If things go as planned by the ministry of human resource development (MHRD), around this time next year, all engineering college aspirants in the country will be at daggers drawn over that really make the cut. The ministry is planning to replace all examinations for admission to engineering and technical colleges in the country, including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the National Institutes of Technology (NITs), with a single examination; the Indian science engineering eligibility test (ISEET). The MHRD, which has been working on the common entrance test’s format for over a year now, has acted with the best of motives in mind: to cut down the stress that students right out of Class XII find themselves in while taking multiple tests, to reduce the dependency on coaching institutes which promote learning by rote and to reinforce the importance of a school education.
The move, though, hasn’t cut much ice with most students and faculty from the IITs. Not only do they resent the scrapping of their exclusive examination for admission, the joint entrance examination (JEE), but also the 40% weightage given to board examinations in the proposed ISEET rankings. They have even questioned how a single-door entry will help reduce stress among students, given that the ISEET will be a hit-or-miss option for most of them in the absence of the IIT-JEE, the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) and various state common entrance tests (CETs). “What if something goes wrong on that one day?” asks Manav Avlani, a Class XII student who sat the JEE, the AIEEE and the Maharashtra CET this year. An IIT-Bombay (IIT-B) professor agrees. “As of now, students have options. If they do not perform well in one examination, they can get admission through another.” A senate member from the institute says more than 10 lakh candidates sit the AIEEE as compared to the 5-6 lakh who turn up for the JEE. “This shows that there are many students who are keen on doing an engineering course, but are not necessarily interested in joining the IITs.”
Stepping on toes
Another concern being bandied about is whether the move will dilute the academic standards of internationally acclaimed institutes such as the IITs and the NITs. The IIT faculty from different campuses has shot down at several council and senate meetings the criterion of giving 40% weightage to board examination marks for ISEET rankings. An IIT-B senate member explains why these institutes have been fighting the MHRD’s proposal tooth and nail. “Given the ambiguous and vague patterns of different boards, as well as continuous malpractices, the 40% weightage is too high. Till now, board examination marks have been used only as an eligibility criterion to sit the JEE. This cut-off can be increased, but using this score to rank candidates after the test is unfair.” Another member points at the mismatch between the patterns of board examinations and competitive tests. “Different boards have their own examination and evaluation patterns. Also, since board examinations are mostly theory-based, rote learning is encouraged. This doesn’t work with competitive tests, which are application-based.”
Will real toppers please stand up?
IIT students worry that the 40% weightage in ranking will blur the line between top and mediocre performers of the ISEET. Ketav Mehta, an IIT-B student, says, “Even if we forget the normalisation process for board examination marks for a while, the academic standards will definitely be diluted.” Another student from the institute, Niwedan S, argues that normalisation of board examination marks will be an “impossible task” and that it will add to the confusion. A survey conducted by the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, reportedly confirms this.
Avlani claims that the government, in an attempt to raise the bar of the admission process, has missed the woods for the trees. “It says it is putting the entrance examinations on a par with international ones by ushering in reforms based on the SAT, a standardised test for college admissions in the US. But, a SAT score helps in the first filtering process. Later, individual institutes are allowed separate criteria for admissions. The government has missed this fine print of the SAT.”
Coaching centres to get a leg-up
Several students and coaching centres argue that the government’s claim of giving the boot to coaching centres falls flat since the 60% weightage to the aptitude test will force aspirants who are used to the school curriculum to line up for special training. “The test will be based on a completely different curriculum. Students will need specialised coaching for it. This means that coaching centres will continue to flourish,” explains Niwedan. A furious Praveen Tyagi, the director of the IIT’s JEE coaching classes, the IIT-ian’s PACE, asks why the government has been shying away from privatisation of the education system when it has allowed the same in the health and food industry to raise quality. “If a qualified person is willing to teach students, who are willing to pay for the training, why is it considered a crime?” Lokesh Khandelwal, director of Resonance, another coaching class for the IIT-JEE, is cautious in judging the MHRD’s initiative. “A single test might be a good move. But, its aim should not be reducing the importance of coaching classes. Such centres provide quality education and training. At the same time, a candidate aspiring to break into the IITs or the NITs should not be judged on the board examination marks.”
What’s with the hurry?
Several stakeholders question the rush in putting in place a single entrance test, which was proposed only last year. An IIT-B professor says, “Whatever be the decision, what is the need to hurry the (ISEET’s) implementation? Students should get some time to understand the pattern and prepare accordingly.” The Pan IIT Alumni Group, in its letter to the MHRD, had suggested that a notice of two years be given before the ISEET is implemented. “This will only be fair to those aspirants who have already begun their preparations on the basis of the existing criteria.” Hari Padmanabhan, chairman of the Pan IIT Alumni Group who is a 1975 IIT-Kanpur passout, suggests a two-staged test as a solution. “At the first level, all candidates will be assessed together by a common entrance test. But the admission to an IIT should be given only through IIT-JEE, which IITs should be allowed to conduct in an autonomous manner."
Courtesy: DNA India