Thursday, 14 June 2012

Why I support the JEE Reforms


Gautam Barua : Tue Jun 05 2012, 01:56 hrs
The correct answer
Reforms in IIT entrance exam make schools central to the learning process

I support the reforms because they have introduced Board marks as a meaningful input into the selection process. For years, the IIT JEE system has been considering how to factor in  Board results into the admission process.  The step that was finally taken was to require that students get at least 60% in their Board results, but this had little impact as, in this day of marks inflation, 60% was a very low mark. Attempts to increase this to 80% in 2009 met with stiff resistance and had to be abandoned.   The school system has been neglected by bright students who are sent away to towns with coaching institutions. Schooling has suffered as a result. The reform is a small step towards making the school system central to a student’s learning experience.  I support the reforms because for many years I have been seeing a tussle between the coaching institutes and the IIT faculty who set the IIT JEE question papers. Most of the time, the coaching institutes have come up on top in these tussles. This is not surprising as the IIT faculty who set the question papers have no experience in teaching in schools and so papers tend to get tougher every year, and  errors in questions have become common. I support the reforms because I have found that the IIT JEE system is slow to respond to changes because of the way the organisation shifts from one IIT to another every year. After the AIEEE examinations were introduced in 2002, we found that the IIT system was following the innovations the AIEEE were making.  Online applications, multiple rounds of admissions, online counselling,  are some of the features that the IIT system adopted after the AIEEE introduced them. Further, the increase in the number of students has stretched the IIT system and it is finding the size difficult to handle. I support the reforms because the NIT and IIT seat allocations will now be done together. Many seats in IITs remain vacant because students opt to join an NIT with a branch of their choice giving up the IIT seat they got in a branch and in an Institute low down in their priority. After the IITs introduced multiple rounds of admissions, NIT seat allocation too got affected when students got IIT seats in later rounds of allocation. Having a common examination also sends a message to society that  an NIT education is as valuable as an IIT education. This can only help the brand name of NITs and this in turn will help ease the pressure of IIT admissions. I support the reforms because as an IITian, an IIT faculty, and an IIT Director, I am confident of the quality of the IIT system, and I am not afraid of any dilution of standards of incoming students. I know bright students will continue to enter the IIT system even after these reforms. I confess that I am unable to judge what is the “best” method of deciding admissions as I find that there are many factors at play,  and many of them  are in contradiction with one another.
Can the specific changes be justified? First of all, the reason that the rule for IITs is different is  because of the opposition the original proposal faced from a section of IIT faculty and IIT alumni. The distrust shown by many of them of the School Boards system has no firm basis, and the objections have been mainly anecdotal.  The normalisation method of Board marks has not been understood by many. The method equates the rank a student gets in her Board to the rank another student gets in his Board (the ranks are moderated by the sizes of the Boards). Due to the large number of students taking school examinations,  in a marking out of hundred based on ranks, the difference between someone who comes first and someone who gets a rank of 6000 in, say  the CBSE Board, is only about  two marks. With a 40% weightage, this translates to an advantage of 0.8 marks! So the lower ranked student has an excellent chance of making up this deficit in the Mains and Advanced exams. At the same time, every student will strive to get as high a rank as possible, because every fraction of a mark will be significant in deciding the institute and the branch a student gets. So the scheme ensures that everyone tries to do the best in their Boards, but those who falter, live to fight another day!  The students who will sit for the common entrance examination do not have to be unduly worried. They have to do reasonably well in their Boards and the Mains and Advanced tests are essentially the erstwhile AIEEE and IIT JEE examinations. The differences are: the syllabi will be the same for both now, the  Advanced test will  be of three hours duration instead of the six hours of the IIT JEE, and all aspirants for admission to NITs will have to take the advanced test too.
What will be the impact of this on coaching? In the short term coaching institutes are likely to make a killing as now they  will sell coaching for Boards, Mains, and Advanced. Hopefully, in the medium and long term, all coaching will take place at one place, in the school where a student is enrolled. Whether coaching institutes tie up with schools or they themselves get licenses to teach and become schools, does not matter. Schools will be where all the learning will take place.

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