“ a compromise formula which includes a proposal to take top 20% students based on percentile ranking of respective boards for preparing the merit list”

How meaningless is this solution ?. Higher education in India will become the domain of the school toppers and Children of affluent parents and we wonder why half a million students leave India to study undergraduate courses overseas. Children who will never return to a country that shunned them.

Is this is what we call inclusive in RTE ?.

God Save India

Inclusive education does not mean that everyone must enter, or pass out from, an IIT. It only means that if you wanted to, you could have a shot at it. The child labourer is excluded because she can never dream of entering an IIT; she may absolutely hate IIT, but not trying to join an IIT should be her decision. Even if there is only one IIT train, every child must have access to the platform where the train comes. Of course, not everyone will get on to the train but everyone knows what to do to have a shot at the train. This is called inclusion in education. Everyone must go to school till class 12; those who work hard, and are willing to work harder still, will join an IIT. Others will, by choice, decide not to work that hard and become economists.

Shubhashis Gangopadhyay

All children are born equal and mindless politicians are trying to grade the children and youth of the nation and create a new Brahamanical Caste system in Education, which is pandering to the neo rich who can afford to send their children to elite private schools and Coaching schools.

"HRD Ministry of India wants to build castles of higher education on the bamboo scaffoldings of its schools" ~ Satish Jha

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

515 - The Other side of JEE by Deepak Agarwal

The Other side of JEE by Deepak Agarwal

Story of an Indian engineer
By Deepak Agarwal
Jun 15, 2015
Every April, the railway station in Kota, Rajasthan gets swamped by thousands of middle class Indian parents with their ward in tow. They all have similar busy-bee behaviour with a mixture of anxiety to settle the ward down in a new town and burning hope for a good future of the ward. Wards are usually young boys and girls between 13-15 years of age, still carrying a streak of child in them.

They come from all over the country. These are people from Bihar, UP, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Interior Maharashtra, Orissa, north Karnataka, Seven-sisters, Andhra Pradesh and places hidden somewhere in the finer details of map of India. They are people who are clerks in state governments, engineers in steel plants or on irrigation canals, doctors running clinics, businessmen running showrooms and dealerships, teachers in government schools and even professors in some big universities. They are quintessential middle class, who never made it big. They are people whose heart is in palpitation about  intense competition their ward will face to find his or her mark in inhumanly competitive India, competition worse than what you would have seen among wild beasts in migration in Africa on Animal Planet. The scene on the railway station is no different.

They are approximately 100,000 in number in Kota alone*. They are all here to chase IIT JEE* dream. IIT JEE means a passport to well paid job and possibly good life. These kids will be here for 3-4 years**, sweating out to learn Physics, Chemistry and Maths and ace IIT JEE.

Within two weeks, this number gets settled in hostels, independent rooms, shanty and chawl accommodations and left in alien place to fend for themselves with usual see-off "Son! work hard. It's only 3 years. Your life will be made. Do not disappoint your mother. Remember sacrifices we are making. If your brother could, you can. Eat well. Keep good company. Finish your tutorials same day. Call us every afternoon". And so on.... a childhood cut short with a snip...

Mid April, the grind starts. These impressionable young minds do not attend school. The private coaching classes make "suitable arrangements" for children's school continuity while administration turns into an ostrich and bury its head. Children spend from early morning 6:00 AM till 9:00 PM in coaching classes with almost 200 children in each class, with weekly and monthly test thrown in to segment children. The better test takers are segregated into exclusive sections to be coached by better faculty. Weaker are provided continuity with impression of obscurity of JEE outcome. System and parents go after them to do better and move to privileged sections. Play stops, social interaction stops, travel stops, vacation are none, science experiments in sham schools are mechanical and ability to look at world with wonder and hope extinguishes. The goal hardens to clear IIT JEE come what may, losing the entire meaning of the Win. Three years of grind culminates in famous JEE tests in blistering heat of May and June. Some children are upbeat, some fall sick with trepidation, some have already lost hope but most of them take the tests.

There are two outcomes. One is heart-breaking and other is heart-rending.

Less than 2% make it to get an admission through JEE to one of the prestigious IITs*** or NITs^. 98% get beaten and are those who could not live up to system's criteria and parental expectation. Precious years lost in learning what they won't need. Precious years lost in not being good in social skills, communication skills, teamwork and self-awareness. They go back into oblivion to fight another battle of finding a job with their soul crushed. Net outcome, a nation full of so called losers and opportunity for another set of private coaching classes to polish students for bank exams, government jobs, B. Ed exams, soft-skills and so on. These 98% who have put in sweat, blood and money to become IITians then crank up the private engineering school business, who gleefully exploit the opportunity. Even those who make it to NITs more often than not carry a sense of inadequacy of having not made it to IITs. It breaks my heart.

Those 2% who make it, are on the top of the world. However, their story (most cases) slowly turns into a heart-rending one. Among approximately 12,00,000 who write the IIT JEE tests, successful ones get a rank, a number which can swings wildly with answering of just one question right or wrong. In the month of July, these children fill a counseling sheet to rank order their choice of IITs (Bombay, Delhi, Kanpur and so on) along with choice of engineering discipline (Computer science, Mechanical, Civil, Metallurgy and so on) and submit the counseling sheet to a big wheel of fortune. Social strata and education levels in child's family has huge influence on how the counseling sheet is filled. Most of the parents are elated with any outcome from the wheel of fortune. Sweets are distributed and parties are thrown for child's joining Metallurgy at IIT Kharagpur (no offense to Metallurgy department at IIT Kharagpur) at July end. Passport to good life through IIT has been secured, so they think.

When this teenager joins IIT, new found freedom, new friends, new ideas and possibilities are aplenty and bewildering and anything in the world seems within his grasp but he is also flummoxed why is he learning about alloys and slag in metallurgy. He is quick to reject what he does not like but almost always fails to choose wisely for his lack of self awareness. Some get involved in random extracurricular activities to build their profile, some do internships in unrelated areas, some simply give up and take to apathy with a bottle. With every distraction his CGPA suffers, his loathness for metallurgy increases and trials become more frenetic. Four years pass by in a jiffy in trial and errors and comparisons and now this adult finds himself in famous placement season at IITs. At this juncture,  three paths emerge.

First. Those students who were focused and well supported by their family (better educated) are the ones who choose engineering discipline as per their interest, treat IIT only as means to a goal and who keep themselves to their studies secure good CGPA. They also receive timely career guidance. They secure admissions to US MS and PhD programs. Later they are flowered by the US education system. 

Second. Those students who end up thinking IIT to be an end in itself, continue to experiment with themselves. They receive conflicting and myriad career guidance. Indian industry always hungry and selfish for their own growth lures them as raw talent. IT Industry hires and puts all metallurgy, civil, electrical engineers etc. through six months of grueling training say in Mysore and forges them into coders. Similarly lot of financial services firms, make them do inane and unending analysis of alien US stocks in back office support. They still wonder and fret about why are they doing things they have been asked to do. Their poor social skills come in the way of their growth in knowledge industry where teamwork, communication and collaborative problem solving are often more important than just analytical brilliance. They were told that they were the brightest when they entered IITs yet they can not reconcile it with reality of work they do. Some quieten after sometime because they get to travel to US and do same thing there. Some take courage to act, which is not to find their passion but only to correct the wrong which has happened.

Third. Those students who end up or take up a job in the industry which is relevant to their engineering discipline. However initially the metallurgy engineer finds it hard to fathom authority, appreciate industry rules, earn respect from peers and working in teams in heat and swelter of a steel plant. The feeling is exacerbated mostly because of lack of poor social skills and ability to handle adversity. He pines to escape from this work which he never aspired for and make his mark in. Very few students who indeed stick with their first job actually end up making a good career because of sheer alignment between what they studied with the industry they are in. However most are desperate to discover themselves and sometimes take courage to act.

Both second and third paths now move towards making repeated attempts to secure admission to a good MBA program and when they succeed, in most cases the story above is repeated once again. Those who do not succeed or make an attempt slowly learn to love what they do. It is during MBA that I personally meet them. It leaves my my heart rending. 
What could we do to avoid this colossal waste of human talent and spirit who gets beaten early on and then colossal waste of talent who finds itself on the wrong boat. Should we sit like industry which as long as it get manpower it only looks for short term fixes of training centers in Mysore and other vocational trainings? Should we wait for leadership like Paul Polman who at Unilever has stopped giving quarterly results and has stopped giving earning guidance to focus on long term things?
What do we fix? Should we rethink grounds up?

1. Fix our School Education.
Lets start from very beginning. Ours is a system devised by one Lord Macaulay for creating clerks for the British Raj. We have not yet come out of it. One has to read Kautilya, Froebel, Rossouw, Margaret McMillan, Bertrand Russell and Maria Montessori to know what the school system should be. 
It can be done with better goal such as "Every child should be employable right after 12th standard". It is not a pipe dream. It happens in Scandinavia, US, China, Australia, Israel and many countries where most students are able to join economic systems right after their secondary/ high school. It means that school education has to be both knowledge and skill based not just knowledge based which currently it is because it is expected to meet an objective outside its purview and mandate (read point 2 below). This expectation results in lot of unnecessary somersaults (smart class, iPads, and what not) which makes them look ludicrous to parents and inscrutable to children.

After taking this unnecessary and unreal yoke off its back, we need to scale our school infrastructure. We need a visionary and uncompromising leadership to create public schools like that of Dwight Eisenhower's roads, when he realized that public roads are essentials for growth and security of the nation and economic well being of people, he went after creatingInterstate Road System between 1953-1961. 

This probably is the only way to make "Make in India" a reality.

2. Scrap JEE
A very renowned professor with PhD and enormous number of publications remarked to me that  JEE is a wrong test (incidentally the year he made this remark to me, his son was in a coaching class preparing for JEE). The level of Physics, Chemistry and Math it tests, should be used to possibly give admissions to CERN in Switzerland or pure science programs not to relatively humble technology institutes which are supposed to produce engineers for industry and not fundamental science whizkids. 

JEE is a relic from past. Its a symbol of command and control model of economy and handles admissions same way. It is from the days where connectivity and information was hard to come by. It is unnecessarily centralized solution where there is no central problem. The damage it ends up creating is enormous and disgusting i.e. 2 % winners and 98 % losers. The systemic branding of a child at a tender age of 16-18 as loser is downright evil and grossly insensitive. In parallel, it ends up creating distortion in the preceding schooling system at least in middle and secondary school systems.

We only need a simple standardized aptitude test which guarantees nothing and evidence of interest and effort through school education for selection to individual IITs. Let's ask it this way, if Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, Delft and several others can individually get approximately 800 students each and every year and at the same time produce technocrats loved by Industry, why can not individual IITs? The decentralization create more distributed opportunity for more number of applicants with no single point of failure and stigma. IIT administrators love JEE because it helps them to hide behind the brand of JEE and talent it secures them. JEE has given them so much comfort that among 5 oldest IITs, only IIT Kharagpur bothers to market itself with "Why choose IIT Kharagpur", whereas IITBHU website does not even work.

3. Make Higher Education broad based 
Why should we all be engineers and sometime doctors? Why do we need engineering colleges at every nook and corner of every tier I and tier II city? Are we not doing well in media, television and films? Are we not doing well in tourism and need to do better? Are we not doing well in fashion and apparel and need to do better? Are we not writing better literature and Indian authors making a mark worldwide? Why should these things be only for those who are aware and conscientious about them in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata? I think we need to broadbase higher education across different fields through institutions such as NIFTs, NLUs and others but we need to do more. We need to do better in journalism, art, history, anthropology, psychology and several other fields. This can be done only by first doing 2 and in parallel 1 above so that our children across nation are more aware about themselves during school days and then can choose appropriately in higher education.

 (Author 's view are personal)

*There are several such towns now, Kota remains most famous among them. JEE stands for Joint Entrance Exam. 

** Some children start from 9th grade meaning 4 years of IIT coaching. Some start at 10th grade meaning 3 years of IIT coaching.

*** IIT - Indian Institute of Technology
^    NIT - National Institute of Technology