Let’s start with a tale about two students – A and B. A is currently a student in the education industry of Kota and has reportedly carved a local reputation for himself there. He believes in having a firm grip on ‘concepts’ and can solve the toughest of problems faster than you can say ‘Trigonometry’. B on the other hand is an ordinary student who concentrates more on his school textbooks. He may not be quick on his feet but all his teachers agree that he will ace his Board exams without a doubt. The question that naturally comes to mind here is – Which of these students would you call more able and talented? If compared directly, whom would you describe as the more skilled one? If only one of them could make it to the prestigious IITs, whom would you choose?
Our Honourable HRD minister has shaken and stirred the academic fraternity and raised several baffling questions like those mentioned above by his announcement of a facelift of the entrance examination system to engineering colleges in our country. Mr. Kapil Sibal’s decision to unify the multitude of tests that keeps a student hopping and skipping in his quest for technical education clearly aims at reducing the burden of the already over laden student. But in doing so, a huge question-mark has been stamped upon the future of that Holy Grail of all examinations, the Joint Entrance Examination. And to say that this has become a bone of contention among the public would be an understatement.
Opinions are divided. Both sides have their own arguments to defend or attack the reforms and decisions that have been proposed. But even the most vocal supporter of this decision cannot deny the fact that for the past 45 years, the JEE has been a keystone of the Indian education system. Yes, doing away with all examinations will for sure reduce the burden on the students. But the underlying implications cannot be overlooked.
The JEE – with its unique design which separates the quickest, sharpest and the cleverest academic minds from the thousands of aspirants every year- is to a large extent responsible for creating and maintaining the brand IIT. With a single test in place, the toughness is unlikely to be comparable to that of the JEE. Add to this the large number of students who appear for the exam, and this will unquestionably lead to quite a few students having comparable results. The problem then would be effective judgment and interpretation of these results. Among students having such highly analogous results, how does one ensure that the IITs will only get the cream of the crop, the kind of students the JEE has provided in the past? For if this is not ensured, then the unified entrance test will be failing the IITs and not fulfilling its purpose- which the JEE has been so efficiently carrying out since its inception.
Another proposed reform that perhaps might give the students sleepless nights is the decision to include the class 12 examination marks as a merit list criterion for admission to the IITs. India is a land of diversities and I wouldn’t be wrong if I said that even our education system is no exception to this rule. With each state having its own Board of Education, apart from the Central and International Boards, there are close to 40 different educational standards throughout the country. Each Board judges the students’ acumen and skill in a way that is quite different from the others. It is a natural inference that there will be poor correlation among the results of different boards and thus the class 12 marks would make poor criteria for judgement. Take a look at what happened in DU earlier this year and the futility of this exercise shall come to light.
Pundits say that this hurdle can be vaulted over using the process of ‘normalization’ of the results across all board. However this process has a loop-hole that has already been exploited in the past. What, I ask, is to stop the board officials of every state from inflating the marks of their students just so that they can make it to the IITs? ‘Wait!’, you say. ‘Already exploited? Would anyone actually dare to do that?’ All you need to do is look at the case of BITS, Pilani who had adopted this process. Lo and behold, suddenly one day they find 70 percent of their students are from the same state. The consequence? Discarding of this method and reinstating of the good ol’ entrance exam.
Lastly, combine these two proposals and you have a worrisome scenario in the offing. If the future of a student hinges on just one exam, one can only imagine the level of cut-throat competition that shall arise out of this. Such competition will only serve to reassure the dominance of coaching classes. They’ll spawn and generate by the dozen – not only for the entrance test, but also for class 12 boards and who knows, maybe even for the class 10 boards to prepare the students from an early age. Also, the current system does allow a student several rolls of the dice if he misses out on previous opportunities. The single-exam pattern, however, leaves a lot to luck. One bad day, a few incorrect answers and clang! All doors shut in a single stroke.
There are several other limitations that could be pointed out but the only thing that we say is- no system is perfect. Your intentions are noble,Mr Sibal and we do not doubt them. But the need of the hour is to make sure that the meritorious students are assured of the place that they deserve and that they do not lose out because of any reason whatsoever. The JEE, in spite of all its defects and shortcomings, has been doing that with nothing short of splendid results. At this juncture, it is time we ask ourselves what is better – a process that has obvious flaws and yet has been tried, tested and successful or a new-fangled one that has both visible and unseen imperfections to it?