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Sunday, October 9, 2011

NRN Speech at PanIIT

A lot of people have commented on NRN's comments during Pan-IIT at New York last week. So, I am not going to add something new to the debate, but just putting my views across.

What I find very amusing is the exclusive focus on the numbers, 20 percent good, 80 percent bad. If media were to be trusted, Mr. Murthy made several points during his speech. He criticized the coaching culture and considered that as one of the reasons for decline of IITs. He said that in current form, JEE is not the best admission filter. He said that graduates of IITs have poor English language skills. He also said that IITs will have to focus a lot more on research if they want to be in the top league of universities in 10-20 years from now. All the statements that a lot of people have been saying in the recent past. You may agree or disagree with any one or all of these statements, but people have generally remained civil in their disagreements. The only statement which has inflamed passions is the 20-80 percent thing.

Is it fair to lose all sense of fairness and ignore the entire speech of NRN, and only focus on one statement of that speech. Isn't it obvious that Chetan Bhagat wants to be in the limelight just before the release of his book, and that is why he is bringing in completely irrelevant issues to the table like what Infosys has done or not done. (And, what does he know about Infosys anyway.) My friends who listened to him live in New York tell me that it was a great speech, where he talked about a lot of issues, with the only controversial statement being this one about 20-80 percent. Same thing had happened earlier when NRN had given a speech in IIT Gandhinagar in July. People listening to him there thought it was a great speech with deep analysis of what is right and what is wrong, and were totally shocked next day when media just harped on one particular statement during the speech.

I have had the good fortune of meeting NRN on several occasions. And every time I am impressed with his ideas to improve education. And he does not only make statements. Under his leadership, Infosys had initiated PhD fellowships long before IBM and Microsoft started doing so. Infosys support for conferences and other academic pursuits has been remarkable. The Infosys Prize has become the biggest honor that a scientist can receive in this country. Infosys has been supporting IT education in 100s of colleges around the country. (One may argue that it is only due to self-interest, but whether for self-interest or otherwise, you cannot ignore that they are serious about quality of education.) Of course, Mr. Murthy has also been supporting excellence in education from his personal funds to the tune of 10s of crores of rupees. Here is a person who is really passionate about education, has remarkable analysis, great ideas, and who has done a lot. And we ignore everything he says, but we can't ignore that one line.

Having said all this, let me also take this opportunity to reiterate some of the things I have been saying in this blog. First, the coaching issue. A lot of people have been saying that it is wrong to criticize coaching centers. They are servicing a need of the society. But has anyone said that it is not a legitimate business. Has anyone said that Bansals, PACE, FIIT JEE and others are not satisfying a need of the society. If they weren't, they won't be in business. The point being made is that the pedagogy employed in coaching is very different from the pedagogy that education experts tell us should be employed for teaching kids at that age. Kids coming from coaching classes demand the same pedagogy after they come to IIT. Also, the attitudes that coaching creates are different from what one would expect from a well rounded school education. They focus only on short term success. You can't blame coaching centers for any of this. The real reason is competition for a few good seats in a vast country like ours. But can there be no other admission process that allows a bright student to focus on school education and still get admission in IITs (or other top colleges). Can we not minimize the impact of coaching (not because coaching is illegitimate business but because of its side effects). I am convinced that IITs can come up with better admission strategies, and some of that I have talked about in this blog earlier.


kammal said...

How is the quality of education at coaching classes? If JEE requires good science concepts, I guess successful coaching will focus on that. In my limited personal experience, the 1-2 months coaching I attended in Delhi was better than the teaching in one of the best schools of Jalandhar. "Better" in terms of explanation of concepts and knowledge+skills of faculty.

Vikram said...

I too found 'rebuttals' like "Infosys is a body shop", "NRN's son did not get into IIT" distasteful and quite immature.

But I do feel the 20-80 assertion can be contested on several grounds:

1) Do the top 20 % of the rankers not go to coaching classes ?

2) What really is the correlation between the students performance in IIT (GPA for example) versus their ranks in JEE ? I am sure the IITs have data on this. My anecdotal observations tend to indicate that the correlation is not as strong as one would think. As a comparison, academic performance in an American university is very strongly correlated to a combination of SAT scores and high school GPA.

3) The comment itself smacks of social Darwinism, especially when seen in isolation. This is more of a philosophical disagreement, but still an important one.


Shishir said...

I believe Murthy mainly talked about the worrisome poor quality of intake to IIT. The reason of poor quality was , he attributed ,incidentally ,to the coaching centre phenomena. It is not proper to infer that he criticised coaching centres per se. And this 20-80 thing he said just as an illustration, and not with any authentic analysis.
He also talked about poor social skills of IITians.

I must congratulate Murthy for saying something publicly which we all knew but preferred to discus only privately.

Those who have been there as a student and then associated with IIT in various ways for last 30-35 years, the fall in intake quality has been noticeable for last few years . Obviously , the students who made the cut primarily because of coaching were found out at IIT .

But primarily,the blame of the situation coming to such a pass must be shared equally by our class 12th boards and those who set JEE papers.

First the Class 12th board. The problem there is that class 12th examination has lost the discriminating ability (to judge students' potential) , which is one of the prime function of any examination , particularly in modern context. We have all seen the joke of 100% cut off marks in DU college being played out. This confuses the students and their parents as to what to do with school education.

Secondly, IITs themselves. In order to maintain their high standards, they have raised JEE level beyond the normal comprehension level of even brilliant students of class 12th, forcing them to seek special training (read coaching) to get into IIT. Once , the examination standard is beyond normal comprehension level , the success in JEE is a factor of amount of practice of expected problems , particularly in a objective type paper. So the correlation between success in JEE and the 'raw intelligence' of the student went down considerably.JEE became just a matter of practice and not of what it was originally intended for.

Obviously , coaching centres is an offshoot of the systemic problem , not the problem itself. They have only responded to the 'market situation'.

In fact, all engg entrance exams followed IIT pattern and they got similar results. The correlation between KVPY and NTSE students and their success in JEE has also gone down, pointing towards the inability of the JEE or AIEEE entrance exam to discriminate between the high potential student and the average one.

As regards poor social skills of IITians, I'm in complete agreement with Murthy. I've during the course of interaction with recent graduates found a general lack of social skills of IITians (though I must hasten to add that the problem is with engineering graduates in general ), while certain good private institutes doing better in this regard. While seeking reasons for such poor social skills, it is generally attributed to the shift in the social background of successful candidates . I beg to differ. The social skills are mainly a function of well rounded school education and home environment, which is missing in these kids, as they miss the most important 2-3 years of their school .

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Vikram, I don't think there is any justification for 20-80 remark. But coming to your point, I don't think one can infer that 20 percent did not go for coaching. It is just that they are good despite coaching.

At least my way of looking at coaching is that it has serious side effects. Good students ignore school because they are hopeful of doing well in JEE/AIEEE, and therefore, schools themselves don't take 11th and 12th class education seriously, which means that even the next set of students don't get good quality education.

Even these good students become far too focused on PCM subjects, ignoring everything else, including language studies, because of the short term focus. The intensity of coaching is such that the short term focus becomes a habit even after admission to IIT, and they start questioning - why are we forced to study Chemistry or what ever. There was a time, when we could choose any humanities electives because one would expect a bunch of students to have diverse interest and curiosity. For last 15 years or so, we are having a lottery for HSS courses, because people choose them with their next short-term goal in mind, and a lot of students will have the same short-term goal, and hence the same choice of HSS. Not following one's interest/curiosity is a loss in some sense.

What my students tell me at IITK is that there is a lot more spoon feeding and a huge amount of practice at coaching centers. The first year students want the same support. They want a lot of practice questions of the type that will be asked in the exam, just to give an example. They want all slides to be on the web and very few students take notes (and, of course, one "teaches" more than what is there on those slides, and students miss all that because they haven't taken notes). So they want the slides to be very detailed.

Of course, many students are able to shed such habits. Many students are able to rekindle a variety of interests. Many students were so good that they didn't change because of coaching. And at the end of the 4 years, a fairly large number of students graduate with performance, interest and attitudes that we can proud of. But, if they had come to IIT with the right attitude and focus, they would have still gained more from IIT education, and we would have been happier teaching such a class.
And I think it is eminently possible to select such students at the time of admission.

Jayant said...

Just a couple more comments to the discussion (Full Disclosure: I didn't hear the original 80/20 comment, but in principle, I agree that in life there is 80/20 distribution in very many things that matter.):

1. Coaching Influence: Comment I heard from several students was that the Coaching classes motivate students to study by saying that "if they succeeded in cracking JEE, they will not need to study during 4 years at IIT." A self serving comment for the coaching classes, but I think it has a devastating impact on students' attitudes once they arrive at IIT campuses.

2. Student motivation and role of faculty: I had heard of even smaller % than 20 as the number of IIT students motivated to study hard, excel and most importantly, explore new ideas, concepts and knowledge. That was very disturbing to me, but unfortunately, true. Is there something the faculty can do to encourage students to "learn for the sake of learning" or create love for learning IN ADDITION TO teaching the subject matter.

qa_director said...

No one seems to comment on the way in which admissions to IIT are done. Is the JEE the best way in which the best can be chosen?

I wrote the JEE in 1978 and cleared it too and was in IIT Delhi. But that was after I had not cleared it in 1977. During my second attempt I adopted specific strategies to clear the JEE and those strategies worked at that time.

And I still feel that the JEE was NOT the best way to select the 2,000 odd people out of (at that time) more than a hundred thousand aspirants.

qa_director said...

No one seems to comment on the way in which admissions to IIT are done. Is the JEE the best way in which the best can be chosen?

I wrote the JEE in 1978 and cleared it too and was in IIT Delhi. But that was after I had not cleared it in 1977. During my second attempt I adopted specific strategies to clear the JEE and those strategies worked at that time.

And I still feel that the JEE was NOT the best way to select the 2,000 odd people out of (at that time) more than a hundred thousand aspirants.

Kara said...

Just to answers one of the points you mentioned, I don't think there can be an admission process that allows a bright student to focus on school education and still get admission in IITs (unless we merge them together). Even in USA, bright and smart students focus on GRE or SAT for a couple of semesters and not their school education (of course their grades suffer a lot).

However, I believe that's what IIT-JEEs are trying to achieve over the last 5-6 years, and have immensely deteriorated the level of IIT-JEEs. I think they were desperately trying to kill coaching centers, while undermining or ignoring side effects of such a scheme.

IIT-JEEs with support from our poor educational system, have created this coaching business over the last 15-20 years. One shouldn't isolate coaching system and then blindly put every possible blame on it. After attending NRN's talk, I think that's where he missed the spot. The fact is Infosys strives on a coaching based system, it's not an like IBM, Intel or MS. NRN may have strong commitment and a vision for improving our educational system, but since he is representing Infosys, his comments where bound to be ridiculed.

Most people in our country (including most professors in IITs) have skewed impression on the significance of coaching in building Engineers or Doctors in our country.

I remember my first lecture in D0 class at IITK, where Prof. Kalra asked us how many of us were not from coaching centers. The immediate response was 3, and on further inquiry he learned that those 3 had some combination of coaching, drop-out, or BHU/Dhanbad. I have known him personally for a long time through my father. He and many Professors in IITs, won't quite agree with me on this, but the question one should be asking is how coaching system is shaping the future of our children ?

Does coaching make our children lazy, do they loose curiosity in subjects, do they loose zeal to learn, or they lack language skills ?
What skills do we want our children to develop before they get into IITs, and after they graduate from IITs ?

Lets talk about, students who make into IITs through coaching, and ignore those who don't for a moment. Coaching makes them lazy by making every possible study material available to them, and so does internet. But what have we done to address this issue, do we have better libraries in schools ? Do we have regular Exams in IITs like every other University in USA ? This lazy guy can even get 10 pointers in IITs.
Coaching kills curiosity, for some, but most of the students who make into IITs, they still have it in them. But how often do we challenge our students in IIT Exams ? Methodological course based study is sufficient to get good grades. Most children have short term focus and its just human nature. If a student is curious to learn a subject in a different stream, can he take a course without satisfying pre-requisites ? IIT provides freedom to learn outside the academic system, and students embrace that, but why can't the academic system be more flexible ?
Coaching makes a significant impact on language skills. I remember we used to have COM200 course for that, which was like visiting a psychiatrist. Too little, too late. Even after HSS courses, IITs yet don't have a system that can balance against the 2 years of negligence towards language skills. We can't expect students from different background (esp. SC/ST, OBC) to have developed language skills before getting into IITs, and I don't think IITs have done enough to help students develop public speaking skills, or even writing skills. These skills can't just be downloaded from internet.

Kara said...

Now for 95% of Engineers who don't make into IITs or into top 5 NITs. What they are taught and tested on, shouldn't even be called Engineering. After 4 yrs of theoretical, methodological course based study, they still remember their 12th grade and IIT-JEE basics, and they will always remember them throughout their life, but not what they were taught in 4 years of so called Engineering. Coaching has done a great job in feeding them with PCM basics, but Engineering colleges have not lived upto their expectations.

Shishir said...

It appears that 'coaching ' part of Narayan Murthy has overshadowed the main point he raised of 'fall in the standard of intake to IIT through JEE' .

It is a very straightforward point (the fall, coaching or no coaching) and is known to whoever has been associated with IIT system and has been interacting with IIT graduates for last 10-15 years.

The hullabaloo over Murthy's statement is natural given the brand value of IIT in India and abroad. I believe that it may be a blessing in disguise as it brings public and governmental focus on the issue.

'The fall' would not have caused much consternation if some other institutes had been ready to take up IITs' space. Unfortunately , it it doesn't appear to be so in coming years (with some exception in the field of computer science )

The problem, of course, has many roots including some in academic & social ecosystem of the country.

IIT Coumcil must try to think it over including the fact whether country needs so many IIT trained engineers in other branches (other than CS & Electrical/Electronics)
. Howsoever much do we criticize the 'placement mania' among parents and students, the fact remains it has always guided the preference of students. Earlier, no one talked about placement (as campus placement was the prerogative of IITs only), but historical shifting of preference for Civil to Mech to Electronics to CS is all embedded in placement or job market.

Also, the Council must revisit its approach towards teaching,its curriculum and its objective of undergraduate studies.Further, It must also have a re-look at its post graduate studies to make it more attractive.Strategic interaction with Indian or Foreign industries may be thought of. Several industries might be interested in recruiting M.Techs or Ph.Ds (ahead of B.techs)if their areas of specialization or research suits them.

Simply looking at intake problem as coaching vs JEE shall be too narrow a focus to yield any fruitful result.

kasara said...

I liked the way you analysed the NRN's point and the knee-jerk reaction to it. In fact, most of us do not like to admit our failures, do not like to change our views and do not like to take a fresh look at something too well known. In fact, when I commented on a negative reaction by an eminent professor of an eminent institution in his blog, that comment curiously did not find place in his blog. Kara has totally misread the point made by Dheeraj Singh. The point is not about the role of coaching institutions in making students active or motivated. The point is about the things they teach in the coaching institutions and the methodology they adopt.

Kara said...

Shishir, I couldn't agree with you more.
Kasara, I was trying to raise a point in second half of my comment. Almost no one in academia wants to understand and appreciate miniscule merits of coaching business (a multi-billion dollar industry). I don't know why everyone shies away from it.

Coaching methodology and teachings are different from what most students adopt for themselves. More than 90% of those students rather fail to follow these foot steps (which is good in some sense).
The remaining less than 10%, don't have a guaranteed admission in top colleges, but these hard working students feature in the top ranks in almost every college. Why ?
Coaching methodology is based on practice and competition (that's also the secret behind every successful sportsman).

If we think about 95% of our Engineers who didn't make it into IITs or top NITs, I would say coaching has done an excellent job, but these colleges have failed to live up to their expectations (may be 'cause public organizations are sluggish compared to private).

Since, almost everyone in IITs have coaching background, its hard to say that they perform inferior or superior in academia, compared to those who come without it. Outside academia, students who come with coaching/boarding background, have stronger social and interpersonal skills (the reason no one from coaching background has ever committed a suicide).

There are lot of merits in this coaching system, and IITs should embrace, encourage and challenge these bright, young, intelligent, hard working individuals, to make them achieve their full potential.

I personally think IIT-JEEs along with Roorkee Entrance Exams, were lot better in 90s, and I wish they go back to make it more challenging in terms of content rather than sheer competition. By decreasing the standards, they have only increased breadth of coaching business, and immensely deteriorated quality of intake.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Prof Sanghi, I think your points are excellent. Coaching helps students get high scores. If we as teachers don't believe that high scores correlate with good education, then why are we using scores at every stage in the process of selection? Why not be more qualitative in that? There is some degree of hypocrisy here. It our inability to make hard qualitative judgments that has made us vulnerable to being gamed by the coaching system.

But I also want to point out something else. Coaching classes (and by this I mean classes for JEE and also for higher level like engineering and medicine) have flourished not merely because of demand-supply gaps in higher education. It is also because they have access to a free market. They can charge whatever fees they want, they can higher teachers by offering attractive packages, they are constantly competing against each other and are performance oriented. If our universities had such energy and set themselves such high targets, we would not be where we are today. If only these classes slow down a bit on cramming and offer some broader education, opportunities for personality development etc, they could actually turn into superb institutions.

kasara said...

The problem is once we get a feeling that coaching institutes are there to serve the society, we start finding ways of defending it. It is difficult to see the relevance of point of IITians having stronger social and interpersonal skills? It is as if only the IITians have those skills and in that case the coaching institutes have a role in promoting them. The other point is about the analogy with the field of sports. I do not think the analogy holds good for obvious reasons. One would better read the essay titled sporting spirit by George Orwell to understand its usefulness to society.

Shashi said...

Dear Prof. Sanghi,

Thank you for your blog post on Mr. Murthy's comment in the Pan IIT summit. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Murthy, and I did believe that he was raising the right issues. After reading your post, I am convinced that Mr. Murthy was indeed right. On the other hand, Mr. Bhagat's comments were certainly in bad taste, intended mainly as a shadow publicity for his upcoming book.

I do have some disagreements with his comments though, and also with what others have said on this blog. The first is regarding the quality of students coming to IIT. I believe that the students entering IIT are still the best the country has to offer in terms of talent. The problem is that by the time these students enter the IITs, they have already spent so much of their energy preparing for the JEE that they have little enthusiasm for what is being taught in the college. Almost everyone is thinking about the end (the job they are going to get after 4 years) rather than the process itself. Learning takes a back seat, and students just count the years pass by so that they can graduate with an IIT stamp and take up a job giving the maximum returns. Their lack of enthusiasm about learning in no way implies their lack of talent.

The second issue I disagree with is having good English skills. I agree that communication skills are extremely important in professional life, but I don't see why the students should shoulder the blame for having bad English skills. By all accounts, Srinivasa Ramanujan did not have great "English Skills" but he is still recognized as a great mathematician.

The problem with the coaching system is (and has been rightly pointed out by Mr. Kulkarni) that it is simply the result of supply-demand deficit in a free market. It is not a problem with the JEE or the student or the coaching classes. The solution lies in improving the higher education ecosystem in the country has a whole: open more engineering colleges (and not necessarily with the IIT name), upgrade the standards of the existing universities and improve the faculty strength in the institutions of higher education(and pay them their market value salary!). It will take a lot of time - a time frame of around 20 years is fair to assume - and will require a sincere commitment from all the stakeholders as well. There is no dearth of talent in this country, but there is an urgent need to create an environment where this talent can flourish and not simply burn out under the weight of admission examinations.

Shantanu said...

@Shashi ... couldn't agree more with you. I respect NRN and I agree than statements made by Chetan Bhagat were immature considering the context in which they were made but NRN also went too far with his criticism considering that he didn't give any substantial reason or impression to back the same.
@Prof Sanghi .. again we see a perfect example of how targetting or praising IITs lead to widespread media attention. A similar comment on NITs or even Delhi University would not come on front pages but IITs have to be in the limelight.
Now lets get to the point on student quality. What everyone here is neglecting is that this "mugging" culture (infact it has is now prevalent in schools as well). Gone are the days when teachers in school concentrated on imparting conceptual knowledge to students. Now most teachers (even in good schools) concentrate more on getting private tutions. Now children join private tutions right from class 2 and 3 as opposed to early 80's and 70's when most students used to rely on schools for education. Hence to say that only IITs are being impacted by this "coaching" culture is wrong. I have worked with some students from SRCC(best commerce college in the country) who even after graduation didn't understand the relation between compound interest and simple interest(Yes its true!!!). Considering that they are general category students you have to assume that their board percentage would be extremely high. So much so on relying on board percentages to admit students to IIT. Thing is some people join coaching classes to clear JEE while others join coaching classes to crack boards.
I am sure if you go to lower ranked (lower than IITs) engineering colleges (BITS Pilani and NITs) you would find the same KOTA material there as well (or some other coaching class material). I believe IITs still gets way better students that any other college in India but yes owing to the mechanical methodology of study adopted right from primary level schooling , it has led to students searching for patterns to solve questions (as prof sanghi has rightly pointed out but the reason I believe is not "Coaching menace" but in general lack of quality schooling).
I woiuld have made the same point on English speaking and understanding that Shishir has made. So I believe there s no point in repeating the same points.

Shantanu said...

@Shishir one of yourcomments you have mentioned ..

"The recent statement of Narayan Murthy has confirmed what we all knew and wanted to say but refrained from doing so,for obvious reasons !"

I heard this (Quality deterioration") right from my 1st year till my fourth year not only from most IITK professors but also from SUGC office PEONS. In fact in some time even chai wallahs in MT would start saying, "We have more "raw intelligence" that these fools who come via coaching institutes".

Anyways my question is what is raw intelligence? Please can anyone define that to me. How do you measure raw intelligence in student? Is it high CGPA? High Creativity? what?

Shishir said...

@shantanu, 'raw intelligence' is a perceptive thing. It is roughly 'ability to deduce from given information', in a wider context. The given information could be plain quantitative data, a situation, pattern and the like.Expression ,creativity and mental agility are also part of it, to some extent.

Subjectively , it is easy to observe . Not that you can't have an idea about it objectively by figuring out some kind of test and comparing the scores, but only when those tests are NOT GAMED.

We have been observing the IIT B.Techs for last 10-15 years, year after year,talking to them, talking to our various friends in the industries who get to handle IIT engineers, and whenever applicable even assessing their abilities and performance in real life situations.

The general feeling , based on above, is that IITians are no longer as sharp or as mentally agile (of course I'm talking about average IITian). We still have brightest of the kids coming out IITs who are simply unbeatable, but it is the average ones who worry us.

You have talked about BITS,Pilani. Let me add that the though underrated among class 12th students and their parents, the BITS, Pilani commands a good respect in industry, almost comparable to IITs.

It seems that you , being or having been part of IIT recently,have been hurt by comments about 'the fall in standards'. It is not that we are saying this with some 'our time was better' kind of sense. We have been associated with IIT for a much longer period , loved it as much as you do,and wish it all the success. We'd certainly like to point out the buildings at Kalyanpur and say with pride that this is the place 'me too' went to , and not 'yeah! I was there, but in those days it used to be ...'

You have also talked about 'CGPA' as an indicator of 'intelligence'. Yes, it is, to some extent. But in a relative ranking system, if you have a majority of 'average' students , it loses its value.

I guess you get the sense of 'gaming the JEE' by the coaching institutes who for 15-16 hrs/day for 2-3 years just make students practice PCM problems of all kinds to the exclusion of all others activities.
You cannot measure IQ through IQ test if the candidate has practiced that kind of IQ test.

Shashi said...

I think in this debate of the "quality" of incoming students, we are missing a key point: what happens to the students once they are in the system? It is important to get students will real talent into the system, but equally important is nurturing the talent that comes in. Are our academic institutions nurturing the talent in the right way?

Shantanu posed the question: how does one define raw talent? Shishir made an attempt to answer this question. I will make another attempt to answer this question using a relative scale. From my experience, if you take the topmost (top 20%?) students from IIT and from MIT, they would be right at the same level in terms of "raw talent". However, if you take an "average" student from MIT, then that students would definitely be above an average IIT student. It seems that there is a big fat tail as far as the "raw talent" level in the IITs goes (instead of a normal distribution) and that is the concern that is being raised.

However, and as I said before, I have absolutely no doubt that IITs still get the best students from all over India in terms of talent. During my time in the institute, there were many extremely talented individuals, and not just in academics but in other respects as well. It was indeed a privilege to interact with these students, and it made all those four years all the more worthwhile.

Similarly, I (and many of my friends) also believed that IIT faculty was the best we could get in the country to learn from, and it was an honor to be their students. But did the teacher reciprocate this feeling? With all due respects to my teachers at IITK (and I do have a lot of respect for them), it was definitely disconcerting to hear them (no one from the CSE department thankfully!) ranting about JEE in the classrooms, and the falling standards of incoming students, and so on. Any academic institution has two pillars: the students and the faculty. If there is a mistrust between the two, the whole edifice of academic excellence collapses. If only the teachers put 10% more confidence in the students, and if only the students put in 10% more sincerity in their academic work, believe me a lot of problems that plague the system will automatically get solved. Unfortunately it seems both the students and the faculty members forget about this simple point.

The whole system has become so much grade-centric that the students (and maybe the faculty members) tend to look everything from the lens of CPI, although a CPI is not a good predictor of how "successful" a student will be in professional life. It seems everyone drinks, sleeps, breathes (and some even die with it) CPI. Creativity and learning are secondary things in such a system. I strongly feel that reducing the emphasis on grades will definitely create a better environment for nurturing the talent that comes to the IITs.

Shantanu said...

@Shishir ... No I am not hurt by the comments because I believe ability is a very subjective thing(not limited to institutes). Now I have had a very very poor experience with BITS Pilani graduates (had one individual under me couple of months back) and hence my perception is based on that.
I believe in the industry it has widely become popular that IITians are not good(especially if he/she is a dropper). This is precisely the reason why I believe we must have exchange programs between IITs, NITs and BITs Pilani. I am not saying that a BITS Pilani graduate or an NITian is not good as an average IIT student but this is the only way through which we can judge for sure if quality in IITs is really deteriorating (by giving everyone a level ground).
Don't get me wrong but because of this so called perception of "Quality degradation", many really good students from IITs loose out to not so good students from BITs Pilani and NITs just because the students from latter schools have better CGPA's (BITs Pilani has a very very lenient grading system).
Now lets discuss about CGPA. I completely disagree with you with your point that CGPA is a measure of "raw intelligence". Now lets not discuss about people like Mani Bhushan Srivastava or Piyush Srivastava. IITs were blessed to have them rather than the other way round. Lets look at the average IIT student (which according to you is hopeless but according to me is still way better than average Indian student). CGPA (or acads in any college) has a lot to do with confidence. If you have a strong academic record behind you it gives you the confidence to do well going forward. I have been an out an out topper in school (La Martiniere college, Lucknow). The standard of competition was quite fierce there. I now realize how simple it was to come in the top 3 (and at times 1) without putting in that much effort. Now obviously competition in IIT is expected to be way way fierce that that in school but if a 6th -7th ranker from my class is going to BITS Pilani and then coming 1st there then I should be at least a 9 pointer in IIT isn't it? But I just couldn't get going in IIT examinations in my first two years. There is a difference between academic ability and performance in examination. Performance in examination is more a measure of your confidence as well as your presentation (talking about general board type papers not olympiad type papers). I don't understand how school examinations or board examinations test my "raw intelligence". If that would have been the case then all olympiad gold medalists (which even you would appreciate measures >4 sigma natural talent ) would have been board toppers.
To sum up I will give an example which would possibly raise some eyebrows but still its worth analyzing. IIMs are institutes where "average" IIT students (mostly 7-8.5) go and brilliant "BITs Pilani (15-20 students >9.5)" graduates go. Still on an average IIT students(I am referring to only general category) (B,K,D,M) perform way better than BITS Pilani students (especially in pure mathematics courses like Probability). You might say that there is a difference between technical education and management education but still academics is academics! I believe reputation depends a lot on perception and perception wise IITs have degraded in the eyes of the industry even though the same eyes can't look at the same degradation (which is a more general phenomenon) in other institutes.

Shishir said...

@ Shantanu, I guess this forum is not meant for discussing IIT vs BITS,Pilani vs NIT etc.
However,my comments about BITS,Pilani were essentially in parenthesis.
In any case, I only shared the industry's perception , correctness of which I and you have no control over .

Shantanu said...

@Shishir .. please don't think that I am comparing the three institutes on the forum. Apologies if I wasn't able to put my view point in a clear manner. I have tried to explain that this "quality degradation" among students is not owing to coaching classes for JEE (two or three years is way to less to have such a significant impact) but owing to general degrading standards of school education right from primary level. The impact of the same we can see in top commerce colleges as well as other top engineering colleges. This is the precise reason why I quoted the example. My view point on the industry is very immature as compared to yours (you being way to senior to me) but I believe you would appreciate that different people would encounter different circumstances which would impact their respective perceptions accordingly. Apologies if I wasn't able to put my point clearly. Every institute has its own value and its own place. I respect every institution and I believe student anywhere can do exceptionally well but yes I support an impartial viewpoint with proper scientific and logical explanation than just "perception" without any scientific basis.
Lets get back to NRN comments. Considering that he is such a senior person (so high in the hierarchy,) I doubt he has had much interaction with recent IIT graduates. This makes me think that his comments are more based on what others have to say than his own personal experience (which I doubt he would have considering his seniority).

Vikram said...

I have a question for Shantanu. Why do you think there has been a general degradation in the quality of primary and secondary education in India ? What might be the reasons for such a degradation ?

gaga said...

But we do nothing at school. All things taught at school are child's play.
That excludes only the chemistry lab where we just have to cheat to get the answer.

Whatever they teach at school in an hour can be done in ten minutes at the coaching class.

I know this, because i had 95 percent attendance in 12th. Most of the time i used to get bored sitting in the first bench studying stuff i already knew.

Shantanu said...

@Vikram .. via my own personal experience and also by sharing my personal experience with others. In my own school (one of the best in Lucknow), the senior teachers used to teach seriously and tried to concentrate on "conceptual clarity", which everyone has been so obsessed about in this post. The newer teachers used to concentrate more on persuading more and more students to join their private coaching class. Most of the students barring a few (like me who couldn't attend a private class because economic conditions of our families wasn't good) used to attend private tutions right from class 2-3. Same is the case with all other cities and schools. If one assumes that 2-3 years in JEE coaching classes makes you a donkey, imagine what coaching right from class 2-3 would make you into. Unfortunately this is the trend today.
The problem in most of the arguments in this post is that everyone is assuming that the primary school system is still as ideal is it used to be in the 1980's.
I totally agree with NRN, Prof Sanghi and Shishier that quality has suffered because of coaching classes but to be honest if there would have been an ideal society where no coaching classes would have existed even then IITs would have got more or less the same set students, only they would have had a hunger to learn more.

Shantanu said...

@gaga .. the topic discussed here is that since people are getting unnecessary advantage by joining coaching institutes to clear JEE exam, it gives a reason to concentrate on school performance rather than competitive examination performance. What people are neglecting is the trend that is followed today. Everyone, I repeat everyone joins coaching institutes today , either competitive examinations (which also trains you for aptitude tests like BITSAT or board examinations). Very very few (<3 sigma) students concentrate on what is taught is school.
My entire point is that the system used by JEE presently is the best and if they start giving weights to boards percentage with some aptitude test then the quality would degrade to a huge extent. You need to test intelligence of the order >1.5 sigma which you cannot by taking board examination. I haven't yet taken into account how difficult it would be to normalize across boards.
I have already mentioned that JEE with its uncertainty in pattern is still relatively more immune to coaching classes than boards or AIEEE or BITSAT or any pre medical test.

Vikram said...

Thanks Shantanu. I can see where you are coming from. But I would like to share my experience and that of many others in Mumbai. Till 9th standard, school was fine. The teachers were dedicated and we learnt a lot, much of it beyond the four walls of our textbooks.

Then came 10th standard with the board exams. Almost everyone who could afford it attended 'coaching classes' in the summer. Indeed, the only students not going to one of these 'classes' were folks who could not afford it or folks who didnt care too much for studies. Throughout 10th standard, the sole focus became the percentage in the board exams. Note that initially the classes werent deemed necessary not because the schooling was poor, they were necessary for that 'extra edge' in the board exams.

Because students had mostly learnt the material in classes and they were anyways only interested in the board exams, the teachers seemed to lose morale and the classroom atmosphere dipped significantly. School became meaningless.

The same trend then continued in 11th standard, where students were already in classes teaching them 12th standard material. And then in 12th standard, mass bunking became the norm. Students simply didnt come to school (or junior college as we call it in Maharashtra). The sole aim was to score in the 12th board, CET, AIEEE, or JEE. This culture has become institutionalized in Mumbai's junior colleges and has been steadily percolating down to the secondary and primary level.

From my experience, one of the major reasons for the decline of schooling has been the inordinate amount of importance given to the board exams and other entrance exams. This is a structural weakness in our system that can be corrected if the right steps are taken. And one of those steps has to be a greater role for what children actually do in school in their admissions to colleges and universities.

Shantanu said...

@Vikram ... you have made a very good point and this is where I disagree with Shishir completely when he mentions that the purpose of an examination is to separate the cream from the milk.

I would say that a competitive examination's purpose is to "rank" individuals. When it comes to board examinations or IIT internal examinations, the purpose of the system should be to ensure that each and every student gets the maximum out of the system. With or without examinations. IITs are not institutes built to ensure that the outer world knows which student is ranked where. IITs are built to impart quality education. Hence if students in general gain more out of a system without examinations, so be it. Everything has become so grade centric that the entire purpose of education has taken a back seat. The ONLY purpose of examination in school or in college is to motivate students to learn more. If the purpose is not being solved then we must look out for better alternatives.

Kara said...

@Vikram ... What children "actually" do in schools should be a part of admission/selection process, and I can't agree more with you on this. Colleges in west primarily use it for personality assessment. Whereas, our Indian education system is corrupt to an extent, that even excellent recommendations from an IIT Professor don't stand any credibility. It's even harder, to determine what children "actually" do in schools, apart from their academic "record". But I guess we can still improve depth in our evaluation/selection process (a crazy eg.: by using aptitude tests like NTSE, Olympiad, etc).

Indian students right from the beginning, focus more on content than philosophy of the subject. One of the reasons, for their excellence in exams, all over the world, and also a reason for lack of Indians in research.

@Shantanu ... I am a product of ISC, ICSE boards ... and from what I know, their exams are pretty good in that sense (may be that's the secret to kill coaching centers, as there were none for our board exams :P). Jokes apart, I believe what you meant was, the main purpose of any exam/test is to rank, but the system should ensure (using classes, labs, HWs, attendance, etc) that every student has achieved the least expected (and we should definitely try to raise those standards) ... or maybe I got it completely wrong.

The damage IIT brand has suffered over the last few years, is irreparable, and I think we should re-brand it :P.
I have taught a lot of "Gold Medalists" from the so called "not-yet-IITs" (all apart from the main 5), and not one stands up the level of a poor IIT student from 90s.

Shantanu said...

@kara .. you got me slightly wrong. I am advocating a "rank" based system for competitive examinations (where you have no option). For "home" examinations, it depends on what works best to serve the basic underlying purpose (learning and implementation) of the system (12th or IIT).
I also studied in ICSE and ISC and there was an entire coaching market in Lucknow which catered to the needs of students sitting for these two boards. To be very honest if I would compare UP Board to both CBSE or ISC with my scale of comparison being learning then I would rate UP Board way above both these boards because unlike the latter two UP board has not degraded its standard (both in terms of content and examination) to reduce "stress" among students. Yet again though, preferred board would be ICSE or CBSE for any student or parent, not on learning grounds but because the course in both these boards is less (hence aiding one in concentrating on competitive examinations) and now days getting a 92-93% in these boards is a cake walk. My cousin got a 10.0 in CBSE 10th and half way down in class 11th she didn't know the value of tan 45. In UP board you are supposed to know the derivation of getting the value of sin 22.5 in class 10th. This is the difference between the learning offered, but again, would anyone risk getting less marks to learn more in UP board? I doubt it. You see the problem in our mentality is that we believe that grades are an end in itself rather than the means to an end (which should have been learning).

Shishir said...

I think Murthy's comments generated a debate about the quality at IITs and to that extent it served its purpose.

However, we (all those who have a direct interest in IIT affairs or who have an emotional attachment with their alma mater or who feel proud of India's best educational brand ) should not let it remain just a debate about how to circumvent the need for coaching for JEE.

As I have said earlier, IIT should not be 'B.Tech Centric' which was not originally intended but somehow became so. True,so called 'brand IIT' is largely because of 'B.Tech students' , but it has served a very limited purpose of just setting a benchmark of junior technical education and producing good brilliant faculty members for IITs.
IIT must graduate to technology development and actively associate with Industry (India or abroad) and must be 'pro-active' in this regard. My experience suggest that there is no dearth of areas for which IITs association may be sought. It will also provide meaningful exposure to students seeking some specialization.

Post graduate (M.Techs & Ph.Ds) shall become meaningful if they are engaged in the currently relevant development studies of the Industry and their absorption in the industry shall also be of no problem then. Their specialization will carry more value than a mere B.Tech. (Some of the Organizations in the field of computer science are already practicing this. Ph.Ds in CS from institutions like IISc,IITs are sought after in India and abroad. My interaction with industry has informed me that there is a disconnect of the Ph.Ds and their requirement. And precisely for this they find difficult to recruit Ph.Ds . )

IITs then will have a different priorities and will not depend only upon 'JEE ' for its reputation. In the years to come , IITs will have integrated itself with the industrial scene of India and IITs , as an institution (and not its students and faculty individually) will have its value to the society in general and industry in particular.

Surely, good intake is always necessary, but , once you have a vibrant post graduate and research & development culture, you are not under monumental 'national pressure' to 'correct' JEE in the manner outcome of which even IITs are confused.Also, when a program is not under too much focus, it is easier to do the course correction.

Besides, IITs should also talk about opening 'IIT like institutions' in the field of Humanities and Management (Indore's experiment should be supported by IITs)so that good students with interests in other field may like to join those institutes and study meaningfully. I guess National Law Schools are doing well in this regard. They have also raised the bar for law education in the country.

Kara said...

@Shantanu ... absolutely ... ISC and UP Board don't even stand in the same league. Without getting too much off topic, I will just say that, for most Indian students learning means content of the matter, than the philosophy of it (from "the" beginning). Hence, they lack apptitude for research. To put that in some perespective, how many JEE aspirants know "why" oceans are blue in color ? Based on content of the matter, a 6th grade student should be able to answer that.

I personally believe, parents primarily send their kids in ISC board for english, as science is something students can learn by themselves, while we can't say the same thing for language/communication skills. Or maybe, its gonna be a cake walk, is also on their cards.

Shantanu said...

A very good article quite relevant to the topic discussed but looks at the entire scenario with a slightly different angle.

vivek singh aka vfix said...

Consider you have an array of 5 numbers <9,1,4,5,2>.Now you sort them using any sorting algorithm the answer would be same <1,2,4,5,9>.

JEE is the algorithm which sorts candidates ,on the basis of knowledge and application skills required to carry out a btech course at IITs .So what ever be the format of examination and whatever be the scenario like you shut down all coaching institutes in the country or you open more coaching institutes , the top 5k-10k rank list wont be changed significantly.
The issue on which we need to focus is the motivations of the candidates behind aiming for IITs.
And how parents and school motivate him/her for technical studies. A Motivation like "i have to do MBA from XXX institute after grads or i have to qualify civil service or i'll have a huge package" wont help in producing research from the institute.

Improving class 1-12 education system and motivating students more towards academic and technical excellence instead of money ,position would definitely improve the quality of engineers coming out from any technical institute in India.

Shantanu said...

@vivek .. that is why I stressed that the attitude of students entering IITs would reflect the attitude of the society from where they come. In India the middle class is not as economically secure as is the case in some developed countries. Hence expecting that only those students would join IITs who have a deep interest in technology is expecting a little too much. As I said that IITs would improve if India improves. The fate of IITs depends a lot on the fate of India. Same is the case with any university in the world. Hence all these talks that IITs are not producing that many Phd's, that IITs are not concentrating on research is irrelevant. No matter how much IITs strive for research it won't become a culture till our society adopts that culture (which would happen only when the survival of individuals in secure as is the case in USA). Why only IITs? What good have Delhi univerity, Mumbai University done to our country? They also get decent grants from the government. How have they shaped our society. Why ain't students from those colleges questioned when they blindly join just about any high paying job while neglecting the core subjects they have learnt in college. Why has no one ever questioned why SRCC is not as good as Harvard?
All because IITs are not "just" technical institutes when it comes to our society. They are way more than that. The hype is just too huge. Its an educational institute after all and it should be left as one. IITs should not be made a symbol of "glamour".
Hence all the changes you are proposing are possible only if our society changes and you cannot blame the students entering IITs because they run after money and job security rather than research because this attitude is the reflection of the society (the general middle class) from where most IITians come.

Shishir said...

@Shantanu , IITs were not supposed to be 'general education' institute, which it is being treated as by many students. This is understandable though ,as there is a near absence of good colleges otherwise and of course because of 'IIT stamp' which makes the things a lot easier in the 'employment world'.

But, being understandable doesn't mean it is justifiable. IITs have a certain purpose to exist which include lifting the level of technical education in the country , and acting as a hub of research & development in the technical field.

It is this objective for which a lot of taxpayers' money is poured in IIT and not trying to attain that goal is not correct on the part of IIT administration . Since the students are free to pursue whichever vocation they choose to, it is imperative that IITs design their admission procedure in such a way that only those students are preferred who have a serious interest in engineering and science subjects. It is not an easy job , but it is not impossible either.

There are a host of other equally important issues needed to be addressed apart from just tweaking the JEE before we reach a stage where IITs can justifiably claim to be a top class engineering university.

Prashant said...

"It is this objective for which a lot of taxpayers' money is poured in IIT and not trying to attain that goal is not correct on the part of IIT administration ."

If a disproportionate amount of taxpayer money has been poured into Technology education ( as compared to liberal arts, humanties or commerce institutions ) then it is natural that the Tech instition will become a focal point of general education and taxpayers have every right to use it in that way.

Apart from that, here is some food for thought, in case someone specifically involved in the IIT Administration is reading this. Several points, related and unrelated to this post. All good initiatives which I noticed at IIT came from individuals - some students or progressive professors - I never noticed any kind of positive changes or experimentation in the System as a whole.

1) In my batch at IIT-Kgp (2002 entry) we had the All India CBSE and ISC/ICSE Class-12 Toppers (Rank-1). One of them is completing a PhD at a top US Univ ( think MIT/Stanford) and another is "selling soaps". We had Olympiad winners as well. And most of the students had scored 85% or more in one of the (10/12) board examinations; there was a good number near the 95% mark as well. So for the notion that board exams aren't being factored in and so IITs are getting mediocre students; its a pretty lame attempt at deflecting blame onto the input rather than the mediocrity of the system. Pretending that bringing board exam scores into the picture will drastically change the input isn't going to serve any purpose.

Yes, schooling is important as well and a lot of people ignore it. To bring that into the picture, all IIT needs to do is to set some reasonable cutoff like even 75-80% in Class X & XII; instead of coming up with some complicated and unfair normalization procedure for board exams which are anyway prone to leaks, cheating, random scores etc . That cutoff will make sure aspirants take their schooling seriously enough; without asking for the moon ( like the 100% cutoff for some DU seats ).

I was from the ICSE-ISC board and every single paper was leaked in my Class - 12 exam. It happens in all board exams. So using those scores with precision will be a big mistake..

2)Now let us assume that weak students have somehow entered the IIT. Some, by gaming the JEE - and others, via relaxed criteria, due to social realities in India. One thing we can be reasonably sure of - almost none of these would have fallen into the exceptionally weak category at high school level - perhaps, they were just average. Now, at the time of graduation from college, if they happen to be as mediocre as NRN has described, it is a not something for IIT Directors to nod their heads and agree enthusiastically ( with NRNs statement ). Rather, it just goes to show, that the only polished diamonds who pass out of IIT, are those who started off as polished diamonds to begin with - and IIT has been nothing beyond a failure in adding any value to the average set of students.....contd....

Prashant said...

....contd...Part II...

3)Before sweeping statements can be made, does the IIT adminstration collect any data to track careers of passouts - year to year, department to department. Or would they even care about that. I passed out at a time when plenty of finance jobs were there on the scene. Many of these companies picked up CS/EE graduates. After a few years, a good chunk of these Comp/Elec guys went back into their original fields- as Software Engineers, Entrepreneurs - and some went to do a PhD. Many people are doing an MS/PhD after a few years of experience in high paying jobs ( tech or non-tech ). We are a poor country, so it is natural that people want to attain a certain basic level of financial security first. If you track alumni, the number of people completing PhDs ( in EE/CS/Mathematics) from the 2006-2008 passing out batches might actually be much higher than late nineties etc. when people used to drop out after an MS which was just a visa to get to the US and hardly an indicator of academic interest.

4) However, you will not see a Textile/Agriculture/Chemical/Metallurgical or even a Mechanical engineer return to his core field once he leaves it. I have never seen it happen. That should be a hint to IIT that the distribution of seats, and how they are allocated needs to be revisited.
When people are stuck in branches they have little interest in it is natural they will dislike engineering and would rather "sell soap" when they pass out. I think its better to let a Chem Engineer become an EE or CS Engineer rather than have him become a marketing person. If IIT directors cannot do anything about that, they should do a favor by keeping their mouth shut regarding the quality and interest of students.

5) Google Search for this software package called XBOOT created by "ShamurShamur" . An impressive piece of freeware - and it would have required a decent amount of systems knowledge to create. Sixty Thousand downloads in its first two months. Created by an IIT student. What makes it worthy of being mentioned here ? The guy who created it was in the Metallurgy department at KGP, flunked his courses, could not pass out in time
and committed suicide ( a few months ago ). Before mourning the lack of interest students have in engineering, think of a formula to take care of those who do. Just copy any good US University's curriculum, workload and flexibility - given that it would be expecting too much from Indian administrators to use their creativity to design and implement any sort of systematic changes on their own.

6) A lot of alumni of the eighties and nineties are a self righteous bunch because they're stuck in jobs which recent pass outs wouldn't care about. IIT grads in the past would have taken their studies more seriously because they couldn't simply assume that they would end up with a high paying job, like they do nowadays. They had to study to app, they had to app to get to the US and trust me, once they got to the US many of them jumped into the soap seller bandwagon. There has always been a respectable percentage of very good students in IIT; the majority has never been all that awesome or all that bad. This is IIT not Bollywood. Let's avoid sweeping and dramatic statements which keep IIT alive forever in the media.

Prashant said...

.... contd.. Part III

7) Who gets into the system is almost entirely within the system's control. If the system has been unable to adapt itself time to time, even making not-so-drastic changes, maybe the system isn't good enough itself.

8) What makes IIT think it deserves good students anyway ? An Air India like monopoly of the eighties ? Students are stuffed 2,3,4 in a room; toilets are dirty; food is limited; messes are overcrowded. Those are just the living conditions. Academically, some one who is good in engineering, will have a specific interest. When you fill the form for IIT JEE - unless you are an AIR 100 level genius - you start by making compromises. You cannot afford to have a specific interest. If you spend time tinkering with toy robots, you will probably not find yourself in the JEE merit list. You have to be as prepared to be study Civil Engineering, as Electrical Engineering. So, when you graduate from IIT, you are more than willing to become a marketing guy than an engineer. The problem could be partially solved by allowing everone to do the course they want even if it means that everyone ends up studying CS/Elec.

9) The culture within IITs. The perpetual talk of "successful alumni" frequently centered around "millionaires and billionaires" - and their success stories- some of them would have been just another lucky tech millionaire in the US. This compulsive rags to riches fascination is nauseating and highly inappropriate in an educational institute. No wonder students are so direction less, beyond knowing that they need to "make it big".

10)The Holy Cow - IIT JEE. This whole business of making IIT JEE "less coachable" has actually made it more so. Bring back some of the non-MCQ questions. At least they test some basic standard of open ended thinking in the examination.

11)This one is not exactly related to IIT and it might not even make sense. Think about it, ICSE-ISC students are just about 5-10% of IIT intake. And it is by far one of the smallest boards in the country. Yet, there seem to be a handful of us - among recent pass-outs - active over here - and not too many others. What about other boards - are their recent products less likely to be interested in open ended issues which don't directly influence them ? Which leads me to ask, when IIT wants to factor in the "schooling system" is that system good enough to begin with - and even more importantly is it even remotely good enough to replace the current JEE System ( however imperfect it is ) ?

12) Interview some kid who spent his time tinkering with robotics or coding an open-source freeware or creating a website; during the semester at IIT. Chances are his grades fell so badly that he would dare not venture "astray" ever again.

13) About 40% of the students in my branch went out of their way to complete a Minor ( significant credit overload ). Many are pursuing careers directly or indirectly related to the Minor areas. This was because it so happened, we had a slightly more flexible and open curriculum- compared to some other branches ( by accident not design ). If IIT administration conducts a few experiments like this - identifying when students respond positively to the system - they could make a gradual set of improvements and modifications.

There's no coherent trend in the set of points above; I've just tried to point out somethings to ponder about. Overall message to those who run the IIT System - first think of what you can do with the good (and often, unfortunate) set of students whom you manage to trap, before cribbing about not getting the rock stars whom you don't deserve to get anyway.

vivek singh aka vfix said...


k said...

Prashant's post gives some new thoughts on the debate of choice to students.
1) Each IIT today has a capacity limit for each stream of engineering, hence students are forced to accept the choice they get, in spite of being among the brighest youth of the country.

2)The reason for the IITs imposing quota for each stream of engineering are mainly two fold - Availability of infrastructure & teachers, need to cater to national priorities.

3) Today to a limited extent, students have a facility to change stream after 1st year, based on the CGPA. This is permitted for only a handful of students.

4) Another set of students could be permitted to change stream based upon aptitude tests administered at the end of the first year.

5) A third set of students could be permitted to change based upon multiple professors observations and recommendations, say a few students.

6) Another possibility is to permit students to take up extra credit courses in summer/winter school to gain dual specialized degrees.

7) Lastly, students could be permitted to get credits for a period of say three years after graduation to secure a second degree. Thus a mechanical engineer working in auronautical or a civil engineer working in a oil refinery can acquire specialization post facto based upon his work profile.

The objective should be that students have as many incentives as possible to acquire formal degree in his chosen stream based on inner passion, motivation, financial logic or work profile.

A second benefit to the IITs is that by keeping the bandwidth of minimum and maximum enrollments in each stream more open, IITs will become more aware of shifting market preferences.

A third benefit to students is that the demand and supply will get adjusted automatically. So the average texile engineer or a ceramic engineer's placement salaries will go up due to reduction in the supply side.

Prashb said...


Naturally, the question comes up - is it even feasible for IIT to allow students to opt for branches as they like, in terms of faculty strength and resources ?

What I would also like to point out is, that appropriate use of Information Technology, to a great extent makes it immaterial whether the class size in 30 or 3000. Look at the online Stanford offerings of, and Or the regular SCPD Classes. Tens of thousands of students take the courses online. There is automated evaluation of programs as well. Surely IIT can throw together systems for similar use within the campus.

If a student is bright enough to get into IIT - AND - is really motivated about a subject, chances are that he/she will be able to pick up quite a lot on his own, with possibly just a few in-person sessions to clarify doubts. A lot of the learning can be done via PPTs, online notes, Video lectures etc. The role of the professor in this case is more of designing the course and the content, rather than teaching.

There will be an issue of labs for core branches. Even there, the use of simulations in PSPICE, SIMULINK etc. can offset shortage of available lab slots to some extent. Also, at this point of time, luckily the demand is for branches which do not require that many resources.

CS,Electronics,Mathematics - a lot can be done online whether it is computer programs, matlab assignments for Signal/Image processing, simulations for circuits. Not everyone needs to go to the lab every week.

Also, something which can easily be implemented is a General Engineering Course which has no cutoff rank. Where the student does something like say 4 foundation courses each from 3-4 branches.
That will be good enough for students who are interested in some fields but unable to get those majors. Every department should be able to design its courses in such a way that 3-4 of the foundation courses can be done by the entire institute if required.

Then of course, these are significant changes and none of them can be accomplished by an individual professor. If Technology institutes cannot harness even existing Information Technology effectively then perhaps we are not as much of an IT Superpower as the newspapers tell us.

chitta said...

Currently the IISERs (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research) have a common 2 yr course for everyone and the students pick their major in the 3rd year. In NISER Bhubaneswar (National Institute of Science Education and Research) has a common 1 yr course for everyone and the students pick their major in the 2nd year. The number of students they take in is small and they have a few disciplines. It would be interesting how it works when these institutions scale up in a few years.

Shashi said...

A very interesting article on New York Times describing the lack of student interest in STEM fields in US - and some of which might have relevance for this discussion as well.

Shantanu said...

"Obviously , the students who made the cut primarily because of coaching were found out at IIT "

Shishir you made this point. Interestingly most of the suicides in IIT Kanpur have been committed by students who were freshers (not KOTA material) and who were board toppers. A girl from Bengal was the Bengal board topper and a GRE of 1580 and a fresher. Same was the case of a Mechanical engineering undergrad from Nagpur, a fresher and a CBSE board topper of his school. In fact some IIT professors even went ahead and said that the "Girl was average". If we assume that coaching institutes have made it difficult for bright students to enter IIT then we have to assume that students still entering IITs without coaching are possibly better than those students who entered IIT's in 80's at the same rank. Isn't it ironic that most suicides have come from students who were not coaching material.
Also I completely doubt that correlation between KVPY (started in 1999), NTSE and selection in JEE is going down. Again it depends. I think you are from Lucknow so you would know that CMS Lucknow provides special classes to its students in class 9th and 10th for clearing NTSE (they have been providing these classes for the past 15 years). Hence these students always had an advantage over others when it came to clearing NTSE (somewhat on similar logic that you have been giving for JEE). So those students who got through NTSE just because they were coached are caught off guard in JEE because for JEE (or in general engineering entrance) everyone joins a coaching institute. NTSE is more about awareness and many good students don't appear for it because they were not aware of NTSE. I am saying this even though I am an NTSE scholar (still I would JEE is a far tougher exam than NTSE). I have never seen a student who has cleared NTSE WITHOUT preparation (definition of raw talent) not make it to JEE.

In fact I find a very peculiar similarity between Digvijay Singh and IIT professors. For the former all problems in the country are because of RSS. For the latter all problems in IIT are because of low grade, hopeless, below average coaching trained students.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Shantanu, Digvijay and IIT professors - that was hitting below the belt.

Shantanu said...

@Sir ... in the context of the present discussion ... not overall .. please .. :)