Only last year Suresh Ram was presented an award by HRD minister Kapil Sibal for making it to the prestigious IITs. Suresh is from a village in Sitamarhi district in Bihar and his father a daily wage earner.
Suresh is a product of the hugely successful Super 30 — the Patna-based IIT coaching centre that provides free coaching plus financial support to students from underprivileged backgrounds.
If Suresh was to attempt the IIT-JEE 2013, he might have a hard time making it past even the screening. As per Sibal’s gamechanging plan, school board marks will get 50 percent weightage in the qualifying round. Those who qualify — 50,000 — will be selected based on the results of the IIT-JEE (Advance).
Now working as a construction design engineer at Larsen & Toubro, Suresh scored 58 percent in his school board exams. The new selection process, he says, will deny students like him the opportunity go to the IITs.
Asked what he thought of the new IIT-JEE pattern, he says, “It is wrong. By giving weightage to the school board exams, they are preventing students who don’t have the access or the means to good schools the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. The new pattern will only add to the stress on students and put them at a disadvantage.”
Suresh’s teacher and founder director of Super 30, Anand Kumar says the new IIT-JEE pattern is “anti-poor and anti-rural.”
“It is very surprising that the chief ministers have not protested against this policy. Everyday 10-20 students come to me, confused and worried about what to expect. Many of them are from poor and rural backgrounds.”
Eighty percent of Kumar’s students are from government schools. He says, on average — based on his data from 2003 (when Super 30 was founded) — his students score between 60-70 percent in the school board.
How that will compare — after their school board marks are normalised with their private-school educated urban counterparts remains to be seen. Kumar, not known for allowing obstacles get in the way of his goals, remains firmly focused. “We always encourage our students to fight and win.”
“First improve the school system and then go in for reforms”
Firstpost spoke to Anand Kumar on the impact of the new IIT-JEE on students from rural backgrounds.
Could you share with us some cases where students with extremely poor school education made it to the IITs and successfully completed the course. What are they doing now?
There are a number of such students. Anup’s father left home as he could not bear the acute poverty and never returned back. His mother went to the Bihar CM’s janta durbar seeking financial help for Anup to prepare for IIT-JEE. From there they were sent to Super 30.
Anup stayed at Super 30, studied hard and made it. Today, he is in the final year at IIT Mumbai.
Suresh’s father is a labourer. He, too, wanted to prepare for IIT-JEE, but did not have the resources to prepare for it. He, too, was at Super 30 before getting through to IIT Delhi and today he has a good job with L&T. Both these students were from the state government-run schools in rural Bihar. There are many like him, who made it despite a very modest background.
How does the new pattern affect chances of students from rural/underprivileged backgrounds to get into IITs?
The new pattern talks of 50 percent weightage to plus-two marks. When plus-two government schools are not at par with elite schools, the students will suffer here. The state boards have a different marking pattern and lack quality in education. There are always complaints of arbitrary results. The attendance in these schools is thin as teaching is erratic. There is vast disparity in the quality of schools under state boards and those under CBSE and ICSE. Also, the state boards have bulk of the students.
Secondly, the proposal for Main and Advance tests on the same day would put the students under enormous pressure. If there is one test only, like for medical and IIMs, that will be better. There is another addition in the form of aptitude test, which will be alien to the vast majority of students in rural schools which lack basics. All this will result in greater rush for coaching, defeating the very purpose of reforms which were aimed at reducing the dependence on coaching.
Given that Sibal has gone ahead with his plan, what will your immediate priorities be?
Sibal is the government. If he wants to go ahead with the plan, there is no option left for the poor students from rural India, but to suffer silently. It will only increase the gulf between India and Bharat. I will carry on the way I have been doing, with need-based changes to help the students. But I feel that such reforms will not last long and ultimately there will be new changes to restore the equilibrium. Students from the underprivileged sections cannot be devoid of opportunities.
Do you think the formula to normalise scores of different school
boards will work? What problems do you forsee?
Normalisation of marks is difficult, because it is not just about the marking pattern, but also the examination and evaluation pattern. If a school has managed an examination centre, it will have brilliant result, which will help its students in weightage. Will normalisation be able to take this into account as well? Today, even schools are managed. Students never attend school and straightway appear for the exams through coaching institutes as per deal. What is important is to take into account the ground realities, i.e. the huge disparity in the various school systems.
Would you say the new system is discriminatory towards students from rural/poor backgrounds?
It appears so. A student from rural/poor background cannot afford quality schooling. He also cannot afford multiple coaching. The need is to first improve the school system and then go in for reforms. CBSE and ICSE put together don’t cater to even 15 percent of the students. What about the rest? They study in schools in rural India, where even basic facilities like toilets, drinking water and benches are a luxury.
Recently, the Supreme Court had to intervene in this matter and direct state governments to provide basic minimum facilities. Thinking of independent classrooms and quality teachers is still a distant dream.