Save the JEE – An appeal to the powers that be

Don't ruin it

Save the JEE – An appeal to the powers that be
Don't move the cheese

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Human Resources & Development headed by Kapil Sibal took a resolution to amend the present system of entrance to engineering colleges. It was proposed to unify the IIT-JEE and AIEEE through a common exam called the ISEET which also took into account the marks secured in the board examinations. The student body of the community was up in arms against this move and I also wrote in February why this new system was flawed, especially with the inclusion of board marks. It looked like the government listened to us when they said that they'll hold further consultations with the IIT Council. The country waited patiently with bated breath.

And guess what? We were left disappointed. One. More. Time. And as if to rub salt in the wounds, the weightage of boards was increased from 40% to 50%.

So, what exactly happened? The proposed system will have two examinations: JEE Mains and JEE Advanced. They will be held now on the same day. For admission to the IITs, 50% weightage will be given to Class 12 Boards and 50% to JEE Mains. A merit list will be drawn and the top 50000 (roughly) of these candidates will have their JEE Advanced papers evaluated. The final rank list will be drawn on the basis of only the JEE Advanced marks.

Even this new system is completely flawed. The very system of giving any sort of weightage to the boards defeats the purpose of admitting students to the IITs based on analytical abilities. Especially in India, the boards are hopeless at testing a student's analytical abilities. This is even more true in state boards. The practical exams are a well-known farce and is the Indian education system's worst kept secret. And the theory exams are regularly in the news for all the wrong reasons - from irrational correction to question paper leaks. Are these very same exams going to decide the admissions of several lakhs of students every year to the elite Indian Institutes of Technology and the National Institutes of Technology?

They say that students don't give importance to school. Point taken but does that mean you put their future in jeopardy? First of all, giving any sort of weightage to boards for admission to a university which admits students on the basis of their analytical abilities is blasphemy and giving it 50% weightage is sacrilege!

The new system will reduce the pressure on a student – Sibal

And then there is Sibal's favorite statement that "he wants to reduce the pressure on students". He says it so often that it has become a sort of cliche now. What he doesn't understand or refuses to understand is that this proposed system of his just places additional pressure on a student. (S)he now has to ensure his/her marks in some rote-oriented examinations whose questions repeat every other year and whose papers are corrected in the most lethargic and unprofessional manner are among the top 50000 of the country so that his/her JEE advanced paper which (s)he prepares with due diligence and uses the most of his/her mental faculties are evaluated! Is this fair?

The new system will be in place from 2013 – Sibal

And this is the biggest shocker of them all! He wants to implement a system which is nascent and faces dissent/assent from a new quarter everyday as early as next year in 2013! I just don't understand how a man who claims to want to reduce the pressure on the country's students can take such rash decisions.

This is how students feel. Sadly.
The new system will reduce the importance of coaching institutes – Sibal

Seriously, Kapil Sibal doesn't understand the system of coaching institutes in this country. He fails to realize that by giving such a pivotal role to the board examinations, coaching institutes will now launch a two-pronged strategy to target both the boards and the JEE. All I can say is "R.I.P. to the Indian Student".

Are we fixing something which isn't broken?

There is an old adage – "Don't fix something which isn't broken". I can't say how much of that applies to the present system, but I can say for sure that what Kapil Sibal is doing is not going to fix it. The real problem is not in the JEE itself but in the various supplementary exams conducted by the private colleges. After talking to various people and listening to varied opinions, what I feel is that the IIT-JEE and the AIEEE should continue as separate exams, but the various multitude of exams conducted by private institutions (like BITSAT, VITEEE, SRMEEE etc.) should be banned. All of them should admit students based on just the AIEEE. Another thing is the state level entrance exams. This requires more debate and discussion on whether they should be scrapped or continued with. Personally, I feel that they should go on.

Once we have just two exams (and probably an additional one at the state level), we can then think of reimagining education with an additional aptitude test. However, reimagining education in our country is something which we should first start from bottom up. First, we must reform the primary education, secondary education, the system of boards, assess the feasibility of having a common board across the country and then we can think of admission to higher education - not just to engineering but to other disciplines as well.

Coming back to the boards, I just want to highlight that we have around 3o boards in the country whose marks are impossible to be standardized given the heterogeneity of our education system. You can't just conjure up a mathematical formula and attempt to standardize the so many boards in our country in order to give them weightage in an engineering entrance examination.

Another point to remember is that one change in pattern will not make coaching institutes irrelevant. One must understand that the very reason that coaching institutes thrive in our country is the immense competition to get into engineering colleges. Every student wants to do engineering irrespective of whether his interest exists or not. We need to develop world-class facilities like the IITs in other disciplines as well and make them attractive to students so that a student can deliberate on what he really wants to do instead of just blindly shading the engineering option.

What do you think about the proposed changes to the JEE? Sound off in the comments!