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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Committee to Examine the JEE System

Yet another committee, and yet another report. However, for a change, here is one report with a difference. The only way to describe this report - it is music to my ears.

First, the background. The committee was set up in October, 2015, after a couple of committees had recommended that the board marks be not used for ranking even for admissions to NITs, IIITs, etc. The normalization was a big problem, and there were far too many administrative challenges in implementing it. Besides, a study by Joint Admissions Board had found that none of the expected benefits - more women in engineering, more rural folks in engineering, less coaching, etc., had been achieved in the three years that the system was in operation. It was decided that instead of just dropping the board marks from ranking, could we take this opportunity to clean things up a bit more, and hence a committee chaired by Prof. Ashok Misra, ex-Director of IIT Bombay, and Chairman of Joint Admissions Board (JAB) was set up.

Let us now look at the major recommendations and opine on them.

1. All Centrally Funded Technical Institutes (CFTIs) to admit students from the same exam, the JEE Advanced. This is very positive. Considering the board marks was a pain for all stake holders, and once that was gone, there was really no reason for some CFTIs to admit through JEE Mains and some through JEE Advanced. Of course, on philosophical grounds, I would prefer a system where each Institute can decide a different way of admitting students, for example, some may decide to admit based on just Physics and Maths marks in JEE. And the common counseling portal developed this year has the capability to allow such variations. But as long as the admission process is going to be dictated from the top, it is better that the top dictates a common exam than two separate exams.

2. The shortlisting for JEE Advanced to be done through an aptitude test. The committee has suggested that we should set up a National Testing Service which should conduct an aptitude test. This may take 1-2 years, and hence in the interim, we can continue with JEE Mains being the filtering test. This too is a very positive suggestion. This is certainly not going to be easy. To design an aptitude test which would be free of any cultural and other sorts of biases is not easy. On top of that, we want to offer that test in multiple languages, and we need to make sure that the test in each language is of similar difficulty level. Further that test will be offered several times in a year and hence we will need to have some normalization across different offerings. This may not be possible to do even by 2017, but a beginning has to be made sometime, and I am glad that this committee has recommended strongly that we don't wait any further to make that beginning. Of course, the committee has shown what a bunch of intelligent people can do - come up with solutions to serious problems. It is proposed that the aptitude test is used to filter 4-5 lakh students for JEE Advanced. This will make sure that those on the borderline or those who don't make it will not feel very disturbed and cheated, since they would most probably not have any hopes of getting into the top 35000 eventually anyway. So even if the normalization is less than perfect and some bias remains in the test, it won't materially impact the admissions at IITs, NITs, etc.

3. A suggestion to the government that the level of NITs and other CFTIs be raised and the gap between them and IITs be reduced. This is really an excellent suggestion, and I do hope MHRD will find ways to strengthen the tier 2. I have been repeatedly saying on this blog and on my facebook that the real reason for stress is that a few marks in JEE can take you from excellent institute to one you don't like as much. And unless this issue is resolved by reducing the gap between successive institutes, there is no hope of reducing stress. Of course, this would invariably mean giving more money (where is the money?) and giving more autonomy (which is very difficult for those who currently hold the levers of power, just compare the new NIT statutes with IIT statutes). But there is always hope.

4. Suggestion that somehow boards should improve. A motherhood statement really, but we must keep making such statements. Even if it encourages a few people somewhere, it can only have positive impact. In particular, they have mentioned the examination system of the boards be looked into. None of the boards in the country has a distribution of marks that you would expect from a large public exam in any other part of the world, and the results are completely inconsistent with the quality that we perceive of the schools around us.

5. IITs should create a large question bank and develop some system for mock JEE examinations. May be there can be lessons through MOOCs. I think IITs can really offer subject training in 12th class science subjects. Already, there are IIT professors like Harish Verma whose school level books are like bibles for 12th class students. We should be able to tap into such resources and come up with online courses in all three subjects which are available to anyone freely. If our school students have access to high quality courses to learn for JEE Advanced, the coaching culture will reduce anyway.

6. In the interim period (while the country plans an aptitude test), the JEE Mains will become a 6-hour exam and 2 lakh students to be filtered instead of 1.5 lakhs for the JEE Advanced. I have no comments on this, as I fail to see the benefits, but there is no harm either.

The only issue I have with the report (and all such discussions at the Ministry level) is that we are focusing too much on coaching. I think that if we ignore coaching and just do the right things - better admission strategies, better schools, better colleges, and so on, the coaching will either go away or will contribute to the educational efforts of the country.

9 comments:

Arjun Sharma said...

The 5th point is a very important point
What do coaching institutes do?
They provide better quality and better coverage of the syllabus.
Monthly and weekly exams and then give you a rank, and then accordingly sort people into batches where students in the lower batch get less attention and also not so good teachers.
This can be best countered by IITs themselves uploading high quality content on sites like youtube on the lines of Nptel in various languages. They could tie up with free lance teachers like Mohit tyagi,Pradeep Kshetrapal.etc who also offer free content online. A website could be made with all the mock tests and analysis and How to prepare for exams,study plans etc. Many such websites exist but are paid or do not have everything.
This would also help the rural students.
This could be used to set up e schools where there is a lack of good quality teachers and also help the present teachers to improve on their concepts and would help in quality control as well.
All in all it would provide many benefits. The government and IITs should go all guns blazing on this and focus on all the aspects and not just mock tests.

sunil said...

Very apt analysis...
The whole concept of coaching has flourished because schools have failed to provide the in depth anaysis of subjects. If the schools focus on uncovering the subject rather than just covering the syllabus coaching would automatically subside. There are brilliant tutorials available on NPTEL , MIT and YALE sites to name a few....all that is requured is mindset for learning ....students have to realize they are the ones who have to write exams no one else will learn for them...

gautam barua said...

There is a suggestion in the report that the Govt could consider some form of regulation for coaching institutes. So could we not impose restrictions like: a) no coaching during school hours, b) no residential coaching institutes without a certificate to be a school also? c) attendance in schools is necessary to sit for a board exam? Bsically try and turn coaching institutes into schools. Then the burden on students will go down and schools will also be forced to improve.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Gautam, I believe that the country has tried a control regime for 60 years and failed. We need to stop thinking of control as the only or even primary solution to our problems. These conditions would put severe limitations on some very good initiatives in the country. For example, when we say no residential coaching institute without a certificate to be a school also. First, there are hardly any residential coaching institutes in the country. How many hostels do the coaching institutes own, for example. And if some of them do, they can just make another company and transfer hostel to that company. On the other hand, initiatives like Super-30 would be challenged. Then this issue of no coaching during school hours. Well, what about coaching in the "drop year" when the student has already passed 12th class. And mostly, the new model is that the "coaching guys" cover the school syllabus inside the school during regular school times. How would you stop that. How would you prove that the class that this guy has taken was not about school Physics, but JEE physics. (Are you even willing to say that JEE Physics is different from school Physics?)

Attendance in school being necessary would make things difficult for open schools, home study and other options which are important for the society.

I really believe that the problem is the thought process which says that students should give minimum number of exams. By increasingly centralizing things, we are putting most eggs in the same basket, which is causing stress. Whatever little I have studied in terms of pedagogy, having lots of exams is actually less stressful than having one exam. Indeed, at IITs, we have focused on continuous evaluation for the same reason. But when it comes to admissions, we take a different stand.

If you really want to improve school education through regulation and control, just ask the school boards to explain why the marks in different subjects don't follow a normal distribution, and insist that they set up question paper and evaluation system in a way that such a distribution is achieved.

I see a similarity with the problem of WiFi design. 10-12 years ago, whenever the WiFi download speeds were poorer and one called an "expert" to look at it, the typical answer would be that there are too many users connecting to the AP, and you need more APs in that location. It was only much later that people realized that at least at some places, the problem was too many APs and not too less APs. (With 802.11b, we had only three non-overlapping channels, and hence more than three APs in a small area would have interference.)

Similarly, in the regulation and control, it is still believed that more regulation is good. This is despite that fact that in every other sector of economy where we have reduced regulation in the last 25 years, things have improved. Also, even within education, systems with less regulation have performed better than systems with more regulation. One day, someone will wake up and say what has worked in every other sector should at least be tried in education sector.

gautam barua said...

Dheeraj,
Your response is a bit surprising. I did not go into the details which you have gone into as I assumed these were obvious and readers would read beyond the actual words. Of course all of us know the issues you have raised. Alluding to the Super 30 is I would say, political posturing (as is the Super 30 scheme itself)! Any regulation will result in ways of bypassing them. But school education has a moral component, and by not having any regulation at all in coaching, we as a society are sending a message - yeh chalta hai (this is OK). Ban on alcohol in Bihar (or Gujarat for that matter) is not going to result in a sober population. Yet, it is going to have an impact ( cynically, one may say this is vote politics, but I hope that by pointing out that "both sides" are going for the same thing has a lesson for us. I dont agree with prohibition, but I understand the "good" reasons behind the scheme).
So all I am suggesting is that a "message" be sent so that parents with a high self assessment of being moral, think twice before .....!

Milind Sohoni said...

dear prof. sanghi

i would like to share my letter to mhrd on the committee report. it is available at:
http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~sohoni/commentsJEE2015.pdf

regards,

milind sohoni

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

Dear Prof. Sohoni, I appreciate your sharing of your letter here.

regards,

-dheeraj

Prashant said...

Some data of interest, before people rush to solve the first world problem of coaching.

>> In Rajasthan State Board, only 3000 schools even offer science - in comparison to 10k schools which offer Arts (and mostly, nothing else) - not because they are bastions of liberal thought, but because they do not have the resources or the ability to set up labs and find teachers for a science section. Only 100k students out of 800k even had Math as a subject.

>> Similar for Punjab State Board, only 51k students had Math, out of 335k students who took the Class 12 exam in 2015.

>> In about a million students, CBSE had around 50% students who appeared for Mathematics, but if you look at PCM - the number is less than 40%. A large number of government schools under the CBSE, do not even offer Math, let alone PCM.

>> CISCE. Here things become very different as this is a private board with ONLY private schools. Out of 70k students around 65% had Mathematics. And 43% had the PCM combination.

My point? If you ignore CISCE, and to some extent CBSE - and these are just very small numbers, compared to total enrollment in State Boards, the much bigger worry than coaching regulation, should be why the bulk of schools in this country cannot even run the science/math section. Mind you, these are state board schools, where the standard of English is also extremely low on an average - one wonders which part of the economy their students will eventually find employment in. I'd wager, what happens in most other state boards is in line with Punjab/Rajasthan boards (I only have data for those). Coaching is a very secondary concern, and in all probability, it does more good than harm to students attending not-that-great schools. If Science teaching is almost non-existent in bulk of the schools across the country, chances are that it is fairly mediocre in the next band of schools. Coaching is filling up that market gap the way I look at it.

Looking at data throws up lot more important problems than those which require regulation to fix. I am always a little surprised how people rush to fix coaching centers first before addressing issues with the school system.

Also, I am not undermining humanities here, I am just saying that a large number of schools offer only humanities, because they cannot run the science/math section. It simply becomes a channel to allow students to get a Class 12 pass certificate of some sort.






Prashant said...

Sorry for late comment. But I read your blog just now. I'm a parent of JEE appearing student independently. Your point no.5 is very relevant for a person like me. For the last two years of preparation for JEE, I found nil help from IIT website. In contrast SAT/Collegeboard website gives ton of information for preparation, mock tests, mentoring etc. I also feel the only way to reduce help from coaching classes is to get help from IIT itself. Books to read, question banks, mock papers, videos should populate jeeadvanced website. And since we are moving towards one single exam across India, across every stream of education, CBSE needs to provide help on its website as is available on Collegeboard website. That way people like me can prepare with their children without the crutches of coaching classes. Thanks. And I hope our policy makers will listen to you.