Thursday, July 31, 2008

Coached And Primed

Having gone through the drill in my time, I strongly believe that the engineering college entrance exams in India are quite useless in identifying the best and the brightest. All it does is reward the proficient test-taker at the cost of those who lack exam savvy but more than make up for it by "raw intelligence". Just as it is unable to identify innate talent, it is not recognize passion or aptitude for technology either.

Had the system been able to identify candidates of best fit and highest potential, people like me would have never made it. With enough practice we just got a hang of the test and that was probably our only qualification. Some of us figured it out on our own but the vast majority depended on coaching classes. It is heartening to see the dean of IIT-Madras echo the same sentiment.

"I am looking for students with raw intelligence and not those with a mind prepared by coaching class tutors. The coaching classes only help students in mastering (question paper) pattern recognizing skills. With this, you cannot get students with raw intelligence," said IIT-Madras director, M S Ananth.

I have seen well-known coaching classes get many of my peers through the grueling test but most of them sank without a trace in academia and the industry. You would expect with all India ranks within a 100 in the JEE, my compadres and many others like them would have been among the next generation Vinod Dhams, Vinod Khoslas and Kanwal Rekhis.

Unfortunately that has not been the case. For every thousand coached and primed test bots that cracks the entrance exam to premier engineering colleges in India , there is one kid who is truly, remarkably brilliant.With the coaching business booming, the test bots are so numerous and efficient that they leave no room for the truly talented at these institutions and that is a real tragedy. It would make a lot more sense to sift out the the bot variety so that meritocracy prevails in India's best engineering schools and an overwhelming majority of their alumni become innovators in technology, thought leaders in academia and industry.


Vinayak said...

From the article :
Virtually opening what could be a heated debate on the current JEE format, Ananth wanted the system to lay more stress on students' performance in school. "You may not be able to do away with the JEE but I am wondering if we should be conducting an examination for 3,00,00 aspirants and selecting just 5,000. Instead, we must evolve a system where only the top 1% of students from different state boards and CBSE are permitted to appear for the JEE," he said.

Ok, so is he saying that the school toppers are more likely
to have "raw intelligence"? Because? Well, no answer. How
many school kids don't go for
tuitions? How many state boards
have curricula that promote,
not the rote learning, but
"raw intelligence"?

Professor V G Idichandy, dean (students), IIT Madras, was more vocal, demanding that JEE be abolished.

I say, let IITs be abolished.
They get the enthusiastic,dreamy
and extremely intelligent(you may disagree though) kids without doing
anything and turn them into
depressed adults with suicidal

"One of the reasons for the poor intake of girls in the flagship BTech programme is that parents don't send daughters for coaching classes. The best way to increase the intake of girls is to have direct admissions," he said
Coaching is rampant in India
for Medical entrance examinations
too, but a lot of girls do get
into Medical institutes. It's
more a matter of choice.

Overall, having spent 4 years
in IIT Bombay, in their "flagship
B. Tech. program", I can safely
say that the problem lies with
stupid professors likes of whom
are mentioned above. Some of them
are good, but mostly they are
more stupid than the students.
As you can notice above, even
a dean can't make a coherent argument.

ggop said...

You may want to check out Nanopolitan where Abi blogs extensively about IIT entrance tests. Today's post has some heavy stats on performance breakdown etc.

Vinayak said...

Source :

The intentions of the IIT-Madras director, in wishing to do away with coaching classes, are laudable. The crucial question is how you go about doing it. In terms of the solutions he suggests, it's apparent that he hasn't thought the issue through.

The problems of bad schooling can't be tackled by tweaking or abolishing the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE). Moreover, if bad schooling is the issue, then M S Ananth's preferred solution, to jack up the JEE eligibility cut-off marks in class XII board exams from 60 to 85 per cent, will make matters worse. It places excessive reliance on unreliable school board exams.

If the idea is to take stress out of the process of IIT admission, this will have the opposite effect. IIT aspirants would not only have to crack the JEE, they must also ensure that they score above 85 per cent in board exams. Besides being extraordinarily stressful it would also introduce an element of irrationality into the admission process, as different school boards have different standards for marking students. Comparing across school boards is impossible, so it's better to have a low rather than high bar in qualifying for the JEE. A low bar might mean more work for those who administer the JEE, but it would give more students the opportunity to have a crack at the exam.

Moreover, there's an elephant in the room that most of us tend to ignore. Lakhs of students appear for the JEE annually, while only a few thousand get in. What that means is there's enormous pent-up demand for high-quality technology colleges that goes unsatisfied. This is a problem that should be tackled at the supply end, not the demand end. Tweaking the admission process is no solution. Given the radical mismatch between supply and demand, coaching classes will spring up to address interviews, group discussions, school board exams, athletic prowess or whatever other criteria for admission IIT authorities might come up with.