Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Sissification Of IITs

First, IITs, IIMs to open doors to Pakistanis and now IIT-JEE to be made simpler. The end of days must be upon us.

Our jaw dropped at reading this:

According to sources, the first change may be to limit questions to the +2 syllabus. "The HRD ministry feels many of the IIT-JEE questions are based on topics that are not taught at the +2 stage, and are, in fact, of a far advanced standard. This forces candidates to start preparing at least three years in advance - from Class IX itself. They overload themselves and this leads to depression, which sometimes leads to suicides," IIT-Kharagpur director SK Dubey told TOI.

In the finals, candidates have to answer three papers - physics, chemistry and mathematics - through a gruelling six hours on a single day. The ministry feels it is too taxing and has asked the committee to work out a better "fatigue and rest cycle."

What in heaven's name is going on here? What are these guys smoking? If memory serves right, when we took the JEE (in the 80s), our IIT classmates had not only secured high ranks in the JEE, they were also merit rankers in the +2 exams. No sweat. And we didn't kill ourselves either (to be precise, most of us did not). BTW, we were anything but geeks. Isn't this the profile of students we want at IIT? (Or, should we now offer neck massages for IIT aspirants as they crawl out of the exam hall, de-energized from having just squared C and multiplied it with M?!)

Fatigue and rest cycles?! After only six hours of work that doesn't even involve physical effort? If only the millions of Indian farmers and laborers had such luxury. This is truly pathetic.

Please don't consider us callous. We sympathize with the struggling kids trying to make it to the big leagues. We applaud their effort and understand their stress. We think there are other ways to resolve this than emasculating the IITs. Lets open up more non-IIT engineering colleges, for example, as advocated here.

This proposed sissification of IITs is, alas, one more example of the general softening of India we've been lamenting here for some time.


MAJ C said...

Take a read of this book for some parallel insights:

Ram Seshadri said...

oh come on. What is point of a test that tests knowledge far in advance of a normal candidates exposure. It just becomes a function of the quality of tuition one has had. I think the SAT in America is a far better judge of cleverness than this pointless mugging based exam. So what if someone does not know calculus. It should test potential not skill. What value does IIT add apart from a plum job. By the way i myself am an IITian.

Kiran said...

The IIT's are not much better than any other engineering college in India, except that they have better facilities than most, and also the most cram-efficient folks make it in there (as lecturers and as students). Cram-efficient in many cases equals brilliant, but not necessarily always (some would argue never).

This post seems to imply that we can raise the standard of our IIT-ians merely by raising the level of cramming required for the entrance tests.

The real challenge for the IIT's in a globalized world is to increase industry relevance of courses, and on a more philosophical level, promote innovation.

worma said...

I agree with Ram and Kiran. IIT (or for that matter any other qualifying exams) should judge a candidate based on what she/he has 'officially' studied. That is +2 education.

Why do they expect the student to have more knowledge than was taught to him/her. Isnt graduation supposed to be official continuation beyond +2 ? Then why expect some additional knowledge 'in between' these ?

I think even now the IIT papers are largely based on +2 syllabus, only problem being the questions are much tougher (on the same +2 topics) than what is taught and practised on +2 classes. This is ok to some extent, as one can expect a candidate to practise harder for IITs. New topics/chapters included in IIT entrance syllabus are not ok.

This whole argument applies at a much larger level to some other competitive exams in India like CAT and IAS (this one can start a whole parallel debate!)

Nearly Man said...

The IIt JEE has become a national obsession like the Civil services examination was in the 80s when a bulk of the successful candidates at the UPSC CSE were from the IITs.However you will agree that the cram schools are now sending most of the students. one single institute in Kota sends a few hundreds each year. This leaves the higher secondary education in a lurch. The Kota schools have tie ups with CBSE Schools so that the students can only attend practical classes.The Cram schools levy hefty fees and the IITs have become inaccessible to a large section of the population who either cannot afford or prefer a rounded education where PCM is studied with more artistic combinations like Eng Litor Economics.

Manish said...

Write one post about IIT, and we have these frustoos popping from all places calling those qualifiers "crammers".

Some of those pseudos also add in the end "By the way i myself am an IITian."

Case of sour grapes ?

Sriram said...

Manish - And you instantly have IITians coming and defending how theirs is the One True Way and the worst fires of hell be reserved for those who blaspheme.

I've seen too many people almost kill themselves over IIT JEE - this has to stop.

Primary Red said...

Very surprised at some of the responses here.

As we all know, life doesn't follow any set syllabus and constantly throws curveballs at one. We all just have to learn to deal with this -- the traditional IIT-JEE was a terrific test of this ability.

As regards, this notion of cramming. Maybe things are different now, but in our days most students were out-of-the-ballpark smart and needed little cramming. Not to blow one's own hoot here, but this blogger, for example, read for oh, perhaps 2 months or so for the JEE (after his +2 exams were done) and did extremely well.

80% of the reason IITs are as good as they are, and have the global reputation they have, is because of the rigorous nature of JEE -- genius in, genius out. Change this, and you destroy an institution that's been a true temple of modern India.

Digital Infinity said...

Some of these comments posted here astound me. I didn't see any need to cram for JEE when I studied for it. JEE simply needed simple insight into the problem which came with intelligence. That SAT thing somebody said was a better judge of cleverness- to paraphrase the original author of the post, What the hell was this guy smoking? The math portion of the sat is something which can be done by a 6th grader, which basically renders the SAT a vocabulary test meant to weed out the most eloquent speakers of the english language. What the hell do we need that for in a country like India? I'd rather we produce really smart graduates from say 10 or so top-class highly selective institutes than from a million mediocre one. The dilution of the IIT degree's value by making it easier for people to get in is wholly unnecessary. Rather, if the government want to make kids lives easier they should make sure there are institutes of equal facilities but who aren't as selective in admission, kind of like a Georgia Tech compared to an MIT [Not to diss Georgia Tech, which is an excellent school]. The illusion that an Indian engineering degree is worth something only if its from an IIT should be shattered.

coolhead said...

When the objective is to "eliminate" 99% of the candidates, rather than 'select" the top 1% , ingenious methods must be hatched up by sadistic professors. Therein lies the tragedy of Indian exams and interviews. All techniques are evolved with a negative mindset and are meant to eliminate and weed out.

Doctor Bruno said...

Even the Post Graduation medical entrance tests are of a higher level than what the student studied in his MBBS.

RedSari said...

I grew up in America and didn't know much about IIT until I met my husband who is from IIT.

Hubby talked about IIT the way most Americans talk about their undergraduate days (lot of booze and partying but in the case of IIT, I guess not much else).

He never talked about IIT's rigors academically. (Probably doesn't make for much of a pick-up line)

Nevertheless, 7+ years of marriage later and he still never talks about how he was tortured by the JE.

IIT is hard to get into, but that’s the point, right?

That’s what makes it the crème de la crème of the country. That’s why kids want to go there.

What’s the whining about! If you didn't get into IIT, deal. Doesn't mean you can't be the next Silicon Valley millionaire or whatever.

Billy G. was a dropout (oh yeah but he did get in -bad example).

Anyways, why should anyone make the admission process easier for the nation's most elite institution? It would cease to be IIT if they did.

Life is hard. No will make it easier and if you freaking want something go after it. It is helluva hard to get into Stanford Law School (I didn't get in) and no one talks about making that easier and if it was I probably would have wanted to attend Harvard.

Get it.

If you are ready to apply for college, you should be ready to accept life is hard. Sometimes you make the cut and sometimes you don't.

You only sucks when you never try.

Ram Seshadri said...

ok what research does IIT produce. What startups have they spawned under the IIT name. They are nothing more than a glorified victorian gentlemen's club(yes men's club!) If these are the smartest in the land then how come they all seem to drift into crappy management roles with decent salaries than do cutting edge research. If you are a IITian and think you are smart than good for you but you are not deluding anyone else.

Ashish said...

to add to the above discussion .... IIT and IIT-JEE have evolved since 80's (assuming that’s when some of the blogger's are posting from). Number of people giving the exam has increased tremendously (thanks to the amazing success of the same 80's batches and many more). The Students are preparing even harder, under some excellent supervision, with help of text books and course materials which leave next to nothing to intelligence. This, no doubt, is leading to higher cut-offs every year. The difference between rank 1 and rank 4000 is not more than around 100 marks, which means that every year, atleast last 2500 ranks go for a lottery. Those who have given JEE will swear how fortunes change within those 6 hours…. And how they could have improved their rank so far (depending on your rank) by doing that one bit extra. I can't imagine what will happen if we make the test any simpler, if it will not make the competition even tougher and an even bigger lottery.

I don’t think JEE is the part of the problem (it definetly is a part of the solution though…). Not so long ago, I gave the JEE twice (cleared it twice), and honestly speaking got a much better rank when I studied less to nothing. The JEE is based on +2 syllabus, and is at the basic minimum required level for kids who want expedite learning within IIT curriculum. The pressure is for those who want to build it, and those who don’t simply get a rank. Nevertheless, to decrease pressure on the kids, we will have to make students and parents conscious of alternate career choices. Those who have been through the IIT drill, know that one JEE rank, or for that matter having a rank, does not define ones career. Four years spent amongst the best batch mates possible, some funny post-grad exams, silly interviews, fun we had , and fun we didn’t have … define what we become and where we end up… and most of the IITians never do what they were trained for ….

I think we need to pass on this message to the kids that there are more ways than one to succeed. And to the government, that there should be more institutions like IITs (and not 100 IITs).

sudeep said...

Even though the syllabus is similar, It isnt as if one can read CBSE books and get through JEE anyway (and it hasnt been that way for about 10 years now) !!

Why will the exam get any easier cause the syllabus will be tweaked a little to reflect a lowest common denominator among the state boards syllabi ?

And how does it reflect upon the IITs if everyone feels that they shall loose their "status" or reputation for excellence if the entrance examination is made a little easier ? :-D Doesnt MIT use SAT scores as their criteria for admission to UGs ?

What is the research output of UGs at IIT anyway ? Yeah, most are highly motivated individuals, some are even intelligent and hard working, but so what ? IITs will still be what they are: Anochronistic institutions that take in the cream of the nation and reduce it to crud.

Rudranil said...


Just a while ago I was reading the former English opening batsman, Micheal Atherton's autobiography. He recalls an incident where he was taking batting lessons from the great Geoffrey Boycott. Boycott was harsh and pointed out the flaws rather than the virtues in Arterton and others. Finally he concluded, " If you want to hear good things about your batting, go to your mom. To make it to the top, you"ll have to come through the test of fire." Doesnt this sum up the whole situation.?

Im not an IITan. But let me say 1 thing. Most of the comments posted above were quite puerile in nature . People were drifting from the topic in hand and kind of propagating their own personal vendettas about IITs and what are their glories and shortcomings.

Let me tell you that no entrance exam is a foolproof method to select the best or the deserving. But the IIT JEE and CAT are really the best of all existing competitive exams in India. Ours is a country where corruption is rampant in many state board exams. Basically IITJEE is a exam which takes in people into engineering courses. And what are the the qualities that such an engineering aspirant should ideally posess- problem solving skills. So when someone says that IITJEE is "tough", it means that one doesnt get the stereotype problems that one gets in board exams , but problems which bring test the intuition, manipulative skills , ability to handle stress amongst other things.

The argument that SAT is a better exam was so ridiculous. That person should immediately read Tom Friedman's recent articles in the New York Times about how he felt that American high school standard was an anachronistic one . No less a personality than Bill Gates himeslf corroborated that claim recently. And what are the great think tanks of Indian education trying to do- simply strangle the goose (read the system ) which liad the golden eggs. Clap Clap Clap.

Equally interesting (sic) was the argument which said that the IITs were no different from other engineering colleges in India. There are thousands of worthless engineering colleges in south India like abc inst of tech, xyz college of engg, etc which thrive on capitation fees and take in candidates who dont deserve to study engineering.

Quite simply, the best students (wheat) is seperated from the rest (chaff) by a tough exam. Getting to the top is tough in all walks of life. If the number of aspirants is more like that of JEE or CAT, the level of toughness has to be tougher. Simple. If you bring down the level of toughness of this exam, several undeserving candiates with an ability to cram and somehow solve those boared exam like stereotype problems will get in at the expense of geniuses. This will dilute the talent level currently in the IITs and will be detrimental to its quality. It is true that the IITs dont have as much research output as they should have , but they are far far better than the rest of the engineering collges in India. If you dispute with this, I have to say that the remains of the scars left behind in you of not getting into iits is influencing your judgement.

One hopes that such a thought process of tinkering with the JEE pattern is the pipeline forever. Mr. Dubey probably has recently read some books on change mangagement in his spare time. If that is the case, then I must say that it triggered a quite negative idea in his mind. Finally, before such a radical step is taken, a vote should be taken amongst current IIT students and the alumni. They are the people who have " been here , and done that" . They know what it is to crack IIT JEE , some of them have seen what the other elite institutes in the world are and how the IITs stand in relation to them, and what more could be done to improve the system. Forgive me for making a prescient comment, but if such a proposal goes to the ballot, it will lose be an overwhelming majority.

Anonymus philippic said...

Its a world of give-n-take...

What you give is what you get ... you cannot blame the system if you turned out to be a rotten curd.

and the saying goes for the rest who support the motion...

- A

Ashish Gupta said...

Not much to add for me but if authors are interested they can follow views of current IITMians on IITM-DiscussionGroup@yahoogroups.com (search for hyphen in the name, I don't remember). Predictably, most alums are agahst at notion, though couple of professors, also part of yahoo group, support this partially. And don't jump directly to conlclusion because they are profs, cause they are IIT alum too, and have balanced and insider view of system.

Markov Chain said...

Dear Anonymous Phillipic,

I must say your mail was laden with frustration....tch tch tch...how pathetic it must have felt after giving it your everything but to have found out yourself as "Rotten curd" . :))

Rakesh said...

Hey, I read that some guy says "IIT takes the best and reduces them to crud"...either this guy is a real frustoo IITian, or a grapes-are-sour case.
If what he says is the truth and IIt produces crud, then sorry to say this, but other collegs are producing Bu%^$hit! I myself have attended the best engg. college in Bombay for a year before I came to IIT, and I can bet my a$$ that there s a tremendous difference in level between the two.
The treasure in IIT is its students.. and I guess the aim of the JEE is to preserve this. So Lets just leave the guys to set the paper their way.. they have to ensure that the best 3000 odd get through. These are thinking guys who set the paper after all.

PS: For those who think that the JEE is mugging based.. just set an easy pulley-mass problem for a person preparing for the "prestigious" std. XII exams alone... the look of bewilderment on their faces before they break into sweat and announce the "NOT_IN_SYLLABUS" dialog is worth those 2 years of hard work that one goes through before the JEE exam.

Anonymous said...

@Ram Seshadri
Are you mtech or phd in iit???/

he is a fucking NIT graduate and a iit matka, he knows nothing about iit, he is the director of kgp by sheer politics.
He has very low IQ, you will laugh at him if you listened to his arguments in IIT.

sujith said...

In these entrance tests,students are tested based on their ability to cram. 'Cramming' need not be just learning by heart as we learned the alphabets, but basically a lack of questioning attitude. They are judged on their ability to answer questions, but not on the pertinent questions they ask. After all, we need questioning minds, to take things a step forward. Learning is not just a process of stuffing our head with lots of facts, but it is a process of nurturing creativity, and the art of deducing new ideas from the existing ones. For example, in mathematics the Stirlings approximation can be easily deducted from a very basic idea about calculus. Similarly, the internal energy of an ideal gas can easily be deducted from the very basic idea,Conservation of momentum. People who cram all these things without following the extremely simple and beautiful logic behind these are not better than those who never knew these ideas. Most topics which people claim to be very advanced are manifestations of the very fundamental ideas of science. Its just like making marvellous paintings out of red, blue, green and white.
I cant digest the logic behind the opinion that some students who do well in their board exams, fail to do in these tests. It is absolutely stupid. Both exams follow the same syllabus. ie, they involve application of the very same basic ideas. Then, how can someone do well in one and not in the other. It is like the case where a university topper, medical graduate cant prescribe any drug for a common cold!


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