By Shobhit Agarwal:
The only component of the education system that had managed to escape the clutches of the politicians for decades has been the Joint Entrance Exam to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-JEE). For decades, the exam, regarded by many as the toughest entrance exam in the country, has filtered a few thousand students from lakhs of aspirants, and deemed them qualified to study in the most reputed and prestigious institute in the country — the IITs. But as fate would have it, the luck has finally run out on IIT-JEE, and if the honourable HRD minister, Mr. Kapil Sibal, has his way, it will be scrapped away altogether.
The reign of Mr. Arjun Singh as the education minister saw the education system in the country sinking to new lows. From forwarding the 27% reservation quota in education institutes to granting deemed university status to an unfathomably large number of institutes, his ministership was a perfect demonstration of disasters that follow when you mix education with populist politics. When Kapil Sibal replaced him, he invoked a breath of new life into the system, not just being blunt in his assessment of the appalling state of education system but also proposing some significant changes. Making the tenth standard board exams optional was one of his first moves, and regardless of what the critics have to say, it is a move in the right direction, helping to reduce stress and exam-phobia from the lives of 15-16 year old students.
In spite of having his heart in the right direction, Mr. Sibal has become a victim of his own overdrive for change. So much so, that he has proposed a complete revamp of the engineering entrance exam in the country. The new system proposed by him has the following features —
1. Doing away with IIT-JEE and AIEEE. Rather, have a common entrance test (to be called as JEE) for both, which will short-list candidates to all the centrally funded engineering colleges across the country like the IITs, NITs (National Institute of Technology), IIITs (Indian Institute of Information Technology).
2. The JEE is to give a substantial weightage to class 12 marks — 40% in case of NITs and IIITs and 50% in case of IITs
3. The exam will be held in two parts — main and advanced. While the first part will be an aptitude-based test, the second part will check a student’s knowledge of the subject in depth.
4. For admission to the IITs, a composite score will be generated on the basis of the class 12 board marks and the performance in JEE mains. The top 50,000 will only be screened for the JEE advance, based on their performance in which will they get selected to the IITs
5. For admission to NITs and IIITs, the composite score will be generated based on the class 12 board marks, and the marks scored in both JEE mains and advance.
The reasons given for incorporating such drastic changes have been many. The notable ones are-
1. Students often tend to sideline the board exams in lieu of IIT-JEE.
2. The growing reliance on the coaching classes will be reduced.
3. And most importantly, it will help reduce the burden on the students, who are stressed by the high number of entrance exams after the board exams.
All the reasoning and justification sounds good on paper. But after looking through the proposed system, they are lot of clear-cut loopholes that one can find instantly.
Firstly, since in the present system, the focus is only on the performance in the entrance exams, students can channelize all their focus on them, without worrying about the board exams, where they only need to score 60% marks. It is not a hidden fact from anyone that the difference in the level of class 12 board exam papers and that of IIT-JEE is ridiculously huge. And so, a student merely preparing for the board exams doesn’t stand a chance of cracking the IIT-JEE.
What the new system, which prides itself as a champion to the student’s cause, will do is, it will further pile on the pressure on the students, who will now be forced to perform well in the board exams as well as the JEE, in order to get into the premiere colleges. How this makes sense to the change-makers is a bit hard to comprehend?
Although CBSE is conventionally thought of to be the central education board in the country, it isn’t so. The fact of the matter is that there are some 30 independent education boards that function throughout the country. The new system proposes to follow the percentile system rather than the percentage system, to lend in uniformity. But how can any proposal set parity when there are close to 6 lakh students writing the CBSE while the other boards contribute only a fraction of the total student population? Moreover, the quality of students, examination papers and evaluation again varies drastically. What good is any system when it doesn’t provide level playing field to its aspirants?
And finally, the concept of a single exam will only see a rise in the number of students dropping an academic year to prepare for the JEE. In the present system, if a student doesn’t perform well in the IIT-JEE, he still has AIEEE to look forward to. But in the proposed system, if a student fares badly in JEE, be it mains or advanced, then his chances of making it to the government-aided institutes reduce significantly. All that he will be left with is to drop an academic year, and again prepare for the JEE, because not everyone can afford the costly private education.
The proposed system has found a few takers, but it has found a greater number of detractors. The IIT-Alumni, especially, have been very critical of the system. They argue that the new system doesn’t help solve problems like commercialisation of coaching classes and disparities in gender and rural-urban education scenarios. Moreover, they are of the opinion that the new system will dilute the quality of the student intake, which will in turn affect the IIT brand.
Such has been the face-off between the combined forces of IIT-alumni and IIT senate on one side and Mr. Sibal on the other, that there have been talks of the case going to the Supreme Court. IIT Kanpur has already rejected the proposal and announced that they will conduct their separate entrance exam. IIT Delhi is rumoured to be following suite. In all such confusion, the people in power haven’t spared a thought for the students who will be writing JEE in 2013. With such uncertainty looming around the concept of examination itself, how are they to prepare for such an exam?
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