In March 2010, a committee of four IIT Directors was formed to explore possible alternatives to the large number of entrance examinations for admission to engineering programs in the country. The report is out. The report has far too many problems to be taken seriously. And I will point out a few.
First of all, let me point out a contradiction in their statements. In Section 5, they say, “Multiple Choice ORS based examination is pedagogically not as effective as the long answer format.” In Section 6, however, they say, “An analysis of the performance of students in the screening and main tests of IIT JEE between 2000 and 2005 showed a considerable overlap between the sets of top 5000 students although their ranks within the set showed little correlation. Hence it would be expedient to settle for a completely objective single examination.”
One of the main issues that the committee confronted was that "the entrance exams have shifted the focus of better students from +2 science education in school to coaching for the entrance exams. As a result school attendance has become a casualty."
The country was hoping that the committee will somehow resolve this problem. The problem is decades old, though it has been worsening in last several years. Every one who claims to have anything to do with education has a solution, and the solution is to somehow consider performance in the school and board exams for the admission. The problem has been that with multiplicity of boards, differing curriculum, different type of question papers, and so on, it was not clear as to what should be a fair mechanism to consider school performance. BITS Pilani considered school performance for admission for a long time, but finally gave up in favour of an entrance exam. They had a normalization mechanism, which had many problems.
So what does the committee says on the most important issue. “Standard 12th scores normalized appropriately across boards should be used to capture the School Science Performance.” Great wisdom. We did not need four IIT Directors to make this statement. You could ask any 12th class student.
After analysis of these entrance exams, and having discussions with stake holders, they identify some desirable features of the admission process. The first one amongst them is, “Decision based on one time test needs to be re-examined. Opportunities to improve must be built in.” And what do they suggest. 70 percent of the weight in the screening should be given to normalized board marks, which have no opportunity to improve. And IITs should continue to have a separate JEE (though with smaller number of students taking it), which will have no opportunity to improve. In any quality work, we normally would write in conclusion how we have taken care of issues that we had identified in the introduction. IIT Directors do not need to do the same.
Another desirable feature that they have identified for the admission process is that students must be relieved of the pressure of multiple entrance exams. And what do the committee suggests. It suggests that everyone else must admit through the normalized 12th class marks and the performance in the proposed NAT (National Aptitude Test), but IITs having special requirements would continue to have its own JEE. How strange. A committee is set up to come up with recommendation for admission process in India. It comes up with a half baked idea, and then it says that the idea is not good enough for IITs themselves. But others must adopt it. Why. Aren't other universities autonomous. Can't they have special requirements too. Can't a university say that we want to test one more parameter than what 12th class board and NAT will test. If you follow your own recommendations, then it is possible to convince others that you were serious while framing them. Otherwise, you are just perpetuating the feudal system in Indian education. And the number of entrance exams would continue to be large.
The committee recommends that all boards should have the same curriculum, that all boards should have the same question paper, that all boards should have same model answer and grading scheme, so that there is no need to normalize in future. Till all this is done, normalization can be done (but as I said above, they don't tell you how). The committee leaves no scope for any innovation in school education. Will they follow their own recipe and say that all IITs should have the same curriculum, same exam papers, same model answer, and same grading scheme, so that we can compare the students for the purpose of admission into M.Tech and Ph.D programs.
Finally, when they provide the timetable for admission, they suggest that counselling shall start by 1st July, and finish by 15th July. Is it practical. Unless you force everyone to be part of one large on-line centralized counselling, and you force the students to give hundreds of options in the serial order of their preference, this certainly is an impossible goal. Today, it normally takes about three months for the admission process to settle down. It starts around mid-June, and ends in the mid-September. The committee does not tell us what magic they have in mind to compress these three months into two weeks.
It is quite obvious from the report that the Directors of IITs have no clue about the realities of Indian higher education system, but they are willing to suggest solutions to be adopted by all educational institutions, but which they find unsatisfactory for themselves.