/IIT_Education/Alternative%20system.ppt), after a comprehensive study and opinion polls, the following reformatory proposals were made:
- Abolition of JEE, AIEEE and other exams and reduction in the number of examinations to one.
- Testing knowledge intensity, alignment with and greater weightage to the class 12th boards.
- Reduction of pressure on students and dependency on coaching.
- Emphasis on aptitude.
- Transparency in processes.
- Removal of negative marking.
- Online processes, Multiple centers, better scheduling.
Some concerns were expressed about the process integrity and fairness of testing methodology. So, a normalization methodology across school boards was proposed wherein the committee accessed relevant data over the past few years to examine- a)stability of scores of the same school board over time and b) potentials for normalization of scores across various boards. ISI was enrolled to carry out statistical studies for normalization of the board scores. They selected 4 boards for pilot testing- CBSE, ICSE, TN and WB boards, and evaluated the stability of scores over time for the same board. They also examined the potential for mapping the profiles of several boards onto one selected board through monotone transformations. The general conclusions were that aggregate percentile scores are relatively stable over the periods analysed, and it was possible to normalize percentile ranks across boards.
This radical proposal has been met with varied responses, with most criticising it and some vouching for it. Though largely short-sighted, the new system still has some merits. We examine the arguments held by the general populace in favour of, and against the new system.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR OF THE NEW SYSTEM
1. The current system of elimination requires such rigorous preparation that JEE becomes the be-all-end-all, and students, on clearing JEE suffer from a ‘burnout’ and largely ignore academics. This process makes the entrance exam the education and demeans all that follows
2. To correct the flaws in the existing system which is more biased towards rote-learning; a person who is enthusiastic to devise his own experiments to learn science is at an inherent disadvantage as compared to a person who is spending hours slogging over formulae, which
defeats the purpose of engineering
3. To combat the menace of coaching centers, which reduce, and in several places, completely negate the importance of the school, particularly in classes 11th and 12th
4. The bunch of selected individuals, though exceptional in certain spheres of life, are wanting in other spheres (for eg: verbal and written communication skills)
5. Students must be relieved of the pressure of multiple JEEs
6. Multi-parametric grading system to be introduced as opposed to a single test model, which would ensure that a wider strata of people having more holistic personalities enter IIT as opposed to the archetypal IITian
7. The new system would be testing knowledge intensity, the alignment to the 12th class syllabus would promote overall personality development
8. The new system places increased emphasis on aptitude over “raw intelligence”. There is no need for exceptional merit to learn a skill as simple as engineering.
9. The modern student, after a gruelling 2-3 years preparing for JEE is generally disinterested in studying or pursuing research, and spends his time networking or preparing for IIM’s/IAS, which defeats the motto of the IITs- to make us leaders in the field of science and technology
10. As it is an online process, better scheduling can be done
11. A statistical model for normalization of scores over multiple years and multiple boards has been developed in accordance with the ISI to ensure no discrepancies take place across various boards
12. A greater scope for promoting the inherent curiosity amongst students by assigning the due importance to schools
ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE NEW SYSTEM
1. Scrapping of JEE might lead to a downfall in the quality of students in IITs, thereby further diluting the already diluted brand value (post introduction of new IITs in obscure places to promote political agenda)
2. Single entrance test for all engineering colleges will eventually lead to a considerably higher stress among candidates, instead of reducing it as it would virtually eliminate any chances of recovery from a ‘bad day at work’
3. The notion of “Raw intelligence test” defies the theory of contextual examination framework. Raw Intelligence test is impotent in capturing the right engineering bent of mind
4. It’s nothing more than the senseless abolition of a proven and successful system in favour of a radical and untested one which is severely short-sighted
5. They talk about keeping 12th board exam weight-age which obviously has some value associated with it but at the same time carries a burgeoning series of flaws with it. The process of normalization has never been robust
6. Board exams are highly unreliable. The checking is abysmal, and there is absolutely no accountability. It’s akin to replacing one evil, at least whose character we know, with another one whose nature we can’t even accurately predict
7. Single entrance test might lead to a psychological trauma for those who already dread the complexity of JEE
8. Coaching industry will somehow adjust its offerings according to the changed pattern. So, this new system is not doing anything to change their hold
9. Focus should be on how to improve schools at the grass-root levels rather than playing around with the entire system to merely promote ‘schooling’.
10. Chances of corruption would increase due to a possibility of political interference at multiple levels
11. The feeling of disparity might emerge among candidates because of very low reliability of the soundness of normalization scheme
12. JEE is singularly responsible for accomplishing the brand image of India and the system which has been put into place to conduct the JEE exam should not be disturbed
Prof Sohoni’s Viewpoint
Quite understandably, there is a lot of strong emotion amongst students regarding this issue. So, to take an un-biased view, and to include the invaluable inputs of our professors, InsIghT contacted Prof. Milind Sohoni, department of Computer Science and Engineering. His point of view is as follows:
1. Students are dis-satisfied just because they don’t want this brand name to dilute. It just gives the elite class a sense of security
2. Pointing out the lacuna in JEE he made the following remarks:
(a) JEE promotes a paradoxical situation where engaging in amateur engineering (say, building a theodolite) actually reduces the chances of passing JEE because of the `wasted time’ in doing so. According to him, this system has been unable to produce hard working undergraduates contributing to the R&D scenario, rather, it has created a student body which has put in a lot of effort to get in, and sees very little additional utility in studying any further. In fact, students spend most of their time in managing various programmes, building contacts and networking
(b) Large-scale student disinterest in academics and their preoccupation with placements, IIMs, IAS, etc. is the trend in IIT’s now
(c) Our UG students never bought the international agenda. The easy warm-body job is the primary reason why our current student joins IIT
(d) It is in fact, the need for exceptional `merit’ to be taught a skill so simple as engineering, has become a hallmark of the elitism in our society
3. Commending the acceptance rate in Cornell Engineering (1-in-2), Illinois (1-in-3), Michigan(1-in-4), Harvard (1-in-13), he proposes the following solution:
(a) Keep the JEE pattern as it is. Allot 50-60% weightage to JEE and assign the rest randomly (read more on this here: http://bit.ly/Lottery-Admissions). This will bring a more diversified lot to the IIT’s. JEE’s weight-age is just to ensure that some total duffer doesn’t enter into the system. This will totally curb the “Coaching Industry”.
(b) Eventually, the initial Screening should be followed by a subjective test based on writing an essay (as done by most of US universities) to judge a candidate’s motivation & background. According to him subjectivity is very important for understanding the fitness of a candidate for admission to IIT’s. However, this would need an admittance rate of 1-in-7, which is unimplementable today.
4. As far as stress point is concerned it is totally irrelevant if we try to keep the basic procedure right
5. He considers the revamped system better than the existing one though he points out that this system is also not the one we actually need
6. He also proposes a higher flexibility in ‘branch changes’ or late selection of branch.
For greater details into Prof. Sohoni’s viewpoint (including all arguments), visit http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~sohoni/RD.pdf
IITANS.ORG is a group of IIT Alumini who are spearheading the camp of protest against the government’s decision to scrap JEE. This group was formed around 4 to 5 months back, though their activities gained momentum after September 14th, when the government announced the abolition of JEE.The founders of this group had written a petition to government in around October 2010, highlighting them the aim and significance of JEE and asking them not to consider scrapping this prestigious examination.
One of the founders Mr Parvin Baishyikar says that “The reasons the government is giving for abolishing JEE and their actions are not at all synchronous. They say they want to bridge the gap between rural and urban India by including marks of 12th boards. The solution is to improve the education system in rural India, not to scrap JEE. Even today, in many towns of India, there are insufficient and untrained teachers to teach them for board exams alone, and now they are raising the same bar to prepare those students for JEE. They say they want to reduce the influence of coaching. This new method will, in fact, promote coaching even more. Many coaching institutes have already come up with taglines like ‘inculcating with the new JEE pattern’. Also, making 50 lakh students give a single exam brings an infinite factor of luck into play.”
Mr. Baishkiyar is confounded at the logic proposed. He wonders “Can the government tell me how will this system get better engineers than those already present? There are students in IIT, who, in spite of clearing JEE drop out of college because of being unable to cope with the academics, so how do they suggest that other students will do well here? The basic crux of engineering lies in mathematical and physical concepts, which are tested through JEE. Students clearing JEE are not directly taught engineering as soon as they come to IIT, but, in fact, in their first year they are raised to a further higher level of advanced mathematics useful for engineering applications, and this requires certain ingenuity. And if students are taken without testing this skill, how will they cope with advanced engineering?”
Coming to the point of undergrads not pursuing engineering, he argues “ I agree not all UG’s of IITs pursue engineering, but of those who do, how many non-IITians, consider the PGs of IIT for that matter, match them in that? For advanced engineering you require the skills what a student clearing JEE possess. JEE is designed that way. If the problem is that UG’s are not pursuing engineering, then look into that with another angle. Scrapping JEE is not the solution, as students entering this place by clearing this very exam, are most capable of doing things unimagined of and taking this country to where it was dreamed IITians will take when IIT was formed. Ruining this dream based on dirty politics and illogical reasons is not applicable, and we shall fight to retain its value. IIT is not merely an institute for us, it is a glimpse of hope for this developing India, and if required we all IITians will have to protest against this.”
IITANS.ORG has called for an all India protest from students of all the engineering colleges, as this decision affects them equally as well. They have called for a mass boycott of classes by all students of IITs, and according to their page on facebook, over 2000 students already have RSVPed for the event. They are also planning a letter to be written by each IIT, signed by all the students, and submitted to director of respective IITs, and from there forwarded to government of India. They say they shall continue to protest until government hears them. IITians have given an overwhelming response to them, and gradually all IITs are coming together for this common purpose. How effective they become in forcing the government to re-look at it’s hare-brained scheme remains to be seen.
Do you agree with these views? Do you have any thoughts on the same? Comments are most welcome!