What a relief! The Union HRD minister’s proposal of replacing the current joint entrance examination (JEE) with an aptitude test coupled with weights for board examination has been rejected by the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). When we know nothing attracts success like success, why are ministers inclined to change the system, which has undoubtedly produced one of India’s best known brand “The IITs.” Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru must be credited for his vision in setting up the IITs, the IIMs and AIIMS etc to help building India towards self-reliance. These institutes have undoubtedly led to a significant increase in India’s intellectual capital across the globe.
Having been a product of IIT myself, I can only tell you that the IIT only stands for both meritocracy as well as national integration. This is the place where the son of a poor farmer in North Bengal could rub shoulders with the son of the secretary to the Government of India. They shared the same hostel wing, share the same food and had similar aspirations, especially when it came to getting a scholarship in a good US university. Sandipan Deb’s book, ‘The IITians’ brought out a very interesting point – The IIT JEE was the only outlet for a lower or middle class person to a ticket or a passport to fame. Of course, the book also has a chapter for lighter reading on the 'The Weirdos', featuring eccentric personalities at the colleges.
The stated reason the Hon Minister is seeking a change is because he wants to reduce stress on students. I think too much is being made about ‘stress’; everybody goes through stress, especially when one is trying to be an achiever. It is difficult (or you have be very lucky) to achieve great things in life without being able to handle stress. Sachin Tendulkar would have undergone considerable stress en route his journey to become the world’s best batsman. People forget the amount of hard work Sachin Tendulkar has put in. As a small kid, he used to go out play cricket daylong in the sun and do practice and on some days he played 2-3 matches, going from one ground to another on the pillion of his brother or coach’s cycle. This hard work and dedication is what has made Sachin Tendulkar what he is today. If people don’t want to take stress then they have to forego rewards too. All successful people in life have undergone stress. One way to look at this is stress, and the other way of looking is baptism by fire.
Olympic gold winners also practice hard. They put themselves to even more stress. Can we then conclude in best interests of athletes that they can win a medal by showing a mark sheet of performance in their home country? Perhaps this is why Indian athletes don’t do too well; the foreign athletes especially the Chinese, take all the stress of working hard and the fruits in forms of gold medals.
Assume for a moment that Class 12 marks are used and get a weigh. How will the system handle differences between state boards, ICSE and CBSE and so on? I hope the Minister has also seen the problems of college admissions that happen in Bombay because of multiple boards. How will it solve the problem of curriculum difference as well as marking difference? Nowadays, 90% does not matter. If marks start getting weights, then there will be pressure on the system to give more marks.
In USA, there is talk of putting more pressure on children especially on maths and science as they are seeing Indians, Chinese and Koreans score better. In USA, there is no pressure on them to perform, so obviously the standards will decline. If India and China are taking over the world because of the rigor of education , especially when it come to Science and Math’s, a change to perhaps reduce stress could result in our country losing our edge. Such changes show results after 20-30 years. If you shut the aircraft engine at 50,000 ft, it will take half an hour later for the pilot to realize that something is amiss because of the plane’s existing momentum (Economist ad). Do not get me wrong - I am not for rote learning – but please do not change the system without having a suitable alternative because the current system has some benefits. Remember, India is not as rich as USA and in Maslow hierarchy we are still taking care of our food shelter and clothing need.
IITs have the best conducted exams in which everybody strives and fights to perform well. If you replace it by a marking system, then there should be equal opportunity for sons of farmers or sons of villagers to get into prestigious schools like DPS & others. These are elitist and are incidentally controlled by the richer sections of society. If you want to make a change, then change all levels and not only the IITs.
Why are only IITs being targeted? Why aren’t the entrance exams for AIIMS as well as the National Law School being changed? The National Law School, which has recently come up has reached great heights, they also have an entrance exams; so change that and make it marks-based also. People who appear for law, medicine and chartered accountancy also go through stress. Incidentally, when I was growing up, I saw my seniors who were aspiring CAs take years to pass Inter. One look at their fat books with 8 font matter and thin pages, I was so petrified that I was convinced that passing CA was beyond my ability. For years, I used to look at CAs with awe, till I was educated by someone that CA stood for “constantly appearing”.
Instead of looking at solving the infrastructure issues of the IITs, like the declining teachers to students’ ratio or the salary issues of the professors, the minister is trying to solve the problem of entrance exam. This, I believe should be the least of the worries for the minister as the existing system has done very well so far. Is there a foreign (university) hand behind these changes?
Teacher’s Day was on a Sunday this time and I was happy to see the enthusiasm with which small children were looking forward to greet their teachers the next day. It’s a pity to note that while the younger generation celebrates the birthday of India’s great teacher, scholar and former President of India Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, the state of education in India is going from bad to worse, the effects of which will be felt by these children when they grow up. The minister has got his agenda wrong. Instead of targeting higher education, he should focus where the problem is, which is primary education. Nobody seems much interested because there is no money to make in this. There are many bureaucrats serving the government with distinction from the IITs. One of them should advice these honorable ministers to solve India’s real problem rather than focus on problems which do not exist. Padega India tabhi to Badega India will have a new meaning then.
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