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Mr Murthy, let's not damn coaching classes; they cater to a need

It’s the IITs again.

Not long ago Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh trashed the faculty of IITs, saying they were not world class. He said the IITs were what they were because of the students, who were world class.

This time it’s Infosys founder Narayana Murthy. He is critical of the quality of engineers that pass out of the IITs and says there’s a need to overhaul the selection criteria for students seeking admission to the prestigious technology institutes. The quality of students has gone down because of coaching classes, he believes.

"They somehow get through the joint entrance examination. But their performance in IITs, at jobs or when they come for higher education in institutes in the US is not as good as it used to be. This has to be corrected," he said recently.

It’s rather unfortunate that writer Chetan Bhagat should be holding fort for the IITs and rebutting Narayana Murthy. As an IIT alumni he has a right to do so. But he was also critical of the quality of education in the country’s premier engineering institutions in his book Five Point Someone.

Murthy should be focussing more on the poor standard of our educational institutions in general rather than on poor quality students in the IITs. Reuters

There’s no denying the fact that all is not well with our IITs. There has been too much criticism on their performance in recent times. Either the faculty or the students or both have failed to live up to standards expected.

But how do coaching institutes fit into the picture? Well, they prepare students for the IIT-JEE entrance tests and ensure that some of them qualify for admission into the prestigious institutions. These are factories training and churning out IITans on a continuous basis.

Murthy says they teach aspirants limited set of problems, of which a few are asked in the examinations. True, the entire exercise is aimed at getting the IIT aspirants to master a limited range of problems which the entrance test requires. The task for the coaching institutes is cut out. They need not hone and sharpen the intellect of the candidate; they just need to make him go through the gate.

If the IIT students don’t turn out to be bright enough, the blame should not lie on the coaching institutes, it should lie on the IITs themselves and the system of education the students come through. Neither is geared to make the student an intellectually sharp, thinking individual.

Coaching classes grow in the vacuum created by the education system. CBSE and ICSE courses are not adequate enough to produce students who could crack the IIT-JEE without external help. School education in India, in any case, is not good for anything, not even to pass the regular exams. That parents have to admit their wards for private tutors as early as standard four and even earlier is indication that schools have failed miserably. The coaching classes thus serve a particular need of the society — they try to undo the damage caused by the schools to students.

Moreover, when parents want their wards in the IITs, their immediate need is not the blooming of intellectual potential of their kids. What they are looking for is a respectable job with good salary. Murthy says the top 20 percent of students who crack the IIT entrance examination can stand among the best anywhere in the world but the quality of the remaining 80 percent is abysmal. Most parents actually want their wards in the second category. It is the social mindset. Most students subscribe to that. It creates a requirement and the coaching centres cater to that.

It’s not the IITs only. It’s the same with the Indian Civil Services examinations too. The regular complaint in the top bureaucratic circles is most officers are of poor quality. The problem is not their coaching institutes but the mindset. Not many look beyond the job and the status it offers.

With limited seats and huge number of candidates it is always a highly competitive scenario in IIT-JEE entrance tests. The best equipped pass through. If coaching institutes help one get equipped, it should be no one’s problem. If the coaching business is a great entrepreneurial activity across India — from Kota in Rajasthan to Hyderabad to Chennai to Mumbai and Delhi -- it is due to a combination of factors.

Murthy should be focussing more on the poor standard of our educational institutions in general rather than on poor quality students in the IITs.


Published Date: Oct 08, 2011 19:47 PM | Updated Date: Oct 08, 2011 19:59 PM

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