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DNA Conversations: Being relevant, being progressive, in spite of being tarnished quite often

Friday, 4 April 2014 - 9:38pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
“We play an extremely vital role that schools have failed to do. We prepare students for engineering examinations. “
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Few things can be more vexatious than uncertainty. But that is what students and their parents confront when preparing themselves for entrance exams to India's prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) or even other engineering colleges. The government has complicated the norms for the competitive entrance examinations, to the extent that even experts are unsure about how they need to be interpreted.

Private training institutes who prepar3e students for such competitive examinations are naturally vexexd, because they have to explain the situation to both parents and students. Their ire is also exacerbated by the unwillingness on the part of India's academicians and policymakers to grant such training institutes the respect and credibility they deserve.

To discuss this and other related issues, DNA put together a team of experts comprising (in alphabetical order, Mohit Goel, Managing Director, Brilliance Yukti Knowledge Centre ; Vivek Khanna, co-founder, 21st Century Education Pvt. Ltd.; Vinay Kumar, ceo, Rao IIT Academy; Sanjay Sinhal, ceo, Sinhal Classes; Praveen Tyagi, managing director, IIT-ian’s PACE Education Pvt. Ltd.; Jagdish Walawalkar, founder & chairman, IDEAL Education.

Given below are edited excerpts of the discussion that followed which was moderated by R.N.Bhaskar with editorial support from Vinamrata Borwankar.

 

DNA: I would like to know from you what are the present rules for appearing getting into IIT, and for qualifying at the entrance examination?

Khanna: Anybody who has PCM [Physics, Chemistry and Maths] in 11th and 12th can appear for the IIT entrance. Then there is an exam called the JEE Main [JEE stands for Joint Entrance Examinations]..

So that’s the first stage. And if you get into the top 1.5 lakh students qualifying at the JEE Main, then you can apply for the JEE Advanced Examination.

DNA: So you’ve got two examinations in case you want to get into IIT? But wasn't there some talk about weightage being given to the board exams

Sinhal: Basically, the general perception was that IIT Coaching centres and IIT training institutes based in and around Kota [in Rajasthan] were actually taking over the entire examination system. So they wanted to give weightage to the board examination when selecting students for IITs.

DNA: This is SSC or HSC or both?

Sinhal: This is Class 12th. The top 1.5 lakh students at the JEE Main appear for the JEE Advanced. But at the time of final calculation, they’ll be taking only the top 20 percentile students in the board exams. So, basically, students who are in the top 20 percentile of their respective board exams, only they will be actually eligible to get admission into IIT.

 

DNA We have a situation where you have at least three different boards – CBSE, ISC and the state boards. Would this 20 percentile apply to all these?

Goel: Yeah. So I’ll just first address the changes in the pattern. Earlier, admissions to IIT were governed only on the basis of the entrance exam called as the IIT-JEE.

The eligibility criterion was that you had to score minimum 60% marks in your 12th. It did not matter whether you’ve scored 61 or 81 or 91. You had to meet the minimum eligibility criteria, and admissions were only based on the IIT-JEE exam.

In the revised pattern, they have made it two-stage. That is JEE Main and JEE Advanced, as Vivek has already stated. The eligibility criterion which was earlier 60%, has been modified to 20 percentile. So that is the only real change in the entrance exam to IITs, if you look at the last two decades.

DNA: But earlier the 60% was the entry stage. Now, you say the 20 percentile is the end stage. Right?

Goel: No. For example, if I want to get admission to FYB.Sc., I have to pass the 12th standard. To get admission into IIT, I have to score minimum 60% in my 12th. That is eligibility criterion.

That eligibility criterion that time also was at the end stage. You take the IIT exam, the results of the 12th Board and IIT exam should come out in that same month, when you apply for admission to IITs you have to show that your 12th score is at least this much.

Now you appear for the IIT JEE Main, the first stage.

DNA: There is no cut-off criterion.

Goel: There is nothing…

DNA: What if you get 40% in the HSC?

Goel: You don’t know how much you have got, unless you have passed 12th in the last year. The Board exam is in the month of March.

DNA: Oh! But if I have done HSC last year, can I still appear?

Goel: You can still appear. The cut-off is applied at the final stage. The cut-off earlier was 60%, now it has been made to 20 percentile.

The percentile formula basically tries to remove the discrepancies [and differing standards] among the various Boards. Some boards might be lenient in correction; some boards might be tough in correction. Percentile is an attempt to standardize the students across the Boards.

Practically speaking, I don’t think this is the correct way. Theoretically if you look at it - suppose, there is a board which has one lakh students, a student who stands 100th in that board would have a percentile of about 99.9 in that board. Assuming that there is another board which has only bright students who would otherwise rank among the top 100, the student who stood 100th will have a percentile of zero, and get disqualified.

DNA: That’s very unfair, yes.

Goel: Of course, they defend this system by saying that the board sizes are big enough and that such issues will average out, but it does not happen.

If you look at the state board, there are lakhs of students. Even a 70% score will give you, say, a 20 percentile ranking. In the ISC Board, there are fewer students, but it may be the average quality of the students is better. So to get into a 20 percentile there would mean that you need to score about 83%, 84%, 85% marks.

So in that sense it is not really fair. Having said that, I’ve always maintained that the IITs have been clever enough to devise a formula where, practically speaking, a student will not be denied admission into IIT because of 12th board marks. The IITs were clear that the 12th marks will not be given any direct weightage.

DNA: Okay.

Goel: This is a compromise formula which was worked out. The assumption is that, a student, who has been able to stand in the top 10,000 students across the country in the IIT JEE Advanced, ought to be able to score in the top 20 percentile. So for a student who is actually preparing for the JEE Advanced, the 12th really is not a pressure. It’s a pressure which has been created by the peers and the coaching classes.

A student can really just focus on the JEE Advanced for two years and even if he puts in the last two or three months preparing for the 12th board, he will still clear that 20 percentile mark. The relevance of the 12th board is more for colleges other than IITs.

Tyagi: I don't think I need to go into the details because I think the students and all of us are already aware of them.

But, let’s come to the rules. In today’s system, we are making rules like 80% attendance is compulsory for the students. Isn’t it a way to force a child to attend in school when he doesn’t want to attend it?

Instead of identifying the reason why he doesn’t want to attend school, policymakers are framing policies and making rules as if for prisoners in a jail. So that is the kind of approach being used - high-handed, forcible methods.

When the 80% attendance rule was not enough, the policymakers came up with this very innovative rule [giving weightage to board marks] to ensure that the child – who is academically bright, preparing for competitive exams, going to Kota, going to various coaching classes where IITians are teaching him and delivering quality education -- is forced to attend school.

They fail to understand and acknowledge this domain completely. According to them, we are the untouchables of education. The principals who represent the failed system of education, who surround the policymakers, always convey how to ensure that the child takes rote learning seriously. This failed system of education has continued in the schools because most of the schools are run by politicians, businessmen and people who are related to these policymakers.

They want to ensure that this failed system should not fail and the children continue to attend. So they came up with an innovative method that “we’ll make board percentages a criterion for getting into IIT”. IIT professors and the entire IIT system knew the futility of it.

It is just a weapon to threaten the child and to ensure that he attends school, even though the quality of education is not good enough to attract him. They are not working for ways to ensure that the child comes to school out of choice; where they improve the quality of education inside the schools thus persuading the child to attend the school.

Any of these coaching classes in the country which, are preparing children for national level competitive exams; where the child pays extra money, puts in extra effort, does not have an attendance compulsion rule. There is not even proper infrastructure but still the child is willing to go there and learn.

DNA: Yes.

Tyagi: Why can’t the policymakers think of some ways to bring these talented [teachers and teaching methods] into the school education system? Once they are there, it’s a win-win for all.

The child will not be duplicating his effort. I have collaborated with schools and come up with integrated programs and PACE has started its own Junior Science Colleges where we are doing all this inside the college and this mode is being preferred by students. There is no attendance compulsion rule. Children are taking up such courses.

The IIT Director’s child studied in one of these integrated programs in K.C.College, and has benefited from it. Similarly, many of the IIT professors and their children are benefiting from it. The TCS CEO’s child has joined a Junior Science College like this at PACE.

If all the policymakers, most of the bureaucrats and their kids, are benefiting from these programs, why do they fail to acknowledge these methods, and take steps to bring some positive change in the education system and try to rope in these quality elements into the education system?

There are many ways to do that. Instead of just making the students aware of an exam, the guidelines and format which is there on the website of IIT, and everywhere, for the last two years, I will request this newspaper and the journalists who are present here, to dwell upon the bigger issues and to go deep into those issues.

DNA: Excellent.

Tyagi: All these measures that are being taken by the policymakers are ways to force a child to attend school. They cannot be justified in my opinion. And they are all aimed at ensuring that the child goes and attends a school, where he doesn’t feel that he is learning enough and he is not attracted to and doesn’t want to attend.

Instead of forcing the children, policymakers should listen to the parents and the child. Is there anybody in the education policymaking sphere, who can ensure that the coices of parents and children are heard?

Kumar: The first thing I would like to mention is that I am opposed to the clause about 20 percentile of the board results and all that.

I categorically don’t agree with that. It’s a false step taken by Kapil Sibal [Union minister of Human Resources Development and the person who was primarily responsible for introducing this rule]

He wanted to do something, so he has done something.

Unlike what people say, I don’t agree that 20 percentile is not an issue. It varies from state-to-state. Last year there were more than 25 cases in Andhra Pradesh where a child qualified JEE mains, but he did not come in the 20 percentile.

Further, even today, in spite of promising to bring all boards to a common level, there is a lot of difference in how HSC and CBSE board teachers teach and correct papers..

The whole idea of Sibal was to reduce the stress on the student. However, earlier, the student was worried only about the competitive examination. But today, the child is not only worried about competitive examination, but also about the board examination.

So we have increased the worry factor of the child. Even if a board paper is a little difficult, you get 10 calls from parents who are worried whether the child will clear the cut-off.

And let us not forget, nobody produces more than 30% selections to IIT. What about those students who are going to NITs[National Institutes of Technology]? Are they not capable enough? Just because that child gets an 8,000th rank and he/she wants computer science, he/she is choosing NIT.

Now when it comes to NIT, what happens is the board is also important. If you see the deviation, the formula of the 70/30 or 60/40 weightage, you will be embarrassed to see the biggest sufferer is the CBSE student and the biggest advantage comes to HSC student.

How are we justifying all this? There is a gap between the policymaker. The policymaker is concerned only about bringing about a change without thinking whether it is good, bad or ugly.

What we are currently doing is that we are saying that JEE Mains is a criterion, through which you will be filtered in for the JEE Advanced. Then, the JEE Mains and boards will not be valid, but only Advanced score will be considered.

So, every time we are putting ifs and buts. It’s like a programming chart, where one thing leads to another but at the end something else is happening. So in short, I would say, out of 15 lakh students who are taking up the examination the unaffected are only 5,000. The other 14.95 lakh are badly affected by it.

If I’m a student of Bihar I’ll be benefited because board scores are low. If I’m a student of Rajasthan, I will be benefited. But if I’m a student of Andhra Pradesh, I’ll not be benefited.

If I’m a student of CBSE, I’ll not be benefited. So that criterion itself is not valid. The entire thing is because ex-minister Sibal has done something without understanding and we have to follow it.

We are talking of 15 lakh students who take the exam. Every family has four to five members. So, about 1% of the population of India is suffering, because one person wanted to prove that he has to do something different.

Tyagi: 1% population is affected every year.

 

DNA: It’s recurring.

Walawalkar: Just a few points from what these people I was spoken.

First thing is that the earlier formula was definitely easy to understand, if I consider myself as a parent. Today, at the end of the exam, we don’t know exactly where we are.

They have made it more complicated. In fact, Kapil Sibal’s objective was to simplify the issue, but instead of simplifying he has complicated it further.

Another thing I fail to understand is…like in economics, there is demand and supply. Your population has increased so much over the last few years, so there is an increase in demand. Of course, they have set-up new IITs but overall supply has not increased much. Overall – the supply in the sense -- the seats in the IITs as compared to the demand for that.

If the supply is limited, I don’t understand how the government will achieve its objective by modifying the rules. In that case, either the government should provide, or allow others to provide, that type of education.

So I personally feel that if you look at the past few years, government has not given enough importance to higher education. When you are talking about the growth story, it will be a success provided that a large number of people are getting quality higher education.

The government is not doing that. I personally feel the government should do something from the supply side by creating more seats or allowing private players to offer such education. For example, the case of Mumbai University and the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) [which is now a deemed university]. There are several management colleges where the seats are not filled up but at NMIMS, for every seat there are many people applying.

Sinhal: I have a figure on how much the intake has increased over the last six or seven years.

I think in 2007, all IITs combined, about 5,500 odd students were admitted into the IIT and last year it was about 9,800, which is about 75% to 80% growth in the intake.

Goel: Earlier there was an IIT-JEE exam, which was specifically for the IITs and couple of other institutes. When that was the case, roughly I think about 3 lakh students would appear for the exam. Today there are 15 lakh students who appear for the JEE exam only because the exam is a common exam for all [engineering] institutes.

First stage for most of the [engineering] institutes; the second stage is for IIT. Today also if there were a separate exam only for the IITs, I don’t think the number would be more than 5 lakh students.

Sinhal: No, but I think even earlier when there was IIT-JEE, the IIT aspirants were appearing for the AI-EEE (All India engineering entrance examinations) as well.

Tyagi: For IIT there were less students or aspirants. But for AI-EEE there were more aspirants.

Kumar: When the last IIT-JEE was conducted, the official figure was about 4.98 lakhs, students who appeared categorically. At that point even AI-EEE was conducted and about 11 lakhs appeared.

 

DNA: Has the demand numbers gone up?

Walawalkar: Demand number has gone up. It has definitely gone up. Much more than increasing the capacity which we are talking about…

Tyagi: No, I would differ, because again, given the numbers -- as Vinay just said -- 11 lakh were appearing… And now there are about 14 lakhs appearing. So I think the people appearing for JEE Main has increased by about 30%, while supply – at least fr the IITs -- has increased 5,500 to about 9,800, which is 75% to 80%.

So I think the supply has increased at least in the IITs, NITs and all the other engineering institutes as well.

Kumar: No. But, that is again it will get diluted by about 35%, when you say that, the OBC quota was increased and added to the capacity.

The quota does matter, sir. If you see earlier out of 100, 74 seats were available now only 51 seats are available.

Tyagi: And I think out of the top 1.5 lakhs also it’s about 49% is reservation.

Kumar: Yes. So, we have only 77,000 in the non-reserved or open category.

 

DNA: Has the new system of exams caused board examination evaluation to get devalued, to ensure more students get better marks?

Goel: I think that was there even before the changed pattern. In the last five years, getting 90% is much easier as compared to what it was 15 years ago.

Walawalkar: Overall CBSE people used to get good marks compared to the HSC. One reason could be that better students opted for CBSE than for HSC. This could also be because CBSE is more concentrated to urban areas whereas SSC Board is all over Maharashtra, even in rural areas.

Now the SSC Board is realizing that their students are getting affected. So one could expect a more liberal approach to evaluation in the future.

 

DNA: Is this competitive populism.

Tyagi: In general, because of this percentile system there is a competition within Boards, to ensure that their children get more marks.

 

DNA: So competitive populism is there?

Tyagi: To some extent. Yes, it is there. For example, Maharashtra State Board last year increased the weightage to practicals from 20% to 30%.

Walawalkar: In a related event, if you have noticed, last year in Mumbai University, some colleges in the suburbs gave more marks to the students. University was surprised how a college in Mira Road or Bhayandar held a rank, when Podar, Sydenham, NM or Mithibhai did not get a rank.

 

DNA: Because examiners and moderators there pushed the marks…

Walawalkar: So, they pushed the marks.

Goel: But it does not work. Take an example. Let us assume that at the HSC Board there are, say, 100 students.

A student who earlier used to score 10th rank, maybe scored 80%. Now the Board is pushing up, and that student will now score 90% but the student will still get a 10th rank.

So, unless there is a discrimination within the board, which will be because of subjectivity and evaluation, percentiles remain the same.

Khanna: In fact, according to experts from the ISI, Indian Statistical Institute, this formula is not valid.

Kumar: The ministers say that they have given us the formula.

Khanna: No basically they were forced to give a formula.

Kumar: And now they think, the formula is not valid.

 

DNA: Does it Make sense to have just one competitive examination – like GRE, or TOEFL?

Goel: Ideally the focus should be on two things. It should be on the student and the subject. The moment it becomes focused on the exam, education loses its meaning.

DNA: Good point.

Goel: The focus should be that a student should be able to learn and understand the subject and then in whatever way he is tested, he should be able to do well, if he is good in that subject.

 

DNA: So, in other words, one examination. A unified examination?

Goel: Not necessary.

The reason why the best institutes like the IITs traditionally have not taken the 12th board marks is because they thought that 12th Board is not the right way to test the student on the subject.

IITs had evolved a system which worked well where they were actually able to judge the aptitude of the student.

But that system cannot be extrapolated to 15 lakh students because the IITs want to select the very best 10,000 students.

Now if that same system is used for 15 lakh students; that will put a lot of undue pressure on the remaining students. There has to be a system which is inclusive, but at the same time does not compromise on quality.

Now I feel that the JEE Main and JEE Advanced system is a good system, where a level one exam is for most of the colleges, and level two is for IITs. But the entire inclusion of the board parameter as a weightage is what has mucked things up.

Khanna: Moreover, this GRE examination is taken only as the first examination for post graduate degrees at a foreign university, maybe in the US or Europe. But if you see the application process, it is very subjective in nature. It has a statement of purpose, grades which you’ve achieved. Only one part of the process is the GRE or TOEFL.

In India, we are trying out a method which is a very, very objective system wherein nobody is writing any statement of purpose.

Kumar: We are complicating things because of so many examinations – board, JEE Main and JEE Advanced. It should be simplified. Let’s say, you are an IIT aspirant -- IIT should have one exam. You are an NIT aspirant there should be one pan-India examination for engineering.

First of all, we should not forget that all the students who take up science, are not only IIT or Medical aspirants today. There are other aspirants also. So the board should be made in to a graded examination.

The board examination is a basic minimum qualification…

When you talk of U.S. or U.K, there is one compulsory examination. So we can be sure that our minimum standards are met. And as far what you want to do next, if the institute considers you eligible, they will take you.

You can bring all other engineering institutes under one exam like the AI-EEE.

The state CET should be abolished. Because that is where the child gets very confused.

Walawalkar: Doing this JEE Main and JEE Advanced, I think they meet the objective. No weightage to board exams. So JEE Main and JEE Advanced can continue and will serve the purpose.

Sinhal: Why can’t we now have a very simple solution for the students, purely from the student’s point of view, not from the policymakers, not from coaching classes.

For instance, the Maharashtra board has already has done this to some extent, The pattern was changed last year to 30 marks for practicals. Of the remaining 70 marks 14 marks are for objective questions, which is about 20%.

Similarly, why can’t we just have one paper which has about 50% subjective type questions, 50% objective type questions? The objective type questions may be framed by the IITs if they want to really keep the quality in check.

The 50% subjective questions can be taken up by the boarda. They can design the paper. Have a common marking systems and student can be selected based on that one examination.

Khanna: And who is going to check the copies [and evaluate the subjective answers]?

Kumar: 80 lakhs students are writing the board exam…

Khanna: Yes, but who is going to check the copies?

Kumar: Board exams copies are already being checked.

Khanna: Hold on, hold on, hold on. I was sitting with a professor from ITT Bombay and he was saying that we do understand that this objective system of examination is not serving the purpose.

We would like subjective questions to be organized. But then the problem is who is going to correct the copies.

 

DNA: Because there is subjectivity in correcting answers?

Khanna: No, not only subjectivity, people just don’t want to check the copies.

Tyagi: Yet the fact remains that any child who is entering IIT today is not very good with communication skills, writing skills. So they felt that is another justification. That in holistic learning - the child has to develop writing, expression skill and communication skill.

Now let’s understand when someone wants to be an engineer and you have to choose the best aspirants to be an engineer.

There should be an exam where you test him. You have some minimum qualifying criteria for the communication skills that you want to test and ensure that the child has them.

And then the ranking or the real selection will be on the basis of his knowledge of his subject and whether he is suitable for becoming an engineer, has that brain and analytical skills.

When it comes to people who are not aspiring to be engineers or doctors, then you need to focus more on the other areas. So, definitely a subjective exam is needed, and the board exam will be that subjective component to learning always.

Using the right philosophy for a wrong purpose is wrong. That is what I’m saying. When you say that we want to develop this IIT-going child… yes, the qualifying criteria will give weightage to this and it is justified.

But if you want to do it for the purpose to ensuring that the child attends school, then it is not right because the purpose is not to actually ensure the child is developing that skill. The policy making is currently not centered around the child.

Goel: Yes. He is right.

Tyagi: There should be a component of competitive exam preparation inside every school because the child has to equip himself with that skill. But what is the government doing for that?

[In spite of] Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and ensuring Education For All the government refuses to do anything for you if you are intelligent and not from a well-to-do family.

The quality component of education is being neglected.

But yes, to a great extent we all agree there should be focus on quality education inside schools.

 

DNA: Any other policy initiatives that you think you should speak about?

Tyagi: “Coaching classes should be banned”, that is what some people want.

Kumar: Coaching classes should be recognized.

Tyagi: We have a problem in India. Rich people, and their kids, are getting quality education. But what happens to the people who are not able to access that kind of quality education from you people.

Goel: The academia and the government should recognise coaching classes as part of the formal education system…

Walawalkar: There is a need to start delivery of quality education right from primary education.

There should be a system to deal with grievances. That system is just not existing.

We adopt such systems in our classes and it is a pity that the government is not treating us as stakeholders in the education ecosystem. We are being treated like outcasts…

They should take into account private players like us.

Everywhere else it happens. Everywhere, even in America, the education policy is decided keeping in mind the views of private players as well. In fact, you do that in every industry. In every industry -- the policy includes the viewpoints of private people, private industry. We don’t want to determine the whole policy, but at least our views should be considered by the government.

Tyagi: If it’s not us, at least the parents and the children.

Their needs should be understood. There is no platform where they can express what they want.

Goel: Correct.

Tyagi: So if they listen to them and their needs, they will have solutions, lots of solutions.

Khanna: As we have already discussed over here, there is lot of distress and friction between the formal education sector and the informal or supplementary education sector.

Only the principal and the trustee whose children have undergone the pain of writing an entrance exams, they are sympathetic towards the kind of training and support we offer, understand why institutes like ours are extremely relevant. Otherwise, they feel like we are outcasts and are trying to spoil things.

They say you people are charging so much of money and not giving value and you are commercializing education. May be to an extent, may be, 5 to 10%...But to a large extent, we are providing doing a service to the students. And we get the best teachers, because we pay them a lot more. We have a very vibrant democracy, in which people choose, people pay as and where they want to.

An atmosphere of trust has to be built in between these formal and informal sectors

Kumar: Why does the media not cover schools, which are charging a lakh and more rupees each month? Why target just coaching coaching classes?

DNA: I think you’re being unfair. The media covers even such schools.

Kumar: I have never read an article.

Khanna: In fact, what we teach at our centres is seldom taught in schools. We are teaching very specialized things. It’s not like we are repeating whatever it’s been taught at school. That’s what a tuition class does. We play an extremely vital role that schools have failed to do. We prepare students for engineering examinations.

DNA: Agree.

Goel: The biggest disservice we are doing to students is that they are being forced to attend two parallel streams of education. All because the schools could not adapt to doing what we do and what we offer.

Khanna: Yes.

Goel: And they spend 10 hours just shuttling between one place to the other and there’s a lot of duplication, which is happening. Ideally, coaching classes should be rendered redundant, if schools do their job well.

Tyagi: I have something more to say. I feel very guilty, with what I am doing today. And all of us are criminals in white collars.

Khanna: Excuse me.

Tyagi: I’ll explain to you why?

All the rich and affluent people who have money come to us. We are ensuring that their children get trained for these exams and rule this system. Whereas the meritorious, underprivileged kids are deprived of that competitive edge that they should be getting. Who is going to think about that?

Walawalkar: Are you going in politics?

Tyagi: No, I have no plans.

What I’m saying is, someone has to think for that meritorious, underprivileged child. Government is not thinking on those lines. There is no policy, there is nothing for that child.

Walawalkar: Actually, this is something that should be done at the primary education level itself. Not at higher education levels.

Tyagi: In a village, there will be four people in the whole village who will be brilliant and ready to slog.

Now you will say, we have the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for the entire village but we can’t do anything special for these four kids. Something needs to be done to nurture them as well. I feel all of us, as a body, collectively should think about how this could be achieved.

 

On the new rules governing entry to engineering colleges:

Khanna: Anybody who has PCM [Physics, Chemistry and Maths] in 11th and 12th can appear for the IIT entrance. Then there is an exam called the JEE Main [JEE stands for Joint Entrance Examinations].

So that’s the first stage. And if you get into the top 1.5 lakh students qualifying at the JEE Main, then you can apply for the JEE Advanced Examination.

Sinhal: Basically, the general perception was that IIT Coaching centres were actually taking over the entire examination system. So they wanted to give weightage to the board examination when selecting students for IITs.

The top 1.5 lakh students at the JEE Main appear for the JEE Advanced. But at the time of final calculation, they’ll be taking only the top 20 percentile students in the board exams.

Goel: Yeah. Earlier, admissions to IIT were governed only on the basis of the entrance exam called as the IIT-JEE.

The eligibility criterion was that you had to score minimum 60% marks in your 12th.

In the revised pattern, they have made it two-stage. That is JEE Main and JEE Advanced with the 20 percentile provision.

 

Problem with the current system:

Goel: The percentile formula basically tries to remove the discrepancies [and differing standards] among the various Boards. Some boards might be lenient in correction; some boards might be tough in correction. Percentile is an attempt to standardize them.

Practically speaking, I don’t think this is the correct way. Suppose, there is a board which has one lakh students. A student who stands 100th in that board would have a percentile of about 99.9 in that board. Assuming that there is another board which has only bright students who would otherwise rank among the top 100, the student who stood 100th will have a percentile of zero, and get disqualified.

Tyagi: In today’s system, we are making rules like 80% attendance is compulsory for the students. Isn’t it a way to force a child to attend in school when he doesn’t want to attend it?

When the 80% attendance rule was not enough, the policymakers came up with this very innovative rule [giving weightage to board marks] to ensure that the child – who is academically bright, preparing for competitive exams, going to Kota, going to various coaching classes where IITians are teaching him and delivering quality education -- is forced to attend school.

Why can’t the policymakers think of some ways to bring these talented [teachers and teaching methods] into the school education system? Once they are there, it’s a win-win for all.

The child will not be duplicating his effort. I have collaborated with schools and come up with integrated programs. There is no attendance compulsion rule. Yet children are taking up such courses.

Kumar: The first thing I would like to mention is that I am opposed to the clause about 20 percentile of the board results and all that.

It’s a false step taken by Kapil Sibal [Union minister of Human Resources Development and the person who was primarily responsible for introducing this rule]

It varies from state-to-state. Last year there were more than 25 cases in Andhra Pradesh where a child qualified JEE mains, but he did not come in the 20 percentile.

Further, even today, in spite of promising to bring all boards to a common level, there is a lot of difference in how HSC and CBSE board teachers teach and correct papers..

So we have increased the worry factor of the child.

Now when it comes to NIT [National Institutes of Technology], what happens is the board is also important. If you see the deviation, the formula of the 70/30 or 60/40 weightage, you will be embarrassed to see the biggest sufferer is the CBSE student and the biggest advantage comes to HSC student.

If I’m a student of Bihar I’ll be benefited because board scores are low. If I’m a student of Rajasthan, I will be benefited. But if I’m a student of Andhra Pradesh, I’ll not be benefited.

We are talking of 15 lakh students who take the exam. Every family has four to five members. So, about 1% of the population of India is suffering, because one person wanted to prove that he has to do something different.

Tyagi: 1% population is affected every year.

Walawalkar: The earlier formula was definitely easy to understand, if I consider myself as a parent. Today, at the end of the exam, we don’t know exactly where we are.

They have made it complicated.

Goel: IITs had evolved a system which worked well where they were actually able to judge the aptitude of the student.

But that system cannot be extrapolated to 15 lakh students because the IITs want to select the very best 10,000 students.

Now if that same system is used for 15 lakh students; that will put a lot of undue pressure on the remaining students. There has to be a system which is inclusive, but at the same time does not compromise on quality.

Now I feel that the JEE Main and JEE Advanced system is a good system, where a level one exam is for most of the colleges, and level two is for IITs. But the inclusion of the board parameter as a weightage is what has mucked things up.

Khanna: [Even a uniform examination like] GRE is taken only as the first examination for post graduate degrees at a foreign university, maybe in the US or Europe. But if you see the application process, it is very subjective in nature. It has a statement of purpose, grades which you’ve achieved. Only one part of the process is the GRE or TOEFL.

In India, we are trying out a method which is a very, very objective system wherein nobody is writing any statement of purpose.

Kumar: We are complicating things because of so many examinations – board, JEE Main and JEE Advanced. It should be simplified. Let’s say, you are an IIT aspirant -- IIT should have one exam. You are an NIT aspirant there should be one pan-India examination for engineering.

The board examination is just a basic minimum qualification…

You can bring all other engineering institutes under one exam like the AI-EEE.

The state CET should be abolished. Because that is where the child gets very confused.

Walawalkar: Doing this JEE Main and JEE Advanced, I think they meet the objective. No weightage to board exams. So JEE Main and JEE Advanced can continue and will serve the purpose.

Demand and Supply: 

Walawalkar: Population has increased so much over the last few years, so there is an increase in demand. Of course, they have set-up new IITs but overall supply has not increased much. Overall – the supply in the sense -- the seats in the IITs as compared to the demand for that.

Sinhal: I have a different figure.

I think in 2007, all IITs combined, about 5,500 odd students were admitted into the IIT and last year it was about 9,800, which is about 75% to 80% growth in the intake.

Goel: Earlier there was an IIT-JEE exam, which was specifically for the IITs and couple of other institutes. When that was the case, roughly I think about 3 lakh students would appear for the exam. Today there are 15 lakh students who appear for the JEE exam only because the exam is a common exam for all [engineering] institutes.

First stage for most of the [engineering] institutes; the second stage is for IIT. Today also if there were a separate exam only for the IITs, I don’t think the number would be more than 5 lakh students.

Tyagi: For IIT there were less students or aspirants. But for AI-EEE there were more aspirants.

Kumar: When the last IIT-JEE was conducted, the official figure was about 4.98 lakhs, students who appeared categorically. At that point even AI-EEE was conducted and about 11 lakhs appeared.

Walawalkar: Demand number has gone up. It has definitely gone up. Much more than increasing the capacity which we are talking about…

Tyagi: No, I would differ, because again, given the numbers -- as Vinay just said -- 11 lakh were appearing… And now there are about 14 lakhs appearing. So I think the people appearing for JEE Main has increased by about 30%, while supply – at least fr the IITs -- has increased 5,500 to about 9,800, which is 75% to 80%.

Kumar: No. But, that is again it will get diluted by about 35%, when you say that, the OBC quota was increased and added to the capacity.

The quota does matter, sir. If you see earlier out of 100, 74 seats were available now only 51 seats are available.

Tyagi: And I think out of the top 1.5 lakhs also it’s about 49% is reservation.

Kumar: Yes. So, we have only 77,000 in the non-reserved or open category.

Vexations and desirables: 

Sinhal: Why can’t we have a very simple solution for the students, purely from the student’s point of view, not from the policymakers, not from coaching classes.

For instance, the Maharashtra board has already has done this to some extent, The pattern was changed last year to 30 marks for practicals. Of the remaining 70 marks 14 marks are for objective questions, which is about 20%.

Similarly, why can’t we just have one paper which has about 50% subjective type questions, 50% objective type questions? The objective type questions may be framed by the IITs if they want to really keep the quality in check.The 50% subjective questions can be taken up by the boarda.

Khanna: And who is going to check the copies [and evaluate the subjective answers]?

Kumar: 80 lakhs students are writing the board exam…

Khanna: Yes, but who is going to check the copies?

Tyagi: Yet the fact remains that any child who is entering IIT today is not very good with communication skills, writing skills. So they felt that is another justification. That in holistic learning - the child has to develop writing, expression skill and communication skill.

There should be an exam where you test him. You have some minimum qualifying criteria for the communication skills that you want to test and ensure that the child has them.

There should be a component of competitive exam preparation inside every school because the child has to equip himself with that skill. But what is the government doing for that?

“Coaching classes should be banned”, that is what some people want. According to the government and the academia, we are the untouchables of education. The principals who represent the failed system of education, who surround the policymakers, always convey how to ensure that the child takes rote learning seriously. This failed system of education has continued in the schools because most of the schools are run by politicians, businessmen and people who are related to these policymakers.

Kumar: Coaching classes should be recognized.

Tyagi: We have a problem in India. Rich people, and their kids, are getting quality education. But what happens to the people who are not able to access that kind of quality education from you people.

Goel: The academia and the government should recognise coaching classes as part of the formal education system…

Walawalkar: There is a need to start delivery of quality education right from primary education.

There should be a system to deal with grievances. That system is just not existing.

We adopt such systems in our classes and it is a pity that the government is not treating us as stakeholders in the education ecosystem. We are being treated like outcasts…

They should take into account private players like us.

Everywhere else it happens. Everywhere, even in America, the education policy is decided keeping in mind the views of private players as well. In fact, you do that in every industry. In every industry -- the policy includes the viewpoints of private people, private industry. We don’t want to determine the whole policy, but at least our views should be considered by the government.

Khanna: As we have already discussed over here, there is lot of distress and friction between the formal education sector and the informal or supplementary education sector.

Only the principal and the trustee whose children have undergone the pain of writing an entrance exams, they are sympathetic towards the kind of training and support we offer, understand why institutes like ours are extremely relevant. Otherwise, they feel like we are outcasts and are trying to spoil things.

Goel: The biggest disservice we are doing to students is that they are being forced to attend two parallel streams of education. All because the schools could not adapt to doing what we do and what we offer. Ideally, coaching classes should be rendered redundant, if schools do their job well.

 




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