Too simplistic to be a solution
The decision of the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) to club IIT-JEE with AIEEE under a towo-tier system will expand the stranglehold of coaching institutes, says Sanjeev Sanghi, a professor of applied mechanics and the president of Faculty Forum at IIT Delhi, who is opposing the move tooth and nail. The decision is against the wishes of the IIT senate, he tells Radhika Sachdev
Why are you against the two-tier examination system to IIT-JEE?
We are not against the two-tier system. In fact, whatever is claimed to be two-tier in the proposed system has come in only after we started discussions on this issue at iits. The system would be two-tier if all the students appearing in level 1 do not appear in level 2. Only a selected number of students should appear in level 2, as is the case in Civil Services exam.
In this model, which has been thrust upon the iits disregarding the majority Senate views, all the students appear for level 1 and level 2. Because of this, a lot of restrictions have been pre-imposed on iits pertaining to level 2 examination, such as it has to be conducted on the same day, it has to be multiple choice questions (MCQ), it can be only of a three-hour duration.
What the iits would instead like is the freedom to conduct and run the level 2 exam without any such external restrictions. One of the reasons why the joint entrance examination (JEE) has been able to come up as a premier exam is because the control rests with the iits. We have been able to maintain a system where no external influences affect the results. In the new system, iits do not have supreme control on the examination, even at level 2.
World over, the school-leaving certificate is considered good enough for admission into any engineering college. Why is the idea so unacceptable in India?
Your statement is incorrect. World over, school-leaving marks/certificate is only one component of the many considered for admission to professional colleges. For example, in the US they consider sat marks, recommendations by teachers and essays (which may be up to five in number), in addition to school marks. Besides, if there is a uniform school system which is fair in examining students, school leaving could be sufficient, but that’s not the case in India. India has diverse levels of education: 28 states and 7 UTs. In addition to CBSE and ICSE, state education boards conduct their own examination with different syllabus and different level of difficulties. So finding a common denominator is extremely difficult in such a heterogeneous scenario.
There are many who feel that this two-tier system will break the state examination agency-coaching institute nexus and will provide relief (in terms of cost and stress) to the students. Do you agree/disagree with this assertion, why/why not? Please state your reasons.
The coaching business is thriving in India because we have 5,000 seats and 10 lakh students competing for them. As long as this disparity is there, coaching cannot be eliminated. You are correct about a true two-tier system reducing the hold of coaching institutes as it will not be viable to run this system for just 50,000-odd students. But in the proposed changes all 12 lakh students will write both exams. So coaching will in fact increase rather than decrease.
Also, the stress levels will not reduce. In the old system children had two chances: They could appear for jee and they could also appear for All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE). Now the same day will decide their fate in both exams, so the stress levels would increase. Also under the old system, a child appearing for aieee had to write a three-hour long exam. Now he/she would write a six-hour exam. Will his/her stress level increase or decrease?
The coaching classes, in fact, would now have a greater audience. They would start coaching for Class XII exam as well.
You are also against the objective nature of the IIT-JEE (main) and want to make it more subjective. Is that correct? What other changes are proposed in the old pattern?
iits want to have the freedom of setting their own questions in the format they want.
We used to have a subjective type exam where not just the answers but the logical and analytical reasoning in obtaining the answer were graded. While grading questions, an incorrect answer (possibly due to calculation mistake) could fetch you four out of five, if the reasoning and steps were correct and a correct answer obtained by fluke or incorrect answer could end up in zero out of five marks. Because the numbers increased, grading subjective type copies for all candidates became impossible. So in the 1990s we made our admission process two-tier. There was a qualifying exam in December followed by a second exam (for limited number of students who cleared the qualifying exam in April). This was changed to a system where the qualifying exams were held in April and the mains in May. In 2006, the whole system was changed (by the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s intervention) to one where there were two objective exams and the ranks were assigned on the basis of these. Introspection has led us to believe that the objective type examination is not the best way of testing students’ knowledge of a subject, as it relies heavily on elimination of wrong answers to obtain the correct solution. The main change which I see in the new scheme is that the iits have lost control on the right to conduct their own exam. This can have very serious repercussions.
If it’s such a scientifically designed exam, how is it that students from Kota’s Bansal Classes are able to crack the IIT-JEE pattern in such huge numbers, spawning a whole industry?
Why are you singling out Kota’s Bansal Classes? There are many more: Vidyamandir classes, FIIT JEE, Super 30, and many more classes in Hyderabad, Bhilai, Kanpur, Kota, Chandigarh, etc. The industry has spawned up because of the huge demand and supply gap. And yes, possibly the coaching classes are doing a good job of teaching the students in acquiring the skills to crack an objective type examinations. This also reflects on the failure of the school system to address the needs of the students! One of my students told me that while he was taking coaching, for clearing his doubts in chemistry he used to tap his school teacher. So, if the teaching in school matches the students’ expectation levels, coaching institutes would not survive.
What are we testing in the present exam format? What kind of skills?
Present format tests the width and depth of knowledge in the subject areas of basic science and mathematics required for engineering. However in the MCQ type of format one can only check the answer and not the methodology used in delivering the correct answer. So the logical reasoning and analytical skills used do not get tested. Thus, it is possible for a student who has seen the question before or has learnt it by rote to score well. Also a student who makes a numerical error (despite having correct reasoning) gets no partial credit.
On an average, how many state engineering college exams does a student appear in after 12th and how much does he spend on coaching and examination fees?
In the existing practice, there are three types of exams being conducted by various government or government-funded agencies. These are: JEE, AIEEE and state-level entrance exam. Besides these, every private college is free to either take the results of these or conduct their own entrance exams. A large number of well known colleges such as bits Pilani, VIT, Amrita, Geetam, Manipal, SRM, BIT Ranchi, ZHCET (AMU) and many more (around 150) conduct their own, separate entrance exams. Undoubtedly a student in India faces multiple entrance examinations. If the number has to be reduced then the logical first step would be to ask the private and other exam-conducting colleges to admit students based on the results of either or a combination of the first three set of exams. Blindly merging JEE with AIEEE will not make the system better or turn us into the proclaimed one-examination country.
On the flip side, two or three examinations actually could be a stress reliever rather than stress builder as the student gets multiple chances. One bad day does not end all his/her chances.
What is your recommendation for improving this system, increasing the student intake, while at the same time ensuring that the iit brand does not get diluted?
For the IIT entrance, we need to standardise the curriculum in science education for Class XI and Class XII across all 42 Boards. This would give us an opportunity to carry out a screening test (MCQ type) at the end of Class XI based on Class XI course. Students who clear this can be allowed to appear in the JEE second exam which will be held at the end of Class XII. This would take care of most of the issues discussed above.