Monday, March 12, 2007

IIT bashing yet again!

There are some things in India which is considered fashionable. One of them is bashing the "brand IIT". While some of the criticism is definitely warranted, a chunk of it is, well, just "fashionable".

Here is a piece by BV Shenoy. The article criticizes the IIT JEE system. It is really a well written article for most part, and all the arguments have been put rather nicely (although there maybe some factual errors). Except for the last paragraph. So you want to put emphasis on board exams? You trust them, do you? Well, before going any further please take a couple of minutes to read this too and spare a thought for the students who suffer this way. This link is a report on answer scripts getting "lost" and then "found" on a local train. The article also reports that this isnt a one off incident.

When we appeared in class XII exams, a chunk of roll numbers had 78 in math. A nice continuous chunk. With students amongst that chunk having rather varied expectations too; even if you were to look at the mock exam marks there was huge diversity in the chunk (the students by the way, can look at the graded mock test answer scripts). Fishy? But still, there are so many who would rather trust this than the JEE.

By all means, with a preponderance of coaching centers, the IIT JEE cant be truly considered fair. But take a moment and think whether the alternatives proposed, like the board exams are fair.

I have a couple of questions for the proponents of using board exams etc as "performance indicators", and hence maybe as possible alternatives to the JEE.

1. While you keep harping that coaching institutes play a key role in JEE, do you intend to say that no private coaching goes on for board exams? Even if you were to leave aside the coaching institute stuff, do you intend to say that students studying in a top notch metro school, and those studying in a mofussil school are on a level playing field? If they arent, how come the board exams will be a better indicator.

2. A lot is made out of the corelations between board exams and college performance and the (lack of) corelation between JEE scores and college performance. Anybody has an idea of the corelations between board exams and other tough exams (eg, ISC math score vis-a-vis math olympiad results) and the correlations between JEE and other tough exams (eg, JEE math score vis-a-vis math olympiad scores)?

In a lighter vein, I do see a very strong correlation between college performances and board exams, while I dont see any between college performance and the JEE: In the board exams they ask questions like "State Newton's laws of motion"; nothing focuses on applications of the Newton's laws in tricky situations. In the undergrad courses, they ask questions like "Define structure factor"; no questions asked on actually calculating the structure factor of even slightly complex crystal structures. JEE however, wouldnt ever ask "State Newton's laws and stop there". There you have to demonstrate, while solving the problems, that you have understood the laws fairly well and can apply them. No wonder that the rote learners of board exams have a field day after entering college!! See, I told you; there's a very strong correlation indeed.

All is not well with the IIT JEE. Agreed. But the behemoth survives due to lack of proper alternatives. The crappy stuff which passes in the name of board exams are not, I repeat, ARE NOT an alternative for the JEE.

Disclaimer: I did not clear the IIT JEE. Like 98% others (as well as a fair chunk who didnt have access to methodical coaching like FIITJEE classroom coaching etc), I flopped as well. So please dont think I am defending a system that suited me.

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