Minister Sibal Should Leave the Tried, Trusted JEE Alone: Prof YP Singh

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In the first of a series of articles on the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and allied education subjects, Prof. Yash Pal Singh, formerly a professor and head of the Electrical Engineering Department and coordinator of the Energy Engineering Program at IIT Kharagpur, lambastes the controversial issue of abolishing the present JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) for IIT by Kapil Sibal, the Indian Minister for Human Resource Development. Sibal had earlier written a detailed explanation in support of his reform under the title, “ONE NATION ONE TEST” – Philosophy and concerns in India America Today.

New Delhi – Policy decisions by individuals having no exposure to the ground realities, more so if merely based on flawed assumptions, can be disastrous. The outcome can be tragic, particularly when the policy affects a very large number of individuals, and have long term implications. Let us examine the pros and cons of the various arguments for and against the proposed changes in the JEE.

The existing JEE is losing its edge because of the influence of coaching classes. Sure, a large number of students from the ‘teaching shops’ in places like Kota do make the cut, but please don’t rush to condemn the candidates and class them as substandard – spare a thought for the single-minded effort put by them over one or two years for achieving a target they set for themselves.

One should not be carried away by the psychological propaganda by the same coaching classes hyping their claims, and effectively browbeating aspiring candidates and their parents to enroll in one or more of them. The true picture would emerge if one finds the actual percentage of their enrolled students that make the cut, and their claim that their students secure the top ranks (there are reports that many of them pay handsome amounts to the top-rankers for agreeing to be listed as their students) should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The IIT JEE should publish the percentage of students from the same coaching classes occupying the last 5000 ranks in the JEE to show that students from the same coaching classes form a good percentage of those too, and prove that coaching has only a marginal impact on the success and does not guarantee success. The motivation and hard work of the candidates has a greater bearing on their success. We also know of many parents belonging to the lower middle class who scrounge their meager resources to put their wards in such classes.

Kindly also recognize that the coaching classes are filling a vacuum left by criminal neglect and abdication of responsibility to establish a sound school system. In this God forsaken country where one has to often pay a bribe to even secure a peon’s job, why crib if some teachers are earning money by coaching. This is not a scam, and they are not looting anybody, as is the case being made in the general perception.

Doing away with examinations would remove stress on “long suffering” students, and make learning in schools a pleasure. Incorporating the magical CCE would open the creativity latent in our children suffering from the oppressive examination system for ages.

Please pause and kindly look at the feedback from the students and parents, even in well-equipped schools, and discover the reality as opposed to the fiction sold to the gullible public. I would request the students, the parents, and the teachers to kindly recall the ancient Sanskrit mantra: “Sukharthinam Kuto Vidya, Vidyarthinam Kuto Sukham.” Ask the students to put in hard work. Sir! There is no free lunch in life, take your life easy today and be prepared for a harder lifelong grind. By luring the students to develop a mind set of taking life easy, you may end up doing irreparable damage to their psyche.

Those who talk glibly about equal opportunities may please reflect on how many resist the temptation to jump a queue. When you talk of the unfair advantage of access to coaching for candidates from more affluent sections, please also talk about a far larger absolutely deprived section in rural and remote tribal areas having not even an apology of a school. You very willingly accept the fiction of giving more opportunities to them by including the school marks in the proposed JEE, after virtually cutting them off by imposing a requirement of a minimum score in the qualifying examination. How merciful?

Blaming the coaching classes for the so-called drop in the quality of IIT graduates put forward by several individuals, including even a few directors, is another no-brainer. Dissect this and you discover a tacit acceptance of their incompetence to hold that position.

In my four decades of experience, both as a student, as well as a faculty member in an IIT, I found the students always willing to take any amount of load. So reject such nonsense outright and ask them to do their job properly or just get out of that position. If they find that even the JEE entrants are incapable of coming to a desired level in their classes, they must blame their own capability, rather than hide behind an alibi of coaching classes. The MHRD rushing to attack the JEE on the basis of such irresponsible claims is simply Quixotic.

One Nation, One Examination! A beautiful sentiment! But sentiments seldom lead to rational decisions. How on earth, just by setting up a hybrid of JEE and AIEEE, have you achieved this goal? Almost every private institution has its own entrance examination, and the same is the case with every state. Sir! (n-1) is not 1, if n is not 2. When you sell this concept as a placebo for reducing stress on the candidates, you are on very thin ice.

Take the case of a candidate appearing in the last attempt allowed by your proposed scheme. Having failed to get through in the earlier attempts, and his/her future prospects hanging by the thin thread of doing well in this examination, the stress on the student would be immense. With multiple examinations the student has a lifeline – they can do well in one or the other test, but the fear of just one bad day in this singular examination would definitely put the greatest tension, and the student may even mess up under stress. One need not be a psychiatrist to visualize this situation, but the MHRD seems to be blissfully unaware of it.

In the eyes of the lay public, IITs are elitist institutes, the graduates serve only the MNCs or go abroad for better prospects and contribute little to the progress of this country – a media-created myth. When one of our successful graduates working abroad lands in India, he/she becomes the darling of the media – everyone rushes to get some bites, while achievements of those serving at home are seldom noticed.

We in IIT had a joke: “Drain, if you want to be counted as a brain.” Yes, almost every one of the IIT graduates had been or can go abroad, but despite that, nearly three-fourths of them have been serving India in all fields; yet we have been painted to be selfish or even unpatriotic. For no fault on our part “we” have been made into “they.”

Please note that the average IIT graduate hails from an average Indian family. The tycoons send their progeny to the US, while those from the political families, having grown with privileges and favors, find cracking the JEE a hard nut – not worth the effort when politics provides a more lucrative prospect. But maybe having a finger in an examination like the new JEE – very interesting!

The proposal to give weight to school marks in the new JEE is completely flawed. The logic justifying this measure is that it would ensure that the students would take greater interest in their school studies, which they presently neglect because of their focus on the JEE and the coaching classes.

First, what fraction of even the science stream students of class XII take the JEE? How would this step motivate the vast majority who have no intention of going for technical education? What about the students in non-science streams? In fact, on the average, the science stream students in schools are more serious than those in the other streams.

Your remedy for improving the schools is like the prescription of the proverbial quack: “Put a bandage on the arm of Peter because John has hurt his leg!’ We may be unwilling or even incapable of improving the school system; but not to worry, we have a wonderful remedy – we will start with an intensive treatment of the IIT JEE system. That would ensure that school students will start taking studies more seriously!

Nonexistent or derelict buildings; untrained, uninterested, or overburdened teachers; mere apologies in the name of other facilities like a library, drinking water, toilets, or playgrounds, would no more alienate the students from school. A brilliant solution from a brilliant mind!

Sir, we would agree with this proposal wholeheartedly if you allow us to extend the same logic to another parallel situation. The economy, public services, and the bureaucracy at all levels of almost all government departments are in poor condition, just like the schools. Let’s also remedy this situation by treating the top echelons of the government in a similar way. Please Sir, please leave the tried and trusted JEE alone. 

Prof. Yash Pal Singh
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Prof. Yash Pal Singh is a former professor and head of the Electrical Engineering Department and coordinator of the Energy Engineering Program at IIT Kharagpur

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