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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Where I Disagree with JEE Change Proposal?

I had an interesting discussion with a colleague on the proposed changes to the admission process of IITs (and other Centrally Funded Technical Institutes).

He asked me several pointed questions, and that helped me in really thinking through all options and figure out what is a major problem and what is a minor problem in the whole story (in my opinion - your mileage may vary).

The first question was, how I feel about including a test on aptitude in the admission process. I certainly feel positive about it.

The second question was, would it be alright if NITs, other CFTIs, and may be other colleges and universities start using JEE performance for admission. I see a small issue with this. If everybody starts using this performance, the the number of candidates become 10-15 lakhs, and it will have to be outsourced. May be there will be pressures from other stake holders to changes the exam in ways that we don't like. But, then these are minor issues. Any one anyway has a right to use the performance of a public exam in any way they deem fit. So we can't stop it anyway. And IIMs have shown that even though CAT is used by many and it is given by large number of students, they maintain complete control over its content. So, even if IITs have to outsource JEE, they can still retain adequate control.

The third question was, whether it was alright for a professional body like ETS to conduct the exam. Well, the answer is yes, if they are only going to conduct the exam, but if they determine the syllabus, they determine the pattern and style of the exam, they determine the level of difficulty, then there will be concerns. Over the last several years, many changes have been brought in in the conduct of JEE. Many of those changes were not because of the wider discussions at IITs, and were not very positive. In fact, the complaint has been that IITs are not proactive in making changes. But a body independent of IITs will really not be independent. It would be far easier for the MInistry to force changes in the admission process through this so-called independent body. So, we are going from a system of resisting changes to a system where ministry and not academicians will decide the changes. Does not seem like an improvement.

The fourth question was, do I believe that current JEE has negative impact on school education and a way has to be found to encourage school education. Yes, I do. Current JEE has contributed to lowering the quality of education in schools.

Then, am I not agreeing with everything that the new plan is doing or trying to achieve.

Sorry, no. The devil is in the detail. I strongly believe that there are alternate ways of encouraging school education. Considering the normalized board marks (assuming that the committee has found a good-enough formula for normalization) for eligibility would have an equally strong impact on school education, without adding to the stress of the students. By considering school marks in such a cut-throat competition, they are increasing stress, and incentivising unfair practices in the board exams, and it is next to impossible to bring down the unfair practices when there are 25-30 lakh candidates giving 5-10 tests each. What is more, there is nothing one gains by including 12th class marks in the admission process. The goal is to ensure that students preparing for admission to IITs (and other fine institutions) should take school education seriously. This will be achieved by having the 12th class marks as eligibility criteria, without the negative side effects.

Further, the proposal does not talk about the biggest problem of all: stress due to an exam on a single day. The ISEET exam is proposed to be conducted twice a year, but nothing has been said whether a student is allowed to give it both the times and show only the higher performance to the admissions committee. Even if it does, we need to go further and have this exam through out the year.

Third, it does not consider the problems of conducting a large test.securely. The problem that we find with board exams will slowly creep into any large test. One way to control the problem was to have 2-stage selection process. This made sure that even if someone could get through to the second stage by unfair means, the security in the second stage would be so tight that it won't be able to use unfair means at that time. If having the first stage in December was a problem, then the solution was not to cancel it, but to hold it earlier, may be even six additional months in advance (and indeed hold it multiple times, with option to repeat them).

Fourth, I see the process wrong and giving rise to suspicions. In the past, so many people have given so many suggestions from within the IIT system as well as from outside, and what do Directors do - dump those suggestions, citing ministry pressures, or some other "practical" problems. Now suddenly many of them are on an overdrive in supporting a proposal which is opposed by most stake holders. As Abi would say, does not pass the smell test.


veerender kumar said...

(a letter prepared by many students n alumni together)

Dear Sir,

The recent decisions taken by Mr. Sibal regarding admission tests in IITs are:
a. Scrapping of JEE (Joint Entrance Examination)
b. Introducing up to 40% to weightage to class 12 Board marks

This decision is good in the sense that it tends to eliminate the burden of writing more than one examination but it will have very severe repercussions which require critical examination. Many discussions have been going over social media as well as in social interactions regarding this decision. I would like to summarize them as following:

There are three broad categories of analysis:
1. Process of decision-making
2. Inclusion of Class 12/Intermediate Board exam
3. Single exam for all

I would like to elaborate each of them one-by-one.

1. Process of decision-making:
a. Most of the common man, students & alumni of IITs feel that above decision has been taken without wide consultation.

Quality higher education is a big challenge in India, so there is tough competition among 1.2 billion (yes 1,200,000,000!!) people for limited opportunities existing in IITs & other quality institutions. In a developing country like India where education (crime & corruption are other means but they are wrong!) is the only means for 700 million (largest competitive population of the world!) aspirant youths & teens, every decision regarding it matters a lot for not only India but for the entire world.

Above decision has been taken by IIT Council which consists of only 30-32 people (details in Annexure-I). It means that 30-32 people took decision for 700 million aspirant youths & teens! It means that the decision has not been taken in a democratic manner which is against the basics of our constitution which says that India is a democracy & government is supposed to take decision by people’s mandate. This is a decision about present & future, so every Indian is a stake-holder in it, so government or IIT Council can’t take any decision without consulting youths & teens.

There has been opposition to this decision among most of the youths & teens across the country & Indian Diaspora abroad. Many people have tried to raise this issue at several platforms; but no open debate has ever taken place & none of the decision-makers had ever tried to clear the air on this decision. Not even the students, alumni & faculty of IITs who form the IIT family had been widely consulted & even if consulted then their opinions never brought to public forums. The speed & arrogance with which government is pushing for this decision is something like “imposing” it. The government needs to understand that INDIA IS A DEMOCRACY & IT IS NOT CHINA. So, government can’t become anti-people.

Many representatives of government or IIT Council may say that Government has the mandate to take this decision, but it is not true. Government has never got a mandate to take this decision. The mandate to form a government doesn’t mean that mandate has been given for every decision. After-all INDIA IS A DEMOCRACY.

For a common man, (s)he was never a part of decision-making process in India. So there is no massive public outrage against this decision. It doesn’t mean that only public protests on streets are the only way to protest a decision. And if government thinks that it is the only democratic way then possibility of student-protests worldwide can’t be denied.

veerender kumar said...

2. Single exam for all
Single exam for all engineering tests is a good decision. It will definitely relieve students from multiple exams & expenses. But it has some limitations like a single exam for all engineering colleges can’t judge so much diverse backgrounds of Indian engineering aspirants. If all engineering exams have to be merged under one Test, so this Test will be either:

a. Relatively easy, large number of students will score very high; there will be a tough competition for the top notch. Now if large number of students attain high scores then it will be very difficult to select among equals. So this process will become subjective & there will be large scopes of corruption, misappropriation & nepotism.

b. Relatively difficult, very few numbers of students will score high; getting even a moderate percentile will be a tough job. Since most of the students will perform very low, there will be massive unrest in young minds.
Both of these possibilities will lead to some common consequences:

i. More stress so more depression & suicide tendency among teens & youths
ii. Tough competition, so students will lose self-confidence & join coaching institutes for everything. So, coaching industry will get more & more boost.
iii. In both the cases, chances of corruption or nepotism will increase.
iv. No single exam can be designed in present state of different Indian education boards which can test & rank students all over country.

Possible way-out from these problems is to either continue with existing JEE or to make the exam a 2 phase/tier process. In the 1st phase, there will be a general easier Test. Based on the score of this Test, students will be selected for the 2nd phase which will be slightly tough. Students qualifying in 2nd phase will take admissions in IITs & other higher institutes of learning.

If it happens then it will be something like IIT-JEE which existed till 2005. So, in this way, the decision of IIT Council has to be changed and a phased exam process needs to be introduced for IITs or other colleges which-so-ever want it.
Introduction of something like two phase exam will be a welcome step. But it doesn’t mean that “IIT-JEE is NO MORE”.

veerender kumar said...

3. Inclusion of class-12/Intermediate Board Exam marks for selection in IITs & NITs
It is the most controversial part of the decision. Major points of difference of opinions are:

a. It is very difficult to normalize all Higher Secondary Exams & Intermediate Exams of the country as there are large variations among these exams. Not only this, there are large variations within same Board exam i.e. grading across boards & within a board are non-uniform. These things will make normalization more & more impossible. So, going ahead with this decision will violate the fundamental right “RIGHT TO EQUALITY” given to every citizen of India. Hence this decision is anti-constitutional.

b. 60% criteria for IITs was a good decision to ensure that students aspiring IITs must not neglect their Higher Secondary Exam/Intermediate Exam. But the new decision to give marks obtained in Higher Secondary Exam/Intermediate Exam upto 40% weightage will push this minimum marks from 60% to above 90%. Any kind of survey will show that most of the high-scorers (above 90%) belong to urban India. It means that entire rural India which comprises 70% population & small towns & cities which comprise 15% India will never get entry into IITs. Simple addition gives that 85% population can’t get entry into IITs. So, this policy is anti-rural and anti-small town, in fact anti-India. Due to unavailability of opportunities of quality education, most of the students from villages & small towns will lose their hope in education and may join anti-social elements or anti-government elements. Rise of Naxalism is one of the several cases. If rural or small town students aspire to join IITs, then they will have to join any coaching or tuition for Higher Secondary Exam/Intermediate Exam along with the Test-preparation coaching. It will lead to spread of coaching culture in every part of the country which government wants to stop!! So, this decision is oxymoronic! So, going ahead with this decision will violate the fundamental right “RIGHT TO EQUALITY” given to every citizen of India. Hence this decision is anti-constitutional.

c. Most of the poor people can’t afford education in good schools; hence their children can’t go to schools which have good teachers. Consequently, they can’t score as high as 90% but they can score as high as 60%. So, in this way, more than 90% Indians who are at different levels of poverty & destitution can never dream of sending their children to IITs or avail them quality education. In this manner, this decision is anti-poor or anti-people. So, going ahead with this decision will violate the fundamental right “RIGHT TO EQUALITY” given to every citizen of India. Hence this decision is anti-constitutional.

d. There are rampant cheating & malpractices in Higher Secondary Exams/Intermediate Exams. With the provision of 40% weightage, these cheating & malpractices will get further boost. Not only this, corruption, vote-bank politics & all kinds of favoritism & nepotism will make their entry into IIT system, thus destroying one of the leading engineering institutions of India & world. In short run, any Tom, Dick & Harry will make into IIT; in the long run, all future generations will become cheaters & corrupt. In this manner, India will lose its ability to exist as a nation and may Balkanize due to increased internal conflicts & outside interventions.

veerender kumar said...

e. Inclusion of this decision will encourage coaching industry. Students will now take coaching for even school exams, thus the purpose of this decision will get defeated. Also not all students will be able to take coaching & coaching will also be not available at all places.

f. Any engineering entrance test can be designed to test mental ability, aptitude, analytical & problem solving skills. Now, adding marks of Higher Secondary Exam will be a redundancy.

g. This decision is going to favor ICSE & CBSE schools situated in metros & big cities, all other boards will be disfavored. So, this violates the fundamental right “RIGHT TO EQUALITY”.

If a research is conducted to know “why did IIT become a reliable & deliverable brand”, conclusions will show that it’s the rigor of JEE which no other examination seems to have. Scrapping JEE will definitely dilute the 'brand name' of IITs.

Apart from everything, what I strongly feel that students like me who came from rural background will never make an entry to IITs after giving 40% weighate o class-12 marks. Unifying exam may also create a new dimension of corruption if something like mains is not included.

With this all, I may have missed a lot of points or written unnecessarily on many issues, but yes, it covers a possible super-set of debatable issues.

Sorry for long letter

Vikram said...

The key issue (and one which I agree with) seems to be the diminishing role of schools in the higher grade levels. At some level, this is a natural outcome of high stakes testing as the sole means of entry to higher education. However, I have a suggestion that might be useful.

There are two important goals for a candidate seeking higher education, one is the institution and the second the branch. I think we can use the entrance exam (for eg JEE) and the school performance (averaged over the last two years, not the board exams) separately for each of these two goals.

The entry to any institution can be based solely on the JEE like entrance exams. However, once the pool of candidates who qualify for a particular institution are decided, their rank in choosing their branch could be based on a mixed weighting of entrance exam score and school performance (say average percentile rank in school exams).

So one would get into elite institutions like the IIT/NITs only based on the entrance exam. But then once you are selected for an IIT your ability to pick the branch you want would depend on your school performance and entrance exam score. A 10 % weight to school performance and 90 % weight to JEE/entrance exam score would be one possible choice of weights. Different institutions could choose different weights.

I think this kind of system could improve the quality of school education. Students and parents would care a lot more about what goes in schools. Also, the fact that entry is decided solely by exams would not make the system unfair and prone to inconsistencies at the school level.

Shantanu said...

@Sir .. do you think that there is any chance of the subjective JEE making a comeback?

Given a choice what would you prefer. Why can't JEE go back to 2000 type pattern, a screening paper (now it could be aptitude rather than PCM) and then mains paper.

Also I am not sure if this is possible or no but if the examination data for JEE 2002 - JEE 2006 can be analyzed alongside AIEEE data for the same period, I would be interested in seeing how significantly have "droppers" improved their ranks in both examinations (the analysis is very simple, the only problem is getting the data). This would give us a decent idea whether we should move to an objective pattern and make the paper easy and also answer questions that many people have been calling for that IITs should reduce the standard of JEE to the AIEEE level. My gut feeling says that you would find droppers improving their ranks significantly in AIEEE than JEE.

There was one alumni who commented that CGPA reflects your natural talent to a great extent. Lets analyze the profile of this person who was instrumental in giving ideas for the launching of Jugnu in IITK (he was the lead problem solver technically (not managerially)). Also if JEE would have used the "proposed" criterion he possibly wouldn't have made it to IIT. I am not disapproving the importance of CGPA, no ,what I am saying is that CGPA may not necessarily reflect one's technical expertise (especially in the top 5 IITs where many exceptional students may be "FOUND OUT").
Though I like professor sanghi's suggestion that board exam marks should be used as a cut off and that cut off should be high enough for students to concentrate on board exams.

Dr. Poonam Harlalka said...

Dear Sir, I strongly agree with all your points. You truly have great clarity and foresight. I sincerely hope that these thoughts reach the concerned authorities before any catastrophic decision is taken which will play with so many children's career ( including mine).
Many thanks to you, Regards,
Dr Poonam Harlalka

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Shantanu, I really doubt that there is any possibility of old long-hand answers type exam to be back. The numbers are just too large for grading, not to talk about maintaining consistency in that grading.

It can come back only in two situations. One, there is a screening test, which reduces the number of examinees to no more than 50,000, say. In fact, many faculty members in IITs (I can certainly say this for IIT Delhi and IIT Kanpur) would want such a thing to happen. If a two-stage process is proposed, then the first stage could even be the ISEET.

The second way in which some bit of written answers can stage a come back is a combined MCQ and long-hand, but long-hand are checked only if the right option is ticked. (Again, in some sense, we are shortlisting using part of the exam, and then grading the other part for only shortlisted candidates.)

An interesting mechanism that a colleague at IITK proposed (he said that he had seen it somewhere) is as follows: The candidate ticks one of the four options, and then writes a few steps of the solution. Let us say, one had one mark for the right answer and one mark for right explanation or steps. Now you first grade all MCQs through machine, and then read that explanation or steps only for those candidates who have a chance to be selected.

But, I also believe that the problem in JEE today is that we have implemented MCQ in a very naive way, and there is not enough experimentation or research. There are a variety of ways in which MCQ based tests can be conducted. One could have multiple answers correct. One could have one answer completely correct, while another one "close enough", and one give full marks for completely correct answer and partial marks for a close answer.

One needs to look at the research behind different mechanisms and see what options could be used in our system or tweaked into our system, and then we should study after the exam and admissions to see what type of questions correlate better with their post-admission performance.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Here is my take (as a former IIT student, JEE taker and a most likely
to be IIT faculty) on why I think the JEE should be scrapped.

I have said this elsewhere too. The most embarrassing kind of IITian
to have around is the one who clings on to his IIT entrance endeavors
and his JEE rank years after the event has passed. The most socially
useless IITian is one for whom clearing the JEE remains his biggest
achievement in life. Over some years now it has been observed that
these categories far outnumber the rest. This means that the JEE has
stopped serving as a good measure of quality, but is instead serving
as a target which has to be achieved at all costs and an ego- and
career-boost for those who achieve it. It is also encouraging a
cynical attitude that places greater value on tricks and techniques of
gaming systems than on sincerity or excellence. For IITs it is more
efficient to stop obsessing over getting "high quality" students, but
instead to get students who are not necessarily extraordinary, but who
can be propelled to do better things by their IIT education and would
be thankful to their institute for helping them do so. I think today's
IITians are increasingly not fitting this description (especially the
thankful part). In fact I contend that many are more thankful to their
coaching institute for getting them in than to IIT. In altering the
exam, we should not at any cost lose students from the genius
category- but these guys are often so good that they succeed at any
exam. The combination of general studiousness and an aptitude for
thinking is what the new test is made to test. Such a student can be
turned into a more socially useful IITian and that is a better way

ksharma said...

When IIT could not trust cities like Kota , Udaipur ,Ajmer for its center to hold JEE from last 15-20 years , how can IITs agree for 40% weight-age of a exam (12th ) which is conducted at every small remote town ,village across the country .

sps said...

sir, i also disagree with the change in jee pattern. you are saying that it would increase the level of school education. all the parents will try to buy the exam paper and i can guarantee they will surely get it.In India everything can be bought.........

impulse rocks said...

Hey got frustrated in the morning on knowing that some reforms have been made in THE IIT JEE...
Whatever comments I read.I think may be justified in their own way..But All I know is that IIT JEE is really Good and I have seen students too passionate about it...
And as someone said that the reforms are being made to reduce stress.....I don't find any logic behind it..because it is upto the student if he/she wants the stress or not...If he wants it..he will choose to prepare for the JEE and if he doesn't he will not..

Although I personally feel that The stress is a 'sweet' one and I am addicted to this sweet stress caused during the preparation for THE IIT JEE..