To JEE or not to JEE

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?


  1. Yash Pal Singh says:


    Professor Yash Pal Singh

    In the early seventies the parent Chapter of the Technology Alumni Association at IIT Kharagpur had organized a function to felicitate the former Director Professor S R Sengupta. Midway through that function Professor C S Jha, the then Director, joined the function after arriving back from Delhi, and shared with us the observation made during a Ministerial meeting that whereas the Postgraduate and Doctoral programs do not compare with the best internationally, the Undergraduate program are viewed as amongst the best such programs anywhere; and asked the alumni to throw some light on the glaring disparity. I was asked by the Chairman TAA to reply. My submission was simply this: “Sir when we undergraduates enter the IIT we are so good that the system is unable to do much damage, and the end product is still very very good!” Everyone had a good laughter, but seriously the point was appreciated by all present, and very profusely by Professor S R Sengupta himself.

    Only those of us who had been fortunate to get that admission letter from one of these Institutes can understand the immense feeling of pride and surge of self confidence that these young students get. It transforms them completely and somewhat miraculously generates in them a self belief about their capability – for this represents an achievement through their own ability and not because of any extraneous factors. They have just made to a class internationally recognized as a very exclusive class, and feel confident of favorably competing with the best anywhere. More than any other factor, this factor has played a singular role in the creation of the brand name IIT.

    So if some worthy wants to destroy this National asset created through the effort of generations of students and faculty of the Institutes, the best course is to destroy the pride of being an IITian. And a blueprint for achieving this is as follows:

    1. Increase the quota of reserved seats to nearly 50%. Every second student is perhaps there for a wrong reason – possibly having a sense of guilt of having deprived a more deserving individual. In short just take away the pride of being an IITian.
    2. Tinker with and devalue the JEE system as much as you can. The recent provision of requiring a first class at 10+2 level (latest stipulation is to raise the bar to 85% marks), and the latest proposal to give weightage to the Board marks/grades are steps in that direction.
    3. Make it mandatory that the students must qualify within two years of passing the 10+2 exam aiming to exclude another category of students.
    4. Take the JEE out of the ambit of IITs, in the guise of reducing the “stress” on the students, and replace it by a single examination for all Engineering Institutions conducted by an “independent?” agency.
    5. Formulate the essential qualifications for teaching faculty specifically designed to discourage bright individuals from choosing this line. For the post of a lecturer one must have a PhD. So an engineering faculty member starts his first job at the age of 28 or 29 years or so – at a time when the other batch mates are sitting at the top of the corporate ladder! And then you lament the dearth of faculty!
    6. Refuse to institute pay scales commensurate to their abilities and dedicated work for the Faculty.

    The first point is so clearly self-defeating that it needs no comment. While the second point was supposedly incorporated for helping the rural children! It is a cruel joke – what percent of rural kids get a first class? And giving some weightage for the Board marks/grades would place them at further disadvantage. Regarding the reliance on Board results does anyone remember the experiment of offering direct admission in IIT to the top ranking students of different boards in late sixties? This experiment had to be abandoned due to their dismal performance in most cases.

    Regarding the third point how many would have the motivation or exposure or even awareness to choose a technological career at that level? I must confess that I for one would not have been allowed to get in the IIT if these provisions were in force in 1956. Why have the HRD and sadly even the IIT Council failed to realize that there a possibility of someone maturing late, or wishing to pursue higher studies only after ensuring financial security, or being a victim of unfortunate circumstances or, being deprived of proper education, or even realizing rather late that he has a potential for benefiting from higher education and can rub shoulders with the very best?

    Over the years I have come across many outstanding IITians who would not have been there if these restrictions were in place at that time. Most of my fellow teachers would have known of the beneficial influence of a senior student in a class of youngsters. In some universities they even welcome some senior students. In my opinion there should be no upper age limit for eligibility for anyone wanting to appear in any entrance examination for any educational course.

    Regarding the fourth point why are doubts being expressed about the veracity of the JEE System that has stood the test of time for nearly six decades? And a single examination is not necessarily a good idea, a student may have one bad day, and that may be on his last chance to get in – just think of the pressure! Some relief from stress!!!

    Ironically some of these step have been touted as a means to counter the influence of coaching classes resulting in students with doubtful ability getting through the JEE by spending large sum of money for such coaching. In our God forsaken country when a poor individual has to bribe his way even to get a class IV job, why resent if some teachers are earning money through coaching? And let us recognize that these “teaching shops” have thrived mainly because of the dismal failure to provide quality school education on our part. And pray let us know what has ever been done by the powers that be for uplifting the deprived through good education other than the lollypop of reservations! May we ask — reservations for what? Only class IV jobs for the poor educationally deprived folks!!! And on top, ironically making them feel grateful for these crumbs being thrown at them.

    As for the fifth point, it may be recalled that some of the finest teachers in the IIT system came through the Teachers Training program or through the Associate Lecturer-ship route. Candidates possessing graduate or postgraduate qualifications in Engineering, or postgraduate qualification in Science, Mathematics or Humanities could choose these avenues to join the teaching profession, and could pursue their doctoral research while teaching. There was no pressure of time, and one could aspire to do excellent work. In those days the panels of examiners of the doctoral theses virtually comprised the who is who of the international academic world, and the work produced by the young faculty drew fulsome praise. Long before the Silicon Valley geeks made IIT a brand name, the quality of research work had established the IITs amongst the most respected institutes in the academic world – a fact which has never been accorded due recognition.

    In fact the emphasis on requiring a Ph. D. as a prerequisite qualification for entering the teaching career is completely misplaced. Yes! a teacher must pursue research – but research about what and how? In my considered opinion an Academic must pursue research either in an area that excites him, an area which can whet as well as satiate one’s intellectual curiosity, or in a problem of practical importance offered as a challenging project. One can earn a Ph.D. on the job and possibility end up as a much better academic in the long run. I know of scores of individuals who have been shining examples of this approach. And in passing let us also recognize that all of us have come across some of the finest teachers who were not Ph.D. degree holders. And the last point needs no elaboration.

    In conclusion equality of opportunities must imply access to means of realizing ones potential without the kind of handicaps that an average child in this country faces every day. Good primary and secondary level education is the key for developing the potential of a child. Only after ensuring this, there must be a single door for admission to a university or a professional institute. For that SARVA SHIKSHA is the mantra.

    As a sobering thought we must humbly recognize the stark reality that while we take justifiable pride in our record of running the JEE as a very fair examination, aiming to select the cream of cream, perhaps the 5000 most brilliant individuals in any generation of India at the moment are not going anywhere near a school today! This colossal waste does not seem to worry anyone. Why worry, when we have the candy of distributing IIT seats through reservation!


    Sometime back papers carried very interesting data cited by FICCI – 15% dropout rate amongst backward class, including SC/ST, at primary level (1-8 class); 81% unfulfilled reserved seats at technical education level; 40% dropout at middle level (8-10 class); and 97% in higher technical education that does not get fulfilled. These figures clearly show that reservation is not the route to help where help is needed.


    Instead of reserving seats in advanced levels, the Ministry can conduct a screening test at the 6th class levels, and select five to ten times the number that is being stipulated to be reserved, and educate these students in excellent residential schools. I am sure that a number of the product of these schools would qualify through open competitions, and even those who do not qualify would benefit greatly. You end up helping many times the number that you are aiming to help at the moment. And a bit of elementary arithmetic would show that cost would be a mere fraction of that being spent for the one year preparatory course being run in the IITs now. And even if we have to spend more, it would be money well spent for the benefits accruing from it.

  2. Arindum says:

    God only knows what plans are there in the minds of these politicians! What they exactly want???

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