Just a few days ago, I wrote a blog post on whether JEE was going away. I was reading about it in the media, and had not found anything on Ministry's website. But now, it is confirmed that there was indeed a meeting held in January, in which a small group of Directors met the Minister, Dr. Ramasami, a few ministry officials, etc., and in-principle agreed to hold another national level exam, Indian-Sceince-Engineering-Eligibility-Test (ISEET), which along with the board marks will become basis for admission to IITs, NITs, and other centrally funded technical institutes (CFTIs).
What is worrisome about this plan is that not only the stake holders know anything about the test and how board marks will be normalized, even this group does not know how this will be done. So, a decision has been taken to normalize board marks and a deadline has been decided to implement this, without knowing how that normalization will take place. Apparently, there is some proposal in Ramasami report, which it is hoped will be found to work with all boards, etc. But why not make this formula public, and let experts and stake holders also check if this will have any problems. Why this secrecy, secrecy, secrecy di?
It is hoped that the testing of the formula in cooperation with all the boards of the country will be completed by April. But what if the testing reveals a flaw. The students who have been preparing for JEE 2013 will be told in February about the changed system, and again in April that sorry, we are going back to the old system. Why can't the decision wait till that so-called formula has been tested. Why can't it be implemented from 2014. Why this urgency, urgency, urgency di?
There is a hope that all boards will agree to announce their results by beginning of June. Why make a major change in the hope that everything will work out fine. Why not have a dry run this year, ask all the boards to announce the results by 1st June, and see if they actually deliver on their promise. What will happen next year, if a board announces the results after 15th June. How will IITs complete their counseling, and two or three rounds of admission process, within a month. Currently, we complete our admission process in about 7-8 weeks, after JEE result is declared. Remember, the boards are currently required to announce the results only by 30th June.
It is understood that the current system is not working well, and there is a need to encourage students to perform in schools. But, nowhere in the debate, is one mentioning whether there are alternate mechanisms of encouraging performance in schools. For example, many of the stake holders have often argued that school performance should be used as a minimum cut-off. That 60 percent requirement for IIT admission is ridiculous. The only reason for not increasing 60 percent is how to normalize performance across the boards. But, well, if there is a good enough normalization algorithm that these wise men have come up with, and this is so great a mechanism that it can be used as a weight in the admission process, then certainly it is good enough to be used as a cut-off for eligibility.
And using the board marks for eligibility has a significant advantage. Many people have talked about cheating in the board exams. If the marks are used only for eligibility, the incentive for cheating is less, and cheating by even several thousand students does not change eligibility of an honest student. But if the marks are directly going to be used for admission, then every single student who gets high marks based on cheating is affecting the career of a large number of honest students.
The other problem that this exercise is trying to solve is the stress due to multiple exams. But what the wise men have not been able to figure out is that with this change, they are actually making more exams count. Every mark in every subject test of the board exams now count. So are we increasing the number of exams that count, or decreasing the number ?
I find the response of one of the colleagues interesting. We should probably not worry about under-graduate education any more, and put our efforts in improving graduate education, where the interference of the government is less. We should work with the industry to make sure that they prefer our MTechs, and let under-graduate education be a volume game, no worries about quality. Students who are really serious should do an MTech. But then we will only be inviting political interference in our graduate programs.