As the day inches closer, the hearts start beating and the perspiration rolls down in little beads down across foreheads. With their hearts in their mouths, 300,000 students will face the most important test in their lives in India on the 12th of April, 2009. Yes, it is indeed the Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Examination, claimed to be one of the world’s hardest examinations. It is this single test that will make or break lives of thousands in a nation where the educational infrastructure is not exactly robust. So, for eight hours on the coming Sunday, as the world goes around, thousands of students will face a gruelling test so that they can get into the prestigious IITs. On top of that there are CBSE/ICSE Board Examinations, parental pressure and expectations from society. Undoubtedly, this is one of the hardest possible pressure cooker times for the brightest in our country.
Is it the right way?
Two three hour papers with esoteric questions on vast topics from Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics with a nail-biting two hour break in between seems like a recipe for torture. Unaided by all sorts of calculating devices, students are expected to know hundreds of formulae, memorise complex equations, reactions and also calculate mentally answers to questions that will easily put off even the most motivated. But then, is there a better way? How else does one select 3000 odd students from 300,000, in other words one student from a pool of 100 students? The IITJEE used to be subjective test but the IIT administration decided to change the format of the paper to objective-style multiple choice questions. This was, supposedly, to reduce the stress that students sitting for the test have to face. However, it is definitely not working. To quote IIT Madras Director, “We are creating masters of pattern recognition.” Pressurised to solve questions in as little time as possible, students just resort to rote-learning and memorising without any basic understanding of the fundamental concepts.
If one chooses to look at other countries like the US, one notices that there is absolutely no way that a similar system could be adopted in India. The US system is certainly the less stressful one but then how do the IITs ensure they get the brightest when the country’s schools are lacking in infrastructure and opportunities, teachers seem to be nonchalant and the whole school system seems rickety.
Coaching it right..
According to estimates, the coaching industry in India is nearly worth US$ 2 billion. With coaching centres in every nook and corner of all major cities and towns, one is not surprised. Shockingly enough, there are coaching centres that start instructing students on how to clear the JEE as soon as in Grade 7 or 8. This means classes for hours on top of school work for 5 long years. It is tenable to argue that people exploit the aspirations of our students to make money through such centres, All this excessive tuition does is, destroy creativity and passion. It further encourages rote-learning and memorising; it breeds pragmatism and expediency.
So, what is the need of the hour? Educators in the most prestigious institutes should continue to reform and mould the examination to further cut back on stress and find ways of recognising raw intelligence instead of mindless memorising. But more importantly, it is essential that the whole educational system at the primary and secondary schools needs to be elevated and more money, investment and talent such be pumped in. Teaching is fast becoming a less lucrative job as compared with engineering, accountancy and perhaps even working at call centers. I sincerely hope that the government realises how important education reform is, if India is to continue to rise and grow in the future.