IITs pitch for subjective JEE to improve student quality

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are planning to switch to a subjective question-based test from the current multiple-choice-based joint entrance examination (JEE) after criticism over the deteriorating quality of students.

The new test will seek to evaluate the knowledge and analytical ability of aspiring students. Critics of the current format, which comprises two multiple-choice papers, include Infosys Ltd chairman emeritus N.R. Narayana Murthy and other executives and alumni.

The move is also being seen by some academicians as a compromise between the government and the IITs over a common entrance exam for all engineering schools. The government wants to conduct a nationwide objective-type selection test for millions of students aspiring for such colleges, including the IITs.

The IITs themselves now favour a two-tier selection process, where the top rank holders in the objective test will be eligible to appear for a finalsubjective question-based evaluation.

The human resource development (HRD) ministry has been informed about the proposal to change the selection process by the senates of at least the five older IITs. The senate is the highest decision-making body at an IIT and comprises senior professors, the director and some outside experts, including former students and executives.

“Selecting students through an objective test is not the best way to get quality students for institutes like IITs,” said Sanjeev Sanghi, president of the IIT Delhi faculty forum. “We need to go back to the subjective format.”

Murthy said at an IIT alumni meet in New York in October last year that JEE coaching centres had led to the deteriorating quality of students entering the colleges. “But their performance in IITs, at jobs or when they come for higher education in institutes in the US is not as good as it used to be,” he said. “This has to be corrected. A new method of selection of students to IITs has to be arrived at.”

While the top 20% of IITians can “stand among the best anywhere in the world”, the quality of the remaining 80% wasn’t as sound, Murthy had said.

Pramod Maheshwari, chief executive of Career Point, an education company that prepares students for the JEE examination, said it wasn’t fair to blame the coaching institutes.

“They should ask why students go for coaching in the first place,” said Maheshwari, himself an IIT alumnus. “The quality of questions when we gave JEE (in 1989) was much tougher than what it is today.”

But Maheshwari said the suggested change would be a good move. “If you make the entrance subjective, it will help for sure,” he said.

On the other hand, Maheshwari suggests that blaming the coaching centres is to ignore other ills in the system. “The standard of many IIT faculties is not very good and they need to do self-audit without blaming coaching centres, who have no say on the entrance,” he said.

The IITs insist though that changing the entrance format will have a significant impact on student quality.

The decline in quality is linked to the switch in the format to objective-type questions in 2005-06, said a senior IIT Bombay professor who didn’t want to be named. Coaching centres’ methods are geared towards helping students spot the right answer out of multiple choices, allowing the undeserving to do better than more gifted aspirants with higher powers of understanding, he added.

The IITs seem to regard the coaching centres with some amount of distrust, even going to the extent of scrapping the JEE centre at Kota, Rajasthan, although it isn’t clear why exactly this had been done. The town is reputed as a hub for coaching centres.

In the new format being proposed by the IITs, the top 50,000 performers will be culled from the applicants that sit in the initial multiple-choice test. Those selected will be subjected to an in-depth, three-paper evaluation, according to IIT professors who declined to be named.

“Mathematics, chemistry and physics need to be tested in three different papers, maybe over two days. Papers will be checked manually by senior professors of the older IITs to create the rankings,” said an IIT Delhi professor. A senior IIT Kanpur professor confirmed this. Both declined to be named.

The JEE is currently the common admission test for the 15 IITs, the Indian School of Mines at Dhanbad and the Institute of Technology at Banaras Hindu University, which jointly admit at least 9,600 students every year. This year, 480,000 appeared for the JEE.

An IIT Bombay senate member expressed resistance to the HRD ministry’s proposal for a common entrance examination for all engineering schools starting next year. “We want a thorough trial in 2013 and then go for it in 2014. (But) the common entrance (exam) should not be the sole basis for the IIT selection process,” he said.

Himangshu R. Vaish, a former president of the IIT Delhi Alumni Association and managing director of Instapower Ltd, told Mint last month that it would be preferable to have a subjective JEE exam. The ministry’s common entrance may affect the IIT brand, he said.

The IIT council and the ministry plan to hold a meeting on the issue on 28 May, said M. Anandakrishnan, chairman of IIT Kanpur. “We will resolve all issues on that day,” he said.

 

[This story was originally published By Prashant K. Nanda @ Livemint.com ]