If reports are to be believed, the IIT-JEE, India’s premier engineering entrance examination, is going to be scrapped in favour of a common entrance test for all government engineering colleges. Boo.
This was hardly a surprise. When the present government isn’t pulling the wool over the people’s eyes with their 217452674 scams, they’ve started destroying even the good things in the country. It’s clear what Mr. Kapil Sibal is thinking – he’ll become a hero (or at least get votes) by making the IITs, with their slowly eroding but still enormous reputation, supposedly more accessible to the general public.
There’s a reason no education minister before this clown has ever dreamed of doing away with the JEE since it was started in 1966. Say all you want, but it has been one of the most effective and transparent exams – it ensured that most of the successful candidates were those who could adapt to the demands of engineering, and has seen very little controversy except in the last few years. As the number of takers increased, the format evolved into an objective one, but the quality remained largely undiluted. I would even go so far as to say that it’s been one of modern India’s precious few success stories.
Then along comes the bunch of jokers also known as the Ministry of Human Resource Development. They start “expressing concerns” (read: spouting nonsense) about how the pattern of the JEE is “enabling less-than-best students at coaching centers to crack the test, and prevent girls from qualifying”. Bullshit if I ever heard any. The reality is that the IIT engineering syllabus is not for everyone, and the JEE was the best way of eliminating those who were not ready. I presume that the new all-purpose exam is going to be a lot easier – we can’t have an entire batch of students writing a JEE-level paper. It would be ridiculous in the extreme, with a large number of of single-digit or even negative scores.
So would the logical next step be to reduce the standard of the courses taught in IIT? It is not inconceivable. That would be a sad, but inevitable, day for India if we plow ahead with this unsustainable plan. Instead of bringing the IITs down to the level of the average student, the government should work on improving education in rural areas to offer them a better chance of clearing the JEE. But that won’t happen for many years, and won’t get votes, so.
My two years of preparing for the JEE were, perhaps barring last summer, the best years of my life. I had constant intellectual stimulation, a great peer group and a very understanding school. And my coaching class was, gasp, real fun. It wasn’t in any way close to the stereotypical concentration camp that the artists of bullshit journalism have painted. Of course, this was only because I was quite passionate about mathematics and physics (in case you’ve actually checked out my author profile, there is one major inaccuracy – I have never picked up a chemistry textbook, leave alone attempt to use it as a blunt instrument).
Overall, it was a character-building period, one where I discovered a lot about myself. Add to this the fact that it was bang in the middle of teenage, where the influx of hormones amplified every emotion. When I look back on it, I just long for those simple but thrilling days again.
Please note that this is not to say that the IITs don’t have any issues to be sorted out – very much the opposite. For example, while the JEE more or less ensures that those who make it are up to the task, it doesn’t guarantee that the successful candidates are actually interested in engineering, or will take up technical positions. I myself am one such example, having discovered that my true calling is theoretical physics rather than engineering (perhaps why I found the JEE so captivating). Also, too many students are taking the easy way out into management (the deadly IIT-IIM combo). And of course, the well-publicized student suicides. And the alarmingly low number of hot girls on campus. On second thoughts, the Ministry of Complete Dumbfucks almost got that one right.
But the JEE was the last thing that needed tampering with. Kapil Sibal’s brain freeze is only going to end in tears (and – I really hate to say it – perhaps more student suicides). Will someone please grab him by the shoulders and shake him vigorously till his teeth rattle in his head? Before he kills the goose that lays the golden eggs.