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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Effect of Ramasami Committee Report?

March was the month of 12th class board exams, and never a day would pass when there are no detailed stories about copying at various centers in the city and beyond. The perception is that this year there has been greater amount of copying during the board exams than what is the norm because people know that these marks may be very important for admission to any engineering college next year.

I am sure IIT Directors would argue that this is just a perception, and most certainly a biased one, and they may continue to give us hope that once we start giving greater respect to board marks in engineering college admissions (including admissions to IITs), all the board exams would magically improve.

But consider this. A teacher in one of the largest schools around here told me that the students coming to 11th class are choosing Physical Education as the 5th subject. When asked why, I was told that it is easier to get close to 100 marks in Physical Education than Biology or Computer Science or whatever else people used to take. And, of course, every mark will now count towards admission to IITs. So Ramasami Committee has ensured that as a nation, we give physical education the importance that it due. It will help us improve the state of the health of the nation. Hurray!

I am seeing full page advertisements by pretty much all the major coaching companies, which all tell the students that now there is no escape from coaching. They don't just have to do well in a PCM test, but in multiple things, including 12th class board exams, and something called an aptitude test, which hasn't even defined yet by the folks who are pushing it. An increasing number of schools are tying up with coaching companies so that the entire schooling can be outsourced to coaching companies. And silly us, we were looking forward to the revival of school education, by simple waving of the magic wand called ISEET.

But the best interaction was with another teacher. He was telling us that his principal is telling all potential students and their parents to choose their school because he is promising to have the best quality invigilators during the 12th class board exam. I was perplexed. Why not promise the best quality teachers. He said that the marks students obtain in the board are limited by the knowledge of the invigilators. So what you need to get 100 percent marks are the following: A school who has contacts to ensure a specific center, and who can then influence that center to hire specific invigilators. And the rest, as they say, is obvious.


Rohit said...

Sir, Your post seems to suggest that the decision to give weight-age to board marks is final. I understood that there was still scope for this to be modified based on the open house that was held last week. Could you clarify??

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Rohit, nothing is final till it happens. I am still hopeful that we can convince the supporters of ISEET.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Is schools outsourcing their teaching to coaching classes a bad thing? So long as students learn, I think it is ok.

The invigilator story only highlights that if we want to get our act together in any sphere, law and order needs to be improved. I think the pressure will now be on states to get board exams conducted in a fair manner. States may need to set up a something akin to the election commission for exams. Overall, state boards will have raise their game.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Ankur, One of the goals of the exercise was to reduce the impact of coaching. I guess it was assumed by the committee that the pedagogy of coaching is detrimental to education, as opposed to pedagogy employed in schools.

Also, the profiteering in education is going up hugely. A local popular school here has two kinds of sections: One which are taught by school teachers, and the other taught by coaching company. The students in coaching sections pay both the school fee as well as the coaching fee for the privilege of saving time. Even though no school teacher goes to these sections, school charges them full fee.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

I agree that one of the goals was to reduce the impact of "coaching"; but back then coaching meant excessive emphasis on a handful of subjects at the expense of other subjects, and schooling meant balanced learning. So as I understand it, the real goal was to restore balanced learning of a variety of subjects, which is what lower education is all about. If today coaching classes take up all school subjects, then they are schooling, as per the earlier definition.

The effect now is that we have is schooling and elite schooling. Earlier coaching was akin to elitism. If one of the goals of introducing this exercise was to get rid of any form of elitism, then that goal cannot be achieved by merely changing the examination. That would require the whole education system to be changed.

I am actually happy to see the change being effected so quickly; this means this a "controllable system", unlike many spheres of Indian where policy intervention doesn't seem to have much effect.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Ankur, I would put it differently. The society and system respond to policy inputs. Whether that response is what the policy expected, or it is just the opposite of that, needs to be debated.

I don't think the issue was just the lack of emphasis of other subjects. If that was or is the case, JEE can still accommodate that by having a language paper, and a general knowledge paper, and something else. In fact, IIT faculty is even willing to go for the unknown aptitude test. The issue was pedagogy and focus. Apparently, coaching focuses on pattern matching and tricks, while boards focus no rote learning, and this pedagogy difference is what anti-coaching sentiment is all about.

Devesh Tiwari said...

Plan (a) Saving IIT undergrad (ie.i reputation of IIT-JEE) system by random perturbations.

I am big fan of idea of random perturbations. Random perturbation, as I define it, is to perturb some parameters in the system to see how system reacts, expose hidden insights, anomalies or bugs. I am going to suggest the same thing here.

All IIT need to ask for is that they have the last say in how much weight would be given to board marks, aptitude test, PCM test, language test. For transparency, IITs will announce weight division a day "after" ISEET is conducted. Every year IITs can give variable weight to each component, beat those who are trying to trick the system.

Board exams need to do the same. Change the trend every year, introduce negative marking. That way coachings will not be able to trick the system. Have online exam system for some subjects. Have a tough grading policy for few subjects like PE etc. for few years, and change that in one odd year. Idea is not to let students and coachings guess the trend or tricks.

Obviously, it is tough task for state boards, where conducting exam itself is "nirvana" for them -- think of UP board. UP board, by the way, automatically has random perturbations in place. Each examiner has a different grading policy, I pity what will happen to UP board students. You can normalize UP board's 80% to 99.9% of CBSE board. But how do you normalize within UP board?

Plan (b) Making GATE our new IIT-JEE

There is big bright side to all this. Value of IIT undergrad degree may go down over period of time, private institutes may start producing very good engineers. Shift may go towards graduate program. IITs may start a very competitive MS+PhD program, and GATE may become new IIT-JEE. IITs can convince companies that their MS and PhD graduates are brighter and better than undergrads. Companies should start having a big "salary and authority" gap between BTech and PhD graduates, so big that investing 2-5 years may become more attractive option for bright students compared to joining IIM/McKinsey. IIT faculty may tell US universities that our MS grads are better fit for their PhD program etc. etc. It may take 5-10 years. But these things may happen. GATE may become new IIT-JEE!

Personally, I think making GATE new IIT-JEE is better option and timely, rather than trying to save the pride attached with IIT undergrad degree. Parents will eventually realize IIT undergrad tag is not going to take their sons too far, tricking board exams didn't pay off. And then next generation will tell their kids: "let's target GATE-2050!"

Ankur Kulkarni said...

". Apparently, coaching focuses on pattern matching and tricks, while boards focus no rote learning, and this pedagogy difference is what anti-coaching sentiment is all about."

I agree some people felt so, but I don't think this is the change the new exam was intended to bring about. Pattern matching and simulation of excellence is practised because gets better scores. This is a fault with our exam, that it is not a test for excellence. We cannot fault students for the shortcomings of our exam.

Furthermore, I don't think we can assume that teaching such tricks is exclusive to coaching. There is nothing preventing college teachers from also devising and teaching these tricks. In fact, smart enough students may even devise tricks of their own.

Finally, I don't think it is fair to assume that despite the cut-throat competition, students will only learn for learning sake without caring about the ISEET rank their learning brings. We don't live in a pristine Golden Age.

Given all this, what positive change can be achieved? Well the option that the committee has decided to go for is to at least get students to respect and study all subjects. Now it is for the boards to do their bit in making sure the exam is fair and is useful as a test of learning. If we increase the supply of prestigious seats adequately, we will then see lesser competition and the other problems you mention will also mitigate. For the moment this is a small positive step.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

"I would put it differently. The society and system respond to policy inputs. Whether that response is what the policy expected, or it is just the opposite of that, needs to be debated."

What I will say will be slightly academic, but I think it is important and relevant to clarify why I think all this is a good development.

The proper approach to policy making to anticipate responses to various policies and then to pick the policy that produces the response we like. Indian policies are rarely made like that. They are instead made to sound noble ("pro-people" etc) and therefore produce a favorable outcome for all only when public responds to it in a noble/benign/naive manner. This rarely happens; thus there is a huge gap between the intentions of our policies and their outcomes.

Even if one takes a more rational and hard-nosed approach to policy making, the challenge encountered is predicting the response to a policy. Here, the case of the coaching and schooling institutions is encouraging - their response is very much what one would have predicted it to be ex ante, given the animal spirits of the coaching industry. This means that the system is responsive to policy and its responses are predictable too; thus it can be steered in the direction we would like by appropriate policy measures.

On the contrary, in cases like the prices of commodities like food, there is very little predictability about the responses to policy.

विसुना VISUNA said...

Agreed that the top 10-20% from state boards may be allowed to write IIT entrance. But please do not give any weightage to the state board marks.

Fingers crossed.
ISEET Notification not yet published.
Various IITs expressing their strong reservations to the govt.
Our HRD minister is non-committal on this issue for lack of support from Mamata Didi and J. Jaylalithaa.

Hopefully, the govt. will reconsider the 40-60 division.