JEE Advanced 2018: Drop in number of qualifying students reflects larger issues of Indian education system

The results for Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), Advanced, for admission into 23 Indian Institutes of Technology were announced on Sunday.

It is well settled that the JEE is among the toughest examinations in the world and also one of the most competitive ones. However, what was surprising was that there was a 64 percent drop in the number of students, from last year, who qualified the advanced level of the examination. Only 18,138 students could qualify the examination this year as compared to 50,455 last year.

One of the possible explanations for this drop in the current year is the error-free paper which came this year, and not a single bonus mark was awarded to all the students, which is usually the case, whenever there is an erroneous question in the paper.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The qualifying criteria in the examination are backed by a cut-off of a minimum 10 percent in each paper and 35 percent in aggregate. Bonus marks have been awarded for the past seven years and hence this year, the absence of such marks resulted in the minimum number of qualified candidates.

The minimum qualifying marks in the open category is a bare 12 paper-wise, and 126 is the aggregate. This minimum aggregate gets translated into 42 percent of total marks.

IITs have been very strict about the minimum qualification criteria in all categories of students. A student can only be admitted if he has scored the minimum qualifying marks even if it is at the cost of a seat being left vacant. Though this is usually not the case as the number of qualified students exceeds the number of seats.

This drop of 64 percent, from last year, can also have to do with other reasons and not just bonus marks. The changing paradigm of pedagogy in Indian schooling has focused on performance in board examinations and not competitive examinations like JEE.

It is in this light that these results are quite ironical when compared to the results of the board examinations where each year there has been only an incremental rise in merit. Rewarding such high marks in the board examinations is not a healthy trend in the long run as it may lead to a decline in the worth of such good score.

A student can get 12 marks in JEE Advanced and pass one paper whereas the worth of a 12 out of 100 in a board exam is zilch. The same is the trend with all competitive examinations in the country like the UPSC Civil Services Examination etc.

A 43 percent is enough to qualify the JEE advanced, and possibly secure admission into India’s premier institutes of technology. A 43 percent in a board examination, on the other hand, will make one ineligible to fill a form for most competitive examinations in India.

The pool of students appearing in the board examinations and competitive examinations is largely the same. Hence, such huge discrepancy in the award of marks doesn’t make any sense.

Ultimately, the performance in the competitive examinations matters because if one secures admission into an IIT, no one will care about their performance in the board examinations.

Therefore, the award of ludicrously high marks in board examinations and the subsequent focus of a student to score formidably is driving away the real focus of students from competitive examinations. The pressure on students on performing in the board examinations is also massive, not only exerted by the family but by the whole society.

This situation also points towards another anomaly in the Indian education system. The competitive exams are conducted by the government agencies, for admission into mostly government-run institutes and colleges whereas most good schools are private-run, even the ISC board itself is a private organisation. This results in a huge pedagogical gap between school and university/college education in India, where the best-ranked universities, colleges and institutes are government run but the best schools are private-run.

It is not the case with other countries. In the US for instance, the topmost universities like the world-renowned Ivy League Universities – Harvard, Yale, Stanford etc. are all private universities. Indian private universities are not even close to the government-run universities. Private universities in India cropped up as an extension of profit-making industries of established business houses, with more emphasis on profit rearing than quality education. It can be hardly expected of them to provide any competition to established educational institutes of global repute.

The current drop in the number of qualifying students in the JEE is just a small symptom of the larger problem, the Indian educations system is facing. Students find it difficult to suddenly adapt to the pedagogical change from their school education to university education. The need of the hour is to deeply examine the scheme of evaluation in the board examinations and rectify and reconcile them to the competitive examinations. This will also diminish the role of private coaching institutes for competitive examinations.

The author is a Senior Fellow with the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Bombay, Mumbai. 

Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 19:30 PM

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