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'Don’t IIT pupils mug as well?'

In India, the west has always been the most sought after destination for a section of youth. Among a particular section, the dream of acquiring the American visa is intense, but not easy.

india Updated: Oct 08, 2011 23:41 IST
Anand Kumar

In India, the west has always been the most sought after destination for a section of youth. Among a particular section, the dream of acquiring the American visa is intense, but not easy.



But with an IIT tag, it gets easier. During an interview, Microsoft founder Bill Gates admitted that an IITian would be his first choice for the job of a software engineer.



That is the aura of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). It has become an international brand.


But what Narayana Murthy said at a programme organised by former IITians in New York came as a surprise.



If Murthy’s assertion that IITians of today lack talent is true, the blame for this should not go to coaching institutes alone. This sounds like shifting the blame.



This answer to this question perhaps requires a much deeper analysis and it may point to some serious deficiencies in the education system of the country, which encourages parroting right from the elementary stage. Just by parroting formulae and mugging up test papers, one cannot crack the JEE. This is for sure. Had it been so easy, it could have raised a question mark over the entire JEE exercise, which involves top brains of the country. It is not so. JEE is still the toughest competition and requires much, much more than what the mass school education system of the country is able to deliver.



Around five lakh students try their luck at the JEE, and less than two percent manage to clear it — that is enough to point towards the fierce competition. Naturally, students try everything to crack it.



If success is assured by mugging up theorems and test papers, students cannot be faulted for this, nor can the coaching institutes be blamed. Coaching institutes are a market creation to fill the big void in our schooling system.



Still, judging students’ quality falls in the domain of the JEE board. But why is the JEE not setting questions in a manner that tests original thinking and concepts of the students?



Last year, the JEE showed lack of sensitivity towards Hindi medium students. Due to sheer recklessness, there were discrepancies in questions asked in Hindi. It again happened this year, when there was error in questions worth 18 marks.



When the matter got headlines in the media, in a knee-jerk reaction, the IITs had to do average marking. This meant that even those candidates got 18 marks who did not solve the problems. It also did injustice to several others, considering the fact that one mark difference in JEE means a difference of 100 candidates. It can change the fate of a student.



What is important to focus on is the prevalence of two distinct education systems in the country — one for the privileged, who have access to best of schools and the other for the have-nots, who have to remain content with the government schools, where education is second grade despite huge government investment. Even science education here is imparted without laboratories and experiments. This is the harsh reality, which we cannot shy away from. If we try to overlook this factor, our approach will be elitist.



Who will understand the plight of these poor students? On entering IIT while they try to concentrate on the basic subjects, another section from the privileged class use the brand just as a launching pad.



Engineering subjects take a backseat, as students are more interested in CAT, GMAT and UPSC. Can anyone deny the fact that the students in the IIT invariably work on seniors’ notes and mug up answers to clear the tests? This is a strange syndrome, which is eating into the vitals of our education system at every level — school, college and even professional institutions.



Even at the primary stage, students are adept at solving multiple choice questions with flair, but hardly have the acumen to work on questions that require application of mind. Perhaps, the quality of teachers also has a lot to do with it. Are genuinely talented persons interested in becoming school teachers? Ask any one, and the answer will be a flat ‘no’. Our society is also responsible. Every parent wants a good teacher for his wards but nobody wants his ward to be a teacher.



The question raised by Narayana Murthy is vital. Every one of us needs to sit and think about the solution, before it is too late. For India, it is imperative. There is no easy solution to this. It requires a multi-pronged approach. Coaching institutes cannot be used as an escape goat.



(Kumar is the founder of Super 30, an educational programme that started in Patna in 2002. The programme selects 30 meritorious and talented candidates each year from economically backward sections of society and trains them for the IIT-JEE.)