Sunday, October 16, 2011

Start IIT-like schools in humanities also

Intensive coaching by private institutes for the joint entrance exam (JEE) to the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) is leaving students fatigued even after they get admission to the premier institutes, Director of IIT-Guwahati, Gautam Barua, tells Naresh Mitra. Excerpts:

Do you agree with N R Narayana Murthy's comment that the quality of students entering IITs is poor?
I don't agree with the comment that IIT students are not good. I don't fully agree with what Narayana Murthy said. The issue really is how the obsession with coaching is affecting the students entering IITs.

How is the coaching culture affecting students?
It makes its impact on students after their selection. On entering the IITs after undergoing excessive coaching, the students are almost burnt-out and mentally fatigued. Then the IITs for them become a place to relax. Coaching is the primary reason that affects the performance of students. A mindset has been created that if they (students) do not opt for coaching, they may not have the chance to get admission to the IITs. That is why there is such a big business in coaching.

IIT has a brand value. Parents and students want to enter IIT without thinking what they will do. So after they graduate from the IITs, many of them don't go for engineering jobs; they rather go for the finance sector, management or do jobs which have no connection with engineering. We have seen that about half of the students from IITs are really not interested in engineering.

Isn't that undermining the excellent engineering education imparted by the institution?
It is time for the government to create IIT-like institutions in the field of humanities. Let there be IIT-like institutions in economics, philosophy and other fields of humanities, with IIT-like campuses and branding. Then it will no longer be necessary for students to get admitted to IITs and later join non-engineering jobs.

Does coaching by private institutes make entry into the IITs easier?
IIT coaching is an industry now. But it doesn't matter to us when it comes to student admissions. Even if there are no coaching centres, the IITs will fill up their seats with students.

Is there a move to make changes in the selection process of IITs?
Yes, the government and the IIT council discussed the issues of the entrance examination and coaching institutes in September. It was decided to change the admission process where the current JEE will be replaced by the school board results and results of an aptitude test. Since there are 30 school boards in the country, a common method of standardized board results has to be decided upon. The method proposed by the council is to use the percentile ranks of students. There is little arithmetic in this. In this method, the absolute marks will be decided as the rank of the student in his/her board along with the size of the board (i.e., number of students taking the examination in the science stream in the board).

Will this method reduce the students' over-dependence on coaching?
Once this scheme is in place, the coaching part will be part of the board exams. So, with this method, school education becomes very important. I think it will be fine for schools to prepare students for the IITs.

Has the IIT brand changed or lost its sheen in recent years?
Two decades back, the IIT as a brand solely depended on quality BTech students. Today, more than half of all the students in the IITs are in post-graduate courses. So in the 21st century, the IIT is in the process of building its brand through research and development, rather than through BTech output.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), October 16, 2011

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