One of the most competitive examinations in the country, the IIT-JEE was conducted for the first time in 1960. Back then, it also had English as a subject, apart from the usual physics, chemistry and mathematics. The exam has come a long way since then, both in terms of syllabus as well as the format of the examination.
In 1997, the JEE was conducted twice because the question paper had been leaked in a few centres. In 2000, the concept of a Screening Test and a Mains Test was introduced wherein, only 20,000 people who cleared the screening test were allowed to sit for the mains. Then, in September 2005, an analysis group of directors of all IITs announced reforms to the examination. They converted it into a single objective paper, replacing the earlier two-system test. They also, for the first time, introduced a criteria of the candidates having minimum 60% aggregate in their respective qualifying examinations of the Xll standard.
In 2008, the Director and the Dean of IIT Madras, Prof. MS Ananth and Prof. VG Idichandy expressed concerns that coaching institutes were “enabling many among the less-than-best students to crack the test and keeping girls from qualifying” and that the present system did not allow for twelve years of schooling to have any bearing on their admission into the IITs.
The recent changes proposed with regard to the JEE have triggered reactions nationwide from the various stakeholders (faculty, current and prospective students and even coaching institutes) and have questioned the very purpose that national institutes of excellence fulfill. Here is a brief timeline of the events as they occurred:
In February 2012, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal revealed after a meeting with state education ministers that 2013 onwards, a common entrance test would be held for admissions into national educational institutes. However, the details of this test were not disclosed and there was much speculation regarding the format and who would conduct them.
On May 28th 2012, Sibal officially announced the launch of ISEET (Indian Science Engineering Eligibility Test), a common entrance test for all central educational institutes: IITs, NITs, IIITs and IISERs. This was after consultations with the senates of all the IITs. Modelled along the lines of the SATs, this would replace the current two-exam format of IITJEE + AIEEE. Two tests would be held on the same day:
- ISEET Mains (tests English Comprehension skills, Logical Reasoning and Critical Thinking)
- ISEET Advanced (tests Problem Solving Ability in Basic Science Subjects: Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics) – wholly set by the IITs
The criterion for admission into the IITs and other institutes would be different.
IITs: The marks in the 12th Std exams normalised across different boards (50% weightage) and the performance in the ISEET Mains (50% weightage) would serve as a screening: a fixed number of candidates (five times the number of the seats for admission in the IITs (~50000) or a pre-fixed cut-off) would qualify for an initial merit list. The final ranks granted would be based entirely on the performance of the screened candidates in the ISEET advanced alone.
Others: The student’s normalised performance in the Class 12 Board exam will be considered, with the weightage not less than 40 per cent of the total score. The combined weight for ISEET Main and ISEET Advanced will not be more than 60 per cent; however, the weightage given to Board scores can go up to 100 per cent. Each state government or institute will be able to decide the specific weightage it gives to Board, ISEET Main and ISEET Advance exam/test scores.
According to Sibal, the Indian Statistical Institute has come up with a method that normalises students’ performance across different boards according to percentile scores and has been tested to good measure. He stated the main purposes of introducing the new system: (1) Increasing the emphasis on school education and board examinations, which are supposed to test fundamental concepts, (2) Reducing the influence of coaching centres, which give the urban rich who can afford their services an unfair advantage and (3) Increasing the number of girls, who usually outperform boys in the board exams, getting into top colleges.
Due to much resistance from the senates and faculty of various IITs, it was decided that the IITs would maintain their own merit list. But this would be reviewed again in 2015. State governments and private colleges can continue to conduct their own entrance tests, but are expected to fall in line eventually with the ISEET. According to Sibal, this would reduce students’ hassle of applying to different institutes and writing multiple entrance exams on top of their board exams.
This decision was made on the recommendations of the T Ramasami committee, which was set up for JEE reforms. Since 2008, this was the fourth attempt to reform JEE. The first was an internal committee under Prof. VG Idichandy, the then Dean of Students of IIT-Madras. He had suggested scrapping of JEE, and considering Standard XII marks for IIT admission. The Acharya committee, consisting of four IIT Directors, in 2010 had submitted an interim report on a format based on the weighted sum of normalised Std 12 marks and an SAT-like examination.
(*ISEET is now no longer used in official documentation. The exam is being called just the ‘JEE’, comprising of JEE Mains and JEE Advanced)
A few days after the announcement, on June 1st, some from the IIT Delhi Alumni Association expressed fears that the emphasis on weightage to the school board results would add to the pressure on students rather than reduce it. Hence, a decision was taken to file a public interest litigation petition in various High Courts, so that they could be heard before June 5, when the Central Advisory Board of Education would meet.
On June 4th, at a meeting of State Education Ministers in New Delhi, a majority of States supported a common entrance test that would save the students from writing multiple entrance tests. Maharashtra and Gujarat were among the first ones to join the new admission system, while Andhra Pradesh and some other States said they needed more time to decide. 4 days later, on June 8th, the state of Kerala decided that it would not sign up for the common entrance test. The Kerala state Minister for Education, P.K. Abdu Rabb said “A single examination also implies that your performance on a single day counts in an overwhelming manner. If a candidate does not perform well on that day, he pays a price. When writing many entrance tests, candidates get as many chances to do well.”
The introduction of the common entrance test would probably benefit coaching classes. Because the syllabus for the exam would be common for admission to IITs, NITs and other institutes, they could expand their teaching. For example, an AIEEE coaching class could now start offering coaching for JEE also, claiming that the syllabus would be the same. And a JEE coaching class would have to necessarily offer coaching for AIEEE as well. Mr. J C Chaudhry, the managing director of Aakash Institute, one such coaching class said that this was a bonanza for coaching institutes who could now offer three different courses each. Students would now be confused and unable to choose from the huge flood of coaching classes, all offering the same courses now.
Also on June 8th, a rather revolutionary measure came from one of the IITs. IIT Kanpur announced that it would conduct its own entrance test from 2013 if the Centre did not annul the common entrance test. The decision was taken by their Senate. They described the Common Entrance test as “academically and methodically unsound and in violation of the Institutes of Technology Act (1961) and the IIT Kanpur Ordinances [Ordinance 3.2 Admissions]”. Within a few hours of the announcement, the IIT Delhi Alumni Association threatened to move the court on the grounds that a common entrance test would dilute the quality of the institutes. Other IITs too reacted in different ways. The Senate of IIT Madras approved the Centre’s decision, but pressed for lowering the weightage given to Xll standard marks. Meanwhile, the IIT Guwahati Director Gautam Barua supported the Centre’s decision, a move which led him to come under attack from the All India IIT Faculty Federation. IIT-Kharagpur’s faculty have also come out against the Director for supporting the common entrance test, pointing out that the Senate had never agreed to the new format. There is talk that the Senates of the IIT-Delhi and the IIT-Bombay could also announce a separate admission process, but a final decision is expected only by the end of June, after their respective Senates meet and discuss the issue.
Sibal rejected all criticism and virtually ruled out going back on the new proposal. He also stated that the government had no intent of impinging on the autonomy of the IITs, and was taken in accordance with the IIT Act passed by Parliament. The Secretary of the All India IIT Faculty Federation (AIIITFF), A.K. Mittal welcomed Mr. Sibal’s statement (made in the U.S.) but expressed resentment over the government’s “present action and responses” on the issue.
The AIIITFF decided to meet the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh in order to resolve the issue. The meeting lasted for about 40 minutes. The association clearly indicated that they were not opposed to inclusion of Board marks or unification of examinations but wanted IIT’s autonomy to be respected and preserved. The Prime Minister said, “IITs are jewels in our crown and we want them to excel to address the problems of the nation like poverty, industrial growth etc. Being an academician myself I fully understand the need for autonomy in institutions of higher learning and would like to preserve them completely at any cost, particularly for institutions like the IITs.” He assured the Faculty Federation that he would talk to the HRD Minister and that the autonomy of the IITs would remain ‘intact’.
What is certain is that both students and coaching classes will be hard pressed to adapt to the sudden change. Students will not have to study for more than one exam, but the amount of pressure built up, owing to the fact that there is now only one chance of securing admission anywhere, will be tremendously high. The former director of IIT Madras, P.V.Indiresan asked the government to “leave the IITs alone”. He said that the IITs are what they are due to the autonomy given to them.
Anand Kumar, founder of Super 30, Patna wrote a piece in Indian Express. The article describes how IIT-JEE offered a level playing field for students and how the ‘reforms’ could skew it.
The most commonly expressed concern is that most state board exams are rampant with copying and rote learning, and even if the scores were normalized, it would dilute the academic value of the system.
On June 21st, IIT Delhi also announced that they would conduct their own entrance test, following the footsteps of IITK. “The proposed test is academically unsound and procedurally untenable,” said a senate member. The IITD senate has urged the other IITs to join hands with them and Kanpur in rejecting the new system.
On June 27th, a consensus was finally reached at the meeting of the IIT Council, comprising of directors from all 15 IITs. Mr. Sibal, chairman of the Council, was not present. The JEE Mains is to serve as a screening test, as decided initially. Admission to the IITs will be based on the rank obtained by the student in the JEE Advanced test (to be held on a different day) subject to the condition that he/she is in the top 20 percentile of his/her respective Board. This is to be implemented from 2013.
More details to follow.
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