The JEE Decision: Exclusive interview with Dr. Sarit Kumar Das (Part 2)


Part II: The ‘Why’:

What was the rationale behind the stance taken by the faculty at the JEE decisions? What do the faculty have to say about some of the issues raised? How do various parties view the ‘compromise’ formula, and what is the plan for the future?

In part I, we talked to Dr. Sarit Kumar Das, President, Faculty Association, IIT Madras, to get the story of the process itself. In part II, we bring you Dr. Das’s explanation of the issues that were considered, the faculty’s stance, and the view for the future.

With lakhs of students liable to be affected, there were several issues that were considered in the series of discussions that were held, the most important (according to Dr. Das), being :

1. Will the board marks be taken into consideration, and if yes, how?

2. Will the changes be in effect from 2013 itself, or later?

3. What effect will the decisions have on the autonomy of the IITs?

The board-marks debate:

“See, this is the gist of the matter,” Dr. Das explains, “It’s not that the IITs didn’t want to take the board marks into consideration. In fact, almost all the IIT senates have agreed that they should, from the very beginning. The question was always, ‘In what form?’ Some said it should be used for gating, some said for screening, and some said for ranking.”

According to Dr. Das, IIT Madras has always been for considering it for screening, but opinions varied widely. For example, IIT Guwahati was in favour of using it for ranking.

In the end, a compromise was reached, saying a percentile-based cut-off will be in place, and only the top 20 percentile from each individual board will be allowed admission out of those who clear the JEE.

He points out another related issue: “Up till now, students always knew that they would need to score at least 60% in the boards to be eligible for a seat. With the new system in place, he/she wouldn’t know what he/she needs to score. This is not completely true, in the sense that the data for the previous ten years’ exams will be published. He/she will be aware of what score, in his board, 80 percentile translates to. For example, for the CBSE, it has already been calculated that it’s around 78%.”

“It is, of course, a tougher criterion, and in that sense, it is bringing the board exam performance into account, and that was, after all, the intention of the MHRD. Most of the IITs were never against this, but not all of us agreed, of course. Just the other day, I got to know that some faculty members of IIT Delhi and Kanpur stating that if this criterion had been applied to JEE 2012, about 15% of the current students would not have been eligible.”

“If that’s so, let it be so. That’s what I say. Those who completely neglect the board will be eliminated. I don’t consider that as criticism. It’s a plus point,” states Dr. Das firmly.

2013 or 2014 ?

According to Dr. Das, most of the IITs were against implementing it in 2013. IIT Madras wasn’t against it, but the prevailing opinion was that it would be better to have a ‘dry run’ in 2013, in the sense that data would be conducted, observations will be made, but it won’t be used for actual ranking.

“The objection, mainly, was because in the previous proposal, there was a composite formula about how to convert board marks into 40% and this raised questions about whether it’s a proper way to do things, or not. There were also questions about feasibility and such. Now, the board marks are only included in percentile form, so we don’t really see any issue,” he says.

The autonomy of the IITs:

The third issue, which, according to Dr. Das, is what the IITs were most concerned about,

was about the plans in place for a National Test Body to be created, and apprehensions about JEE not being in the hands of the IITs anymore. “The Joint Entrance Examination is something that the IITs have been handling for the past forty years. I don’t know whether, if it falls into outside hands, there could be pressure to make it ‘simpler’ from the government or not. Admission into the IITs should be in the hands of the IITs!”

“But the good thing is,”, he continues, “I don’t really think that anybody, the minister, or the Prime Minister ever willfully tried to take away our autonomy. They do things routinely, in a particular way, and they just thought they could do the same with the IITs also. They have realized very well that things don’t work like that here. When we met the Prime Minister, he said very clearly that he didn’t want to tamper with the IITs. They never made it an issue of prestige, which they could have easily done, saying that the IITs rejected their proposals twice. This is very commendable of them.”

Reactions to the compromise:

“Since it is a compromise, naturally, it will not satisfy everybody completely,” says Dr. Das. “From the MHRD’s side, I’ll have to say, they have given up a lot. If you look at the first formula they suggested, and compare it with their second formula, and then with their third one, you’ll notice that they had to compromise a lot. This also shows what IIT senates can do! MHRD thought that they were customers, or that they finance everything, and they can do whatever they like. This entire sequence of events has shown that IITs do have autonomy.”

“On our part, also, we had the responsibility of bringing this to a resolution quickly, because the students are in suspense. At the end of the day, though, I think it is a good decision. At least for the time being. It is better than what exists today, in my opinion. It will definitely put more focus on school education, and it will also keep the IIT admission in our control, and under no pressures.”

Other implications, and the future of JEE:

Dr. Das points out that everyone must realize that this new pattern will also not address the coaching menace much. “Very little will change in the coaching institutes,” he says, “They will simply try to adapt to the new pattern. That is something we really need to address.”

“However,” Dr. Das points out, “some things are definitely better. For example, look at the plight of the almost-made-it students. If a student secured a rank of 11,000 last year when there were only 10,000 seats available, he got nothing. It’s a fantastic achievement that he was in the top 11,000 out of the five lakhs of students who wrote the test, but it counts for nothing. To be assured of a seat in a good college, he would have to do well in a completely different exam! But now, with this new formula in place, that same student would still be part of the 1,50,000 students who were deemed good enough to compete for the IIT seats, and that rank would be his, and that would mean that he is assured of a seat somewhere, even if he’s not selected in the IITs.”

“There was another suggestion that came up. That there be established a cell, that continuously researches the whole examination process. It should not be the case that we be done with this now, and again, not look at it for ten years! It should continuously keep evolving.”

“Looking back, that was what led to the mistake. Ten years ago, we changed the JEE to an MCQ-type paper, and that was a very negative change. We started criticising this, but never did anything until this whole issue arose. That should not be the case. There should always be a continuous feedback, evaluation and adaptation.”

“I have my own ideas about that,” he continues, “For example, think of what would happen if IITJEE was made completely unpredictable! Nowadays, the students make decisions, like, for example, a student may say, ‘there are only ten marks in integral calculus, which I’m not good at. I’ll give up on that, and play my strengths.’ Opportunities like this should simply not be given! A student getting into IIT without a proper knowledge of integral calculus is just a horrible proof

But suppose, if we had an unknown bias integrated into the question-paper, for example, leading to 25% of the marks depending on the students’ knowledge of integral calculus this year, and the next year, none at all, or even repeat the same pattern the next year. My point is to make it completely unpredictable, so that the student can’t do well just by exam-tactics. If coaching was really ‘coaching’, there would have been no problem with that. But if they teach you only these tricks, that’s bad. We don’t want that people should get through using these tricks. Only a person who knows his syllabus, and who is capable of thinking well, should be able to make it. It should then be immaterial whether he’s getting coached or not.

If you have any comments on this article, or questions to ask Dr. Das, feel free to do so in the comments section below, or on our facebook page. Dr. S. K. Das has informed us that he would be open to any queries from our readers. If we receive a good response, T5E is planning to publish another article next week in which Dr. Das will answer to the questions. So, hurry!

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