The recent proposal regarding the changes in the admission procedure to the IITs and other centrally funded engineering institutes has drawn severe flak, prominently from the senate bodies and the faculties of the IITs. With Mr. Sibal not ready to take a step backward and the IITs too not ready for a compromise, the impasse over the proposal seems to be a difficult one to break. Although well-intentioned, the proposal is flawed and seeks wrong answers to the right questions!
It is very clear that the whole concept of having one entrance test for engineering relies heavily on three basic motives; a) reducing stress of the multiple entrance tests, b) controlling the growing influence of coaching classes; and c) giving more importance to board examinations.
Firstly, it has to be understood that the level of stress among the students is not much because of the multiple number of exams but more because of the fierce competition they face. When around five lakh students compete for ten thousand odd seats, the pressure is sure to dominate. Another reason for it is the clear distinction between the pattern of IIT-JEE and AIEEE on one hand and the board exams on the other. The board papers encourage rote-learning whereas the JEE tests the ability of students to understand and apply the learned concepts. So, students have to do the balancing act while preparing for these two extremely different exams.
Now, the proposed plan does not in any way offer a solution to this problem. It proposes to conduct both the tests—the main (roughly on AIEEE pattern) and the advanced (on JEE pattern)—on the same day. It will make the exam a one-shot hit or miss kind of a situation. Contrary to this, the existing system provides multiple chances for a student to make it to a good quality institute.
The plan also makes it clear that on the basis of weightage given to the boards and the scores of the basic entrance test, candidates about five times the seats available will be shortlisted who will then be eligible to take the advanced test. The logic behind this, apparently, is that there will be filtering out of applicants so that the competition reduces. But, the fact that both the tests will be on the same day clearly suggests that all the applicants will certainly take both the tests. So the number of students appearing and by extension the competition will be the same.
The process of admission to other centrally funded institutes like the NITs and IIITs, according to the proposal, consists of giving 40% weightage to boards and 30% each to both the main and advanced exams. Now, by implication all those who want to try only for the NITs will also have to take an advanced test based on JEE pattern. That is an unnecessary burden on them. About 1.2 million appeared for AIEEE this year and five lakh for JEE. If the new pattern comes into force nearly seven lakh applicants will be compelled to take a JEE based paper.
Second is the issue of coaching classes. Many junior colleges now have tie-ups with these coaching centres. The proposed format will, in fact, cause proliferation of such coaching centres as they will now coach for three different exams. Integrated junior college combined with JEE coaching, already offered by many private coaching classes, will gain momentum.
The third and perhaps the most critical point is that of giving weightage to board exams. Although Mr. Sibal’s plan comes up with a statistical formula to ‘normalise’ the marks of different boards across the country, it is difficult to believe it will take into consideration the vast differences in the syllabus, paper pattern and the evaluation system among other things of various boards. Practical exams are given considerable weightage in the boards. But in most places we find that if the examiner is known to the student, then the student gets full marks more often than not. There is a huge luck factor and bias in the board exams. Unfortunately, now this will count in JEE. Instead of giving direct weightage to board marks, the minister could have considered raising the minimum eligibility marks from the current 60% to about 70-75% atleast in core subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. This would have ensured some drop in the number of eligible candidates.
Another argument made in favour of the suggested proposal is that it will mitigate the urban bias and open up more chances for rural students to get into the elite engineering institutes. It is known that the quality of Plus Two level education in rural areas is much worse compared to semi-urban and urban areas. It is also very evident that the overall Plus Two results of rural students are comparatively less than urban students. There is a fundamental infrastructural problem in our education system that we suffer from. Inadequate number of quality junior colleges, extremely low student attendance due to poor teaching quality, and the arbitrariness in the results has in turn diminished the importance of Plus Two level examination. And having known this, if Mr. Sibal claims that the new pattern will enhance the chances of rural students to get into IITs then it is a mere fallacy!
Mr. Anand Kumar, the founder of Super 30 which coaches poor rural students for the JEE, has said that the new proposal is anti-rural. He made it clear that the marks his students get in their Class XII are on an average 60-70%.Inspite of that Super 30 has been producing excellent results over the years, with many of its students ending up in IITs. Now, with the new pattern, it is doubtful whether these students will even get a chance to appear for the advanced JEE test due to screening of candidates as per the proposed weightage of Class XII performance.
Finally, I would ardently request the government to call off this plan. Let the IIT senates and faculties be taken into confidence as they are much more adept at understanding the intricacies of the academic matters and the problems faced by these institutes because they have played a crucial role in running these institutes of supreme excellence over the years. And as this is a student-centric issue, let the voice and opinions of the Indian students also be registered while arriving at a consensus.