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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Diluting the role of the IIT JEE

The JEE used to serve India well

Many years ago, high school education in India worked in a twin track system: There were those who studied for the IIT JEE and there was everyone else who didn't. The former studied good books like Resnick/Halliday, which is a college level book elsewhere in the world, solved physics problems from Irodov, etc.

In contrast, studying for the 12th standard ("board examination") tended to emphasise rote memorisation, focusing on trivial questions where you had to plug numbers into a formula, emphasised accuracy of calculation and good handwriting. I vividly remember a textbook for 11th class physics used in Maharashtra, which said that Newton's second law did not apply for living things and powered vehicles. The thoughtful author must have wondered how a stationary cat started walking without the action of an external unbalanced force, and resolved the problem by limiting the footprint of Newton's second law. The less time that kids spend in studying for board examinations, the better.

I used to be optimistic that the footprint of the enhanced curriculum, and complexity of examination questions, lay far beyond the tiny number of people who entered IIT. Even if only 2,000 kids entered IIT, if 40,000 of them studied for the JEE, it gave them world class capabilities at high school. In each cohort, we got 40,000 people who were very good by world standards. In a country with pervasively low capabilities, it was very useful having this slice of high inequality of knowledge, for it gave a group of people who were able to learn modern technology, connect to globalisation, and create firms which generate a lot of high-paying jobs. It is fashionable to complain about inequality of knowledge, but given that you are in a LDC with a very low mean, would you really rather have very low variance??

With this old configuration, we also got a nice tool for inter-generational class mobility. The middle class got their kids into IIT, and almost all these graduated into upper class by the time they were 30.

More generally, a lot of countries have found that high stakes examinations are a good thing. High stakes examinations push the work ethic, grow the ability of young people to work hard in a sustained manner with high concentration, ensure foundations of mathematics and science, and encourage a meritocracy. They create a self-selected elite of young people who are not immersed in and defined by mass culture. All these are good things.

Problems of the JEE

I used to think like this for a long time. I have reluctantly been persuaded, over recent years, that the JEE isn't working so well.

Too many young people are studying for the examination and not the subject. The obsessive focus upon coaching classes is producing a one-dimensional personality which isn't so well suited to entering college. In the 1980s, the most interesting students in IIT were thinking people who read books, knew a lot about the world, and could also solve monkeys on pulleys. With brutal competition, and the coaching classes phenomenon, too often, all that's left today is the monkeys on pulleys. There is a certain kind of parent who is willing to have a child go live in Kota at age 15. This screened out many families from the race.

Economists know about this phenomenon in agency theory. High-powered incentives are a problem because the agent only focuses on the incentive and tends to cut corners (or worse) on everything that's not mentioned in the incentive contract. Andrade and Castro bring this generic idea in agency theory into the question of examinations, and find similar effects.

In the 1980s, there was substantial diversity of background, experiences and class amongst the students. This was a good thing, since students would then pick up the culture of people unlike them. In recent years, it appears that there is much greater homogeneity of background, experiences and class. The extent to which the person gets transformed in the four years has, as a consequence, gone down. When very few children of the elite go to IIT, this reduces access to the knowledge and networks of the elite for everyone who goes to IIT. This has reduced the ability of IIT to generate inter-generational class mobility.

Jishnu Das and Tristan Zajonc have found a nice bump in the upper tail of the distribution of skills in India. The pessimist sees this as being about class or caste: certain families bring up kids who know more. The optimist in me used to think this was the bunch studying for the IIT entrance. Also see Geniuses and economic development on the importance of the upper tail of the skills distribution.

It is increasingly difficult to be optimistic about how this is going. Narendra Karmarkar graduated from IITB in 1978, and went on to do truly important work in 1984. My optimism about the IITs peaked in 1984. Phenomena like Narendra Karmarkar should have scaled up manifold in the following years. This has not happened. In the 1980s, I used to think that by 2010, we'd have atleast one Nobel laureate from the IITs. That has not happened. This tells us that the IITs are not delivering on their early promise; things haven't worked out well in the following years. While the IITs suffer from many problems, I think the JEE is also a part of the problem.

One of the most disappointing features of the recent OECD PISA evidence was the absence of this bump in the upper tail. This new evidence shows a scary world of low inequality of skill, of a country with a terrible mean and no upper tail of an elite that can power the country out of mass poverty. I would conjecture two potential explanations for what has been found. One, it could be the case that this testing was done at age 15, at which time not much of the IIT JEE studying has as yet taken place; we're only picking up the victims of board examinations. Alternatively, it could be the case that studying for the IIT JEE is distorted by the coaching class phenomenon, and is not producing good knowledge.

But the solution being offered doesn't seem to be the right one

There are two views on how these problems can be solved. The first alternative is to shift away from admissions based on a high stakes examination. Universities in the US screen applicants on many parameters, so this is generally thought to be better. But when we look back in history, universities in the US used to focus primarily on academic performance only, until a glut of Jews showed up in Harvard. The shift to asking for `well rounded personalities' was a tool by the dominant anti-semetic elite to screen out Jewish kids who did not play football. So we should be cautious in respecting the undergraduate admissions process in the US. It is also important to remember that the quality of kids starting college in the US is quite weak by world standards. There are other countries (e.g. Japan) where large scale high-stakes examinations are used for university admissions, with much success.

I feel that the core problem that we have in India is just too few seats, which has generated a ridiculous extent of competition and distorted behaviour on the part of the kids. The solution lies in solving the policy problems in higher education, so that a large number of kids are taken into world class institutions every year. E.g. adding undergraduate programs at I I Sc, with recruitment through the JEE, was a move in the right direction. We need to grow the size of the entrant class in universities in India, that figure in the Times Higher Education Supplement ranking, by 25-fold. At present, we have only one university in that list - IIT Bombay.

Kapil Sibal is offering neither of the two solutions above: we are not being offered a modified admissions process based on looking at a fuller picture of the child, and we are not being offered a Japanese scale world of high stakes examinations with a lot of seats in world class universities. What we're being offered is a scaling down of the role of the IIT JEE. A greater role for the 12th standard examination is just a recipe to emphasise rote memorisation, focusing on trivial questions where you had to plug numbers into a formula, emphasising accuracy of calculation and good handwriting. This seems wrong to me.

You may like to also see: Education in India: A compact reading kit.


  1. Ajay ... unfortunately this doesnt seem to attract any mainstream debate .. even our batch list has a few posts and then people forget ....

    I have none or little respect for Kapil Sibal but that should not be the only reason to dislike his ideas ... like always you have tried to bring out a key issue .... that the JEE was oushing people to learn not by rote by understanding and that needs remediation but dilution through board exams is not going to solve it

    Panja (and this is the firts time I read or responded to a blog)

    1. After several TA sessions with my juniors I kinda have to agree.. The disparity(in interest and understanding) between my batch and theirs was appalling.. No one seems to be learning Phy, Chem and Maths just to understand these magnificent subjects these days.. In fact, even in our batch, no one in the first 100 ranks took up pure science.. Now plz don't go around accusing me of not taking it up as well.. let's focus on the bigger picture here people..

  2. Very nice article.

    The standards of IIT has already been diluted by creating more IITs without good infrastructure and faculty,Now they are targetting JEE.

    I guess this is vote bank politics.This change touches the masses but does not server the purpose of IITs.

    1. YOU talk about dilution of IIT standard by creating new IITS then why not just keep IIT Delhi and IIT Bombay and dissolve the other iits , that will concentrate the IIT and may be we can come in Top 10 world class institute.

      Remember that every Old iit was once new iit. IIT karagpur itself started in a
      JAIL itself.

      Creating IIT is a need of hour as to meet the demands of increasing population.

  3. "But when we look back in history, universities in the US used to focus primarily on academic performance only, until a glut of Jews showed up in Harvard. The shift to asking for `well rounded personalities' was a tool by the dominant anti-semetic elite to screen out Jewish kids who did not play football." Please give some references(citations) to support this statement.

    1. I'm sorry, I can't. I got this story from a Harvard professor, who told me the story in juicy detail. He's a top authority (and he's at Harvard) so I have no doubt that it's true. But I can't quote a personal conversation.

    2. Nice article, Ajay. Got the link from Reddit. Here's an article that speaks to the issues of Harvard and Jewish students.

      I'm an academic myself, concerned about the sorry state of Indian education. Let's stay in touch. Thanks. Murli

    3. A cursory google search will show Jewish quotas at elite American institutions existed until the mid 20th century. This is a fact well-known in the mainstream (i.e. this knowledge is not only restricted people in the know); tons of documentation exists on the issue.
      See e.g.,

  4. 2nd question:"There are other countries (e.g. Japan) where large scale high-stakes examinations are used for university admissions, with much success." Could you explain what they're doing differently yourself? or give references to support this statement?

    1. Japan has lots of world class universities (judged by THES, judged by journal pubs, etc). They use a single nationwide high-stakes exam to take in people. There is no evidence that this is not working for them. It's a good demo of a world class university system that lives purely by high stakes exams for admissions.

  5. Why do we need IITs?
    1. To impart best quality technical education so that they become good engineers to build the nation.

    That had been the case initially, but off-late many engineers land up in Corporate Offices (I cannot prove it though).

    Then the question is that : Is it not sufficient to impart them a University education, rather than a Technical education?
    More so, when the Taxpayers pay for their education ?

    The answer is again being provided by the IITs where they have gone to the next level by imparting education in higher sciences.

    Hence, if we are not making engineers, then we can well do with imparting education in sciences or social sciences [may be this is also a cheaper option]

    Now the moot question : Is incorporating the marks of Higher Secondary necessary ?
    To which I would like to say : Yes.

    I defer to say it is rote learning, because it depends on the individuals how would they try to learn.
    If the plus two is rote, then the whole education system is also rote, which implies that all of us do not know anything and have passed them by rote. Clearly this is not the case.

    And it is not possible to find any institution where the rote learning does not fetch marks, more so in deemed universities where the teacher is the ultimate paper-setter.

    So, the current education system is not bad (it may not be good), and it is upto us to utilize it.

    Now : The higher education system imparts knowledge of humanities/ social sciences, which is extremely important in the overall development of an individual and more so, required for people like engineers and scientists who work for the benefit of the society.

    However, students who target the IITs generally tend to ignore these and focuss on the science subjects, which diminishes the very purpose of imparting them Plus two education.

    However, we can question the way it is being done and the technical difficulties therein, like
    a. The difficulty in treating 92% of Board A and Board B as equal [Scaling problem]
    b. Maybe, a minimum percent in the boards would be sufficient, as we would only like to know how much the student is socially enlightened.
    c. And there can be more...

    Hence, we should try to get a overall picture and then provide criticisms, and if we provide criticisms, then we must provide solution which are pragmatic and implementable.

    1. Why do we need IITs?

      You are probably right in pointing out the fact that most IITians land in corporate offices. But I don't see it as an issue. First of all, we need to agree that IITs in general do not have world class research facilities and the ambience at IIT does not encourages the students to become scientist or have a research career. If the corporate offices deem them fit, why should they not join these companies? We already have enough institutions for imparting social sciences while IITs still remain the single efficient source of imparting technical education. It will be premature to limit 'technical' to a narrow meaning which implies to machines and industry. It rather has to do more with the analytical skills and the thinking process, so, if the corporate offices find the students useful and can mold them for their needs, so be it. The hue and cry over taxpayer's money is even more vague, there is no point in being concerned about the 'taxpayer's money' which is invested in something which has a world wide recognition and whose alumni have brought much fame to the country, instead, lets focus on those parts of the tax payers money which is dedicated to govt schemes which never see the light of the day and even if they do, the effects are nowhere to be seen.

      2nd part.

      Sure, everything depends on an individual but individual is driven by it's surrounding and the competition which only encourages rote learning at +2 level. And sure, this current education system has produced a few marvels, but they are the exception and not the rule. And it's very easy to find institutions where you cannot pass by rote learning, especially if you care to look beyond India.

      'the very purpose of imparting plus two education'...I am not sure how you defined that purpose or what makes you say that. And even, if you were right, the only other subjects at plus two level are 'hindi' 'english' 'computer' and similar subjects for a Maths side student. I am not sure how learning those subjects will enthuse them to be better servants of the society. Moreover, even IITs have a couple of subjects from the humanities/business/economics field.

      I agree to Ajay's point that the competition nowadays is way beyond cut throat and the only way to improve that is to increase the number of intake while at the same time ensuring that the infrastructure is improved accordingly. And also, the JEE exam pattern should go back to the olden/golden days of Pre+Mains (Subjective) examination.

  6. Sir,
    it must be thought that why getting into IIT became such high incentive thing. the substitutes, regional engineering colleges or other engineering colleges were not close to IITs in their quality. Reason can be extra attention IITs got or lack of leadership at other institutes. So IITs are the only quality institutes, with few exceptions. And when competition became intense, rather than 'knowing', mastering the technique and mastering the information became important. 'Irodov'is still used, but solution for all the problems are memorized. I guess it is like chess played by computer. Computer doesn't really think, it just considers all the possibilities and does some sort of backward induction.
    Today kids are preparing from 8th-9th standard for the JEE. they were taught by imparting huge chunks of information and these coaching classes are expensive. So the parent group who can afford for such information purchase, only that group focuses on IITs. students who are from schools which are mostly for low income class cannot get into this group, either because of income level of parents or low information set of parents. So the graduation of middle class into high class which you have noted hardly occurs.

  7. We should increase the JEE standard and I am quite confident that we would get back the kind of student we want in IIT. Change the JEE to it original format that use to exist in 1990-1998.. keep multiple choice question of only screening and keep subjective questions for main entrance.. It may not solve the problem entirely but would be very good way to screen.. thoughts??

  8. The IIT education system in India proved and still proves to be a funnel.
    It funnels in the best (or the so called best) into the IIT system while most other colleges are left wanting for funds and allocation.
    An ideal scenario in India would have been the massive allocation of funds to primary institutes and letting the private sector worry about Higher Ed. What an IIT-D did, a Harvard-Delhi could have done and very well too. If these kids go into the upper classes anyways, why not let their paycheck (from the future), finance their education rather than tax payer money?
    Also perhaps the JEE as a format could be used across India as a selection criteria. Subscribe to the format only if you meet a certain standard and use this as a selection measure only if you stick to certain guidelines.
    The brain drain and the overall outlay has ended up costing India a fortune.
    And frankly how are IIT Engineers any better in Engineering when most dash off to do an MBA? 8000 hours of learning cannot create an expert especially when he/she does not even stick to their prior experiences and goes on to learn something completely different.

  9. In the beginning there were no entrance exams. You could walk into an IIT office, submit your college marks card and having met the minimum got your admission. My maternal uncle got it that way. Then came the JEE and when I was in high school (early 70s) the coaching classes started. I attended one to improve my score so I could do electrical engg at IIT-B. Some years later they started an entrance exam for the coaching class. Then IIT JEE was split into two levels and ... I don't know what the current system really is. And it is not just IITs. Some time back a younger relative took IIM entrance and got 98.6 percentile. I thought admission was guaranteed, in fact he would be able to choose his IIM and course. Quite shocked when all he got was a number in the waiting list for somewhere in Kerala. The high profile admissions closed at 99.4% percentile. As he explained matter of factly later, it represents admission rate 1 in 300. Harvard btw has a rate of 1 in 13.5!

    Unfortunately we cannot wish away this level of competition. "Full personality evaluation" will not work when there are 500 applicants for every seat. There simply aren't enough people and resources inside IIT to do the job. You have to go by an automated system like an entrance exam. The moment there is any kind of subjectivity in the process there will be so many schemes to rig it and questions about every selection. The US universities are supposed to evaluate an applicant for his all round accomplishments but it is all done through his activity records and personal essays. The student's identity is not known to the evaluator but there are stories of how you can convey your ethnic background (desi, Chinese, black or Jew) discreetly through your essay. Very few, MIT and Ivy League types have some of their (carefully screened) alumni talk to a potential applicant. It works because alumni generally are loyal to their college and are honestly keen that it should get only the best students. But even their feedback has a small weightage overall.

    Having more admissions per year requires more IITs and IIMs which is not going to happen quickly. One reason why none of our institutions make it to prestigious lists is because, students parents and policy makers alike have equated engineering with IT. What we need are "fully rounded" engineering universities each with a dozen hard core technical departments with fully equipped and well supported labs. How many people today are even aware that metallurgy is an engineering discipline? I think govt should stop worrying about how to make admission to computer science dept of IIT Bombay or other IIMs less stressful for students and focus on building infrastructure for hard core engineering.

    From what I have heard the IISc graduate course is indeed working. The student who ranked 4th in Karnataka CET chose to do basic research there instead of walking into any medical college that she was entitled. I am sure there is a vast non programmer type talent pool in the country, and properly developed it will be far far better than the software creme de la creme who will anyway end up writing code for facebook or amazon. Let them fight it out whichever way they want. The government can safely ignore them and focus on improving the core engineering education standards and make it more rewarding for real engineers.

  10. Nice thoughts. But I still think a high end exam do increase the education level. Problem is the exam is probably not innovating to randomly change the pattern every year That is actually raising the incentive of people to game the exams. Also, being from NIT, I believe in India institutes are world class because of the quality of students getting in, and less on the quality of education offered.

  11. I think my previous comment didn't get submitted. Anywho... I wanted to make the point that universities are going online (a bigger change has happened in 2011, see links below). And, the old model of lectures and classrooms is changing with initiatives like Khan academy and with Stanford Free online, etc at the undergraduate level.

    There is no need for brick and mortar lecture factories anymore. Public policy and entrance methods like JEE should factor this in. What space will the IITs occupy in a world where high quality education is available cheaply and from across the world? Universities instead should be designed to facilitate collaborative activities, projects and research. Focus should be on R&D spending as a percentage of GDP. Let public policy commit to a minimum fraction of GDP spending on R&D investment, and the rest will follow including Nobel prizes.

    As for the JEE, I'm sure it can be improved. If they want to consider more than the exam, instead of board exams, why don't they factor in scores from science olympiads? Many of the top 100 rankers in JEE used to do well in science olympiads and it was a waste of time for them to be giving JEE. Its funny how the olympiads were carried out without any cheating, hype, etc because there was no "degree" that one would get at the end of it, but "just" a medal. It sure separated out the genuine talent from the rest. Food for thought, perhaps.

  12. Actually, not only did the Ivy league universities change their admission policies to check the growing number of Jewish students, many of them only started admitting women in the 60s and 70s. There is a book by Jerome Karabel on the history of college admissions in the Ivy League,

    Having said that, let me say that I disagree somewhat with your assertion about high stakes testing being a 'successful model'. Having some universities ranked highly in THES rankings does not mean that the admissions methodology being followed is successful.

    The key determinants to undergrad admissions in the US are high school GPAs and SAT scores, and there are an ample number of studies and papers that demonstrate that a combination of the two is the best predictor of student GPA in university. Here is one such study,

    1. While, in the US, you'd want to use both GPAs and SAT scores to screen intake, we do have to remember that the IIT JEE (very hard math/physics questions) is a different hurdle altogether compared with the SAT (an IQ test, reminiscent of the GRE).

  13. "It is also important to remember that the quality of kids starting college in the US is quite weak by world standards."

    Dr. Shah, is there a reference for this claim ? Google, Youtube and Wikipedia were founded by kids who did their undergraduate education at the Universities of Michigan, Maryland, Illinois and the Lousiana State University. If you would analyze the winners of the Turing awards, you would note that almost all the winners are Americans (American born and raised) and a large proportion went to American public universities.

    1. I'd just like some quantitative teeth to my claim about the Turing award. 53 total Turing awards have been given since 1966. 37 have been America, 6 others are from the UK (all Oxbridge). Of the 37 American winners, 14 (38%) went to public universities for their undergrad, while 23 went to private universities.

      None of these American winners went through any high stakes testing. None of your high stakes tested Japanese undergrads have been able to win computing's highest distinction. I rely do hope that you provide evidence for your claim.

      Source for the Turing awards data:

  14. Hello Ajay,

    Very nice and honest take on the higher education system in India.

    First question to be asked is whether the government should have and if it should continue to subsidize higher education when you can find vagrant children on the highway leading to Delhi or children having their hands cut off by beggar gangs in Bangalore. What are our priorities really? Please don't say that they are not related. We deal with scarce resources especially in a country as poor as our own.

    As someone mentioned above, the education delivery system is fast changing and we have this great opportunity to scale up using information technology. The real benefit of the brick-and-mortar system is to create a system for bringing up the really smart people and credentialing them. The point of the IITs is not that they impart great education but that the JEE used to be a great way to finding the smartest people in the country (who knew the English language). But again, is it really the job of our government to provide a credentialing service to our Middle Class when we have so much poverty around us? I will answer myself and say yes. Finding and training really smart people who contribute to our country is really useful. But we have to analyze the costs and benefits if we are thinking of scaling up the old brick-and-mortar set up rather than delivering knowledge in cheaper ways.

    Besides, why don't we have IITs and especially IIMs that impart knowledge in the local language? I find the English speakers in this country to be mostly incapable of using the language. So much is lost in the communication in English - spoken or written. This is true even of the elite institutions. But I don't see any plans for imparting the knowledge of business, trade and simple math to ordinary people and the smart ones among them who never hand the opportunity to be in an advantageous position in the system.

    Finally, the simplest solution in the short term will be to have no "exam pattern" for the JEE but rather have a huge surprise factor, so that only the true smart, lateral thinkers get through these exams. But it will definitely be met with anger from Middle Class parents. There are social expectations attached to these exams. Thus the single exam model is in itself flawed. Flawed not only because they don't work in Japan but also because they encourage truant students who didn't pay attention to their school syllabus but spent years in rotten side-systems of tutorials turning themselves into one-dimensional exam-takers.

    For a long time, the IIM CAT exams have attracted a class of students who are very good at taking multiple-choice exams but many who lack a good work ethic. This is a problem with a single exam system that depends on a single format. I noticed the same in engineering colleges too.

    We not only need smart people but also hard-working people who put in the long hours of work and who show sincerity towards the whole system rather than trying to game the system. That's the kind of people who should be getting into our pampered over-subsidized higher education system. Otherwise, this system of looting our poor to pay off the middle class is doing a double injustice.

    1. I'd posted above on how university education is fast changing and will change even more drastically in the next few years. On your point of the role of brick and mortar systems being to give out credentials: it was interesting to note that 160K students took the free Stanford Artificial Intelligence undergraduate class and even though they wouldn't get Stanford credit, a couple of universities chipped in with their own exam monitoring process and gave out credits in their programs for this course (Example: University of Freiburg). This model can and will proliferate; where the lectures and learning can happen outside the brick and mortar establishment and the role of the establishment will be reduced to test and certify. This is great because more professors round the world will be free from lecturing and instead will spend time on coaching and research. Sweet irony in the Indian context where JEE coaching is vilified at the cost of glorifying ineffective institutionalized teachers!!

      Much of the criticism that you make of the exams and the rat race I think is misplaced. If we did not have a shortage of seats or a shortage of good institutions, JEE/CAT would not attract much of the criticism, hype or the rat race mentality. If there were enough good quality college seats, middle class parents won't care if the evaluation method changes or not. I think online education solves the problem of availability of high quality education. What remain are the credentialing monopolies and instead of worrying about reforming the existing monopoly(ie; JEE), what we need are alternative high quality credentials. If for example, UGC were to partner with Stanford and monitor exams and give out credentials based on the Stanford free lectures, that would create an alternative avenue to the IITs with equal or better quality. Then we'll see how much hype remains with the JEE. Now, it is ofcourse key that the alternative has to be high quality and there has to be a good exit strategy for acceptance of these UGC certifications in terms of placement, etc. This is where policy and GDP spending on research can help.

    2. I don't disagree much with you. But for your ideas for fructify, the whole ecosystem has to change. Even in the US, the mollycoddled financial powerhouses are centers of mindless elitism. Their systems have ossified and more so because of information technology and strict adherence to well-developed processes so that only the elites can break through.

      But in India, I have noticed a virtual caste system based on educational institutions and certain sinecure positions obtained through competitive exams. Again, this is a mindset problem. People will scoff at certifications obtained through Internet courses.

      Finally, I think the Middle Class here is obsessed with credentialing. I see my colleagues spending foreign exchange in dollars and pounds to obtain all kinds of certifications starting with the letter 'C' - CFA, CIA, CIMA etc etc. The list is just endless and they are paying all of this out of their pocket for pieces of paper. Part of the reason is that our system demands it while I have seen a lot of Americans call these certification systems outright frauds. Americans are even questioning the value of going to college (and they are making a mistake doing that but that's how they approach changes around themselves - with an open mind).

      I think the biggest gain can be obtained by teaching simple math and business to ordinary people in vernacular languages. Those little kids selling magazines on the highway to Delhi already have business experience. They just need some structured learning to solidify their skills and some capital to scale up. That's why I asked those rhetorical questions in the beginning.

      Kick the JEE and CAT to hell. They do nothing for those poor kids who are wallowing in poverty and putting their lives in danger every single day.

      PS: I apologize for the poor quality of my English. I am not proofreading or anything.

    3. It would be wrong to bash JEE/CAT. They are the only meritocratic thing in our country and their economic impact (and hence, impact on poverty) is undoubtedly immense. That's not to say that they are perfect - they are not, they are clearly in decline, which is why they need reform and removal of subsidies (especially when a family can afford the fees). But, my whole point is why meddle around with an exam that provides admission to 10,000 kids in total when the need is to holistically address the education policy for millions of kids. Reforming or kicking these exams isn't going to help one bit. Berkeley alone admits 5000 undergraduates every year. Expand your vision to look at what policy needs to be for 100s of thousands to millions of kids.

      Clearly, more alternatives are needed. Indeed the ecosystem needs to change. But the hurdle for change is lower due to online access to education. That's the whole point I was trying to make.

      Anyway, there's also a good article by Arun Shourie on role of elites in society: Mediocrity has become the norm.

      And, yes I agree that those C certifications are nonsense. Especially the way they are undertaken in India. In the West, they are meant to be taken up in parallel with work experience and so are one part of the credential. But, here, they are taken up by students without any understanding of why they are doing it other than to add on another meaningless credential. But, in doing so they automatically dilute its value so the problem will take care of itself.

    4. Agreed with you about the declining value of the 'C' certifications. Nowadays, undergrad students from a well known IIT in East India crack CFAL2 even before they graduate. And this is for the CV point, not because they have the least interest/inclination towards engineering. About CIA/CPA/FRM,those exams are reputed to be easy(FRM certainly is), cannot say the same thing about CIMA which has still maintained its standard. But you seem too harsh about doing a degree before getting relevant work experience-remember that it is not that easy to study alongside work especially in India where 80hr+ work week are the norm.

    5. On the study alongside work point: in the West, most of the people typically doing the certification are in the finance industry to start with, and are doing it to augment their learning at work. Companies will also support, subsidize and provide benefits for those who take up the additional C certification, since it is related to work. On the other hand, the scenario you are mentioning is one where there is no correlation between the work (usually IT) and the course (usually in finance). Further, if work is correlated with the certification, time commitment required is far lower.

  15. And believe me the single-exam system of Japan doesn't work. It is not able to bring in the creative and maverick people who push organizations and society in new directions.

    The new CEO of Sony is Japanese but he was brought up all over the world in a wealthy family outside the rote-learning system of Japan. That's why he as a non-engineer was able to revamp the Playstation business.

    Japan's politics is controlled by the descendants of old aristocrats and elite. It is a stratified society.

    The one maverick billionaire who pushed Japan into Internet business was a Korean-Japanese who again grew up outside the system.

    While the above stories cannot be ascribed only the exam system, the Japanese single-exam model does have some deep problems and they are very well-documented.

    PS: The India's corrupt system and different/poor ethical values will not allow us to take up the American system. That will have to wait till we have a generation that enjoyed full prosperity.

  16. There's a nice article in BBG today which sheds a deeper light into differences between Chinese and American education. Its a different take than what the testing methods like PISA, etc capture and I think its an essential aspect of US vs Chinese/Indian education. One cannot go just by science/math scores when evaluating education. The discussion has moved on in the West as to whether the current schooling system is merely well suited for industrial workers and hence, whether it should be reformed. For India, we still need basic schooling and development of the industrial sector so the primary purpose of the education system is different.
    Bloomberg article

  17. I am not sure whether somebody has already mentioned it or not or seen our culture of corruption where money is most important. Parents instill this important of money in their kids when they are in an elementary schools. They want their kids to go to Engg not because they think it will benefit our society or nation but because he/she will earn more money. Same thinking for going into medical line. Here if a doctor complains about money I always hear this argument "Well, you should have gone into business if you wanted to earn more money"

    I used to think that education will remove this culture of corruption from our society but then I saw IPS/IAS officers. They study very hard and most of them are really smart, intelligent people but it takes them 6 months to become fully corrupt and there goes my trust on education!

  18. I think IITs have failed in their basic duty... i.e. to provide basic research for the benefit of the country. Today, more than 70% of the IIT graduates go to IIMs and become invesment bankers or management consultants or fund managers. It is a sheer waste of scientific talent. Govt must act fast to change this trend.

  19. IITs were never meant to do great research. Their job was and is to teach undergrads. Thats the model we adopted. Teaching at IITs and research in separate research labs like CSIR. This was a big mistake. So lets stop expecting things from IITs which they were never meant to do in the first place.

    Undergrad students dont do any research at IITs. And the quality of masters and phd students in IITs is very poor on average. The better students go to the west for higher studies. Still IIT profs manage to do some research under these conditions and it is a credit to them that they can do it apart from their heavy teaching duties. And facilities in IITs are nothing great. Please talk to the profs to find out how poorly admin works in these places. How long it takes to make routine purchases, to get lab equipments, to get the staff to work, who are all lazy govt employees that cannot be fired for incompetence. You cannot expect first class results under third class conditions.

    "Kick the JEE and CAT to hell. They do nothing for those poor kids who are wallowing in poverty and putting their lives in danger every single day." -- what a massive confusion this person has. Why not ask what JEE has done for world peace and to save the environment ? Sir, JEE is just an entrance exam.

    IITs have done relatively better than the other institutes in India because they have a clean admission process, some generous funding and some autonomy. Now the admission process is being corrupted by the minister and together with that autonomy is also going out. If the IITs do not fight at this time to retain their autonomy, then it is all downhill.

    What is the motivation for this new admission process ? Too many exams ? Too much coaching ? Students dont study in school ? These are all secondary issues. They are not even issues. The real problem is one of supply. And absolutely nothing has been done to address this.


    1. When you look at IITs, the percentage of students are mostly undergrads and post grads... the work which is being done by PhDs or professors in terms of research is very limited. But, now, the Masters student population has also increased a lot. One of the main factors which has resulted in this versus the US and UK universities is the importance given to research and paper publication in IITs. There are some IITs which do base professor merit on these factors, but many do not, and it is very political. Hence research is never the main criteria and hence it has never been considered that important. But, saying IITs is just to teach undergrads is also not true, most of the undergrads do not really learn anything in classes, they are pretty much self taught.

  20. Your article is balanced and positive in tone and tenor. The goal is to improve on an already excellent product. I am providing a link to a negative article running down the system published in international media.

  21. A full cousin burst the bubble - "You ought to have done to a small degree worse and not are available in the list and saved America this anxiety of inquisitive what course to take!" My life had its ouch moments too... But, what the euphemism, I did nice within the boards and therefore the rest is another story for one more time.

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