Since the time of the year when students will be running from one entrance examination (EE) to another concluded and they are busy with admissions, it is time to introspect once again on the efficiency of EE in selecting prospective professionals.
Moreover, HRD ministry invited a public debate on the Ramaswamy committee report on a single entrance examination for the whole country, which is currently attracting attention of academics.
The proposed single examination will replace multiple exams any serious student has to take for his struggle to ensure a seat in a professional college. I will discuss here certain aspects of the EE as is presently practiced and how the proposed single exam can be made effective, if the performance of the students in schools is given adequate weightage.
As national institutions, it may be the IITs that introduced an All India Examination (JEE) to select students for admission to their coveted UG programme. Nearly half a century later the JEE continues and has become one of the toughest examinations in the world to eliminate nearly 98 percent of the applicants.
One of the major consequences of JEE was that nearly all states jumped onto the bandwagon of entrance tests later on, despite the fact that vast majority of students seeking admissions to state colleges belonged to a single State Board.
In other words the states had lost faith in their own school education system and the evaluation of answer papers. It is ironical that 12 years of schooling which gives credit for all subjects do not have a say in what a student should do further but that decision is based on examinations of one or two hour duration on subjects Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics/Biology.
Under these circumstances, students and their parents were happy to depend on coaching institutions, which had unchecked mushrooming growth and without any regulatory mechanisms.
These 'factories' with limited purpose of preparing the students for tests on PCM/B, resulted in the utter neglect of school education by all stakeholders. The state of affairs has reached alarming proportions, as illustrated by the following two incidents.
In a Parent-Teacher meeting in a reputed school a few parents demanded that their wards be taught PCM/B and nothing else! Study of Languages, Social Sciences and Extra Curricular activities, very vital components of student's development, are waste of time and effort.
In another incident, in a meeting of the Principals of reputed schools, one of most important comments made was "Our good students are not attending the school. They are all in coaching institutions throughout the year and what interest do we have in teaching!"
In many schools, education deteriorated to a level where the students are not interested in schools and what the schools have to offer. This is the state of affairs in many states where entrance exams are still the primary means of admission to professional courses. Realising the folly, states are returning to the performance in school as the criteria for admission either fully or partially.
Unfortunately the coaching institutions are always one step ahead; not to be outdone, they started 'Integrated LKG to JEE schools'. In many cases such schools have the blessings of the "powers that be" in order not to lose the positions of dominance in IITs.
JEE can take the credit for pushing the students to coaching institutions as there are disconnect between questions of JEE and those of the school examinations though the syllabi of JEE are the same as those of the schools with very minor variations. A very good student with excellent academic records in a school is not guaranteed admission to IIT.
On the other hand, any student spending years (four or five) in a coaching institution, solving problems in PCM daily, can end up solving problems either by pattern recognition or by eliminating the wrong answers and very rarely by understanding the fundamentals. All these at what cost, a ruined childhood, wrong value systems, utter neglect of Language and Social Sciences and with no time left to nurture any creative instincts/sporting talents.
In one of the studies conducted by IITs on five batches of students with the data of school results, JEE rank and performance in IIT represented by Cumulative Credit Point Average, it has been found that students with very good academic records in schools continued to do very well in IITs and the JEE rank is an aberration in the academic records of the students.
This revealed beyond doubt the emphasis the students give to get a better, all-important JEE rank at the cost of good performance in school. A similar conclusion was arrived at in another study conducted more recently. Though this conclusion was based on students in IITs, it cannot be different in any other settings.
What could be a way out? Give adequate credit to performance in schools. Multiplicity of school boards, different evaluation pattern and degree of difficulty of questions may all be deterrents to this approach. Nevertheless, in the interest of school education, a way can be found out to normalise the results of individual school boards. It is interesting to note that 70% of the students entering IITs are from the CBSE schools.
In conclusion, the author would urge the MHRD and the Ramaswamy committee to give adequate weightage for performance in school along with the proposed single all India examination in deciding the ranking of students for admission to professional education.
The direct beneficiaries of this reform will be the girl students who are not getting what is legitimately due to them in the premier institutions.
Dr V.G. Idichandy is a Professor at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (The views expressed are those of the author and not official views of IIT, Madras)