IITs: Right of admission reserved

Three exams — one for Class 12, main and advance — means students are sure to fall deeper into the trap of coaching institutes

For the poor, opportunities matter the most, because one good opportunity can change the course of their lives. There was a time when drivers and peons tried to do everything they could to stay in the good books of their sahibs, in the hope that the sahibs will give the job of driver or peon to their sons after their retirement. Their aspirations ended there. But times have changed. Now the poorest of the poor have a strong desire to provide the best education to their wards. Even if it is beyond their means, they sacrifice their own basic needs in the hope that their children, powered by education, will one day become sahibs themselves, not a sahib’s driver or peon. This is why more and more students from underprivileged families now dream of sitting for IIT-JEE (Indian Institute of Technology-Joint Entrance Examination), something unheard of just a couple of decades ago. And, more importantly, many are realising their dreams, thanks to their hard work, determination to excel and, of course, the opportunity to do so.
The ministry of human resource development recently announced a joint entrance examination (JEE) for all Central government-run undergraduate engineering programmes (IITs, NITs and IIITs), arguing that this will help poor students and make all 16 IITs more inclusive. The objective, it is being claimed, is to reduce dependence on coaching institutes by giving weightage to Class 12 marks for admission to IITs and engineering colleges. According to the HRD ministry, the main
purpose of the reforms is to ensure that students go to schools, and not sacrifice schooling for coaching.
But the million-dollar question is: Will it really help the poor? In the present scenario, it seems highly unlikely.
The JEE includes an objective-type question paper (JEE main) and JEE advanced. There’s also a plan for an aptitude test and a subject test.
Three exams — one for Class 12, main and advanced — means much more stress and burden on students and they are sure to fall deeper into the trap of coaching institutes.
Coaching institutes — which have been given three opportunities to cash in on students — have already devised ways to make the most of this opportunity and already have new packages ready to lure students.
This is contrary to the more competitive single national entrance tests for AIIMS and IIMs. If those institutes can do it, why not the IITs?
HRD minister Kapil Sibal feels that the best way to prevent students from exploitation at the hands of coaching institutes is to keep them in schools. But is it possible to standardise the marks of 36 state boards? In the school boards of Maharashtra and Goa, for example, students get almost 100 per cent marks, while in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, even 70-80 per cent is quite difficult to score. This puts students of some states at a disadvantage for no fault of theirs. What’s more, the standard of education in state board schools, which cater mostly to the poor and underprivileged, is not uniform. There are schools that lack even basic facilities. So equating children from state board schools with those from elite schools will certainly go against the underprivileged lot in the national competition. The new JEE system will, in fact, alienate them quite effectively.
IIT students are viewed with great respect by international educational institutes and companies. They are as much in demand in India as they are outside. But all that has started changing. Even IIT professors now admit that many students reach IIT because of vigorous coaching and rote learning. Even Infosys’ N.R. Narayana Murthy raised a question about the IIT graduates recently. He said, “Thanks to the coaching classes today, the quality of students entering IITs has gone lower and lower. They somehow get through the joint entrance examination. But their performance in IITs, at jobs or when they come for higher education in institutes in the US is not as good as it used to be.”
But the question is: Why this dependence on coaching institutes? What kind of questions are asked in IIT entrance exams that students are forced to knock on the doors of coaching institutes? Why are such questions asked? The fact is that the questions asked in IIT-JEE are not of Class 12 level, but much above that. There is a huge difference between the school curriculum and what’s asked of students in IIT-JEE. The students have no choice but to go to coaching institutes, as the schools are ill-equipped to prepare them for the exam.
This is not to suggest that nothing can be done to stop the growing influence of coaching institutes and reduce the pressure on students. The thrust should be on minimising the rural-urban divide by providing a level-playing field. For that, the IITs should set such questions that are conceptual and of Class 11-12 level only. IIT professors are scholars, and are often not familiar with the Class 11-12 syllabus. It would be good if CBSE experts are roped in to assist IITs in framing questions. This will make the IIT-JEE more attuned to Class 11-12, provide a level playing field, reduce the need for coaching institutes and make students realise the importance of schooling.
Another important step could be to increase the number of attempts to three for IITs. At present students get just two chances. While for students from elite schools, this may be enough as they may have other opportunities, it is not so for students from poor families in rural areas who start off with the disadvantage of poor schooling in ill-equipped government schools.
Though consciousness about education has increased, it is now time to provide quality schooling and equal opportunity to all sections of society — the spirit of Right to Education Act 2009. If that becomes a reality, real change will occur for the real difference is not in the quality of students, but in the quality of opportunities.
With awareness about education increasing across all sections, it is now time to provide the much-needed “food” to India’s education-hungry students. That will add enormously to
the talent pool of the country.
Today the poor don’t seek jobs from politicians when they visit their areas; instead they complain about lack of teachers and infrastructure in schools. This is a healthy trend for a brighter and progressive India. Any policy that goes against the poor and divests them of opportunities will prove counter-productive for the nation.

The writer is the founder of Super 30 educational programme in Patna

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