The Rajat Moona Committee has come up with figures that state that after 12th marks were included to decide the rank of JEE, the number of students who were trained at coaching classes went up. There was a valid reason to include class12 marks as students were completely ignoring schools so as to prepare for JEE. Unfortunately, this move seems to have strengthened the role of coaching classes: many more seem to have gone for coaching, possibly for combined class 12 and JEE coaching.
Every move the JEE administration makes to reduce the role of coaching classes seems to backfire. Not too long ago, the maximum number of attempts in the original JEE was reduced to two, to deny an unfair advantage to the wealthy, who can afford a lot more of coaching. Unfortunately, this resulted in students enrolling in coaching classes earlier than before, as one could attempt JEE only twice, and this increased the coaching business, naturally by those who could afford it.
There is a reason to believe that coaching classes are seen by the public as an insurance against uncertainties introduced through major changes/disruptions in JEE. If the 12th marks get removed now, it could be considered as another major change, and there is no guarantee that the role of coaching will not increase yet again.
About 10 years ago, the JEE coaching business was considered to be about Rs 10,000 crore worth. An Assocham survey in 2013 estimated the size of coaching business to be $23.7 billion and that it would reach $40 billion in 2015. For further discussion, we will take the extent of JEE-related coaching to be of the order of Rs 1,50,000 crore worth. I am tempted to say that the coaching classes have beaten the JEE system.
Rs 1,50,000 crore is a lot more than the annual budget of all IITs and NITs put-together. As a matter of fact, the cost of establishing all the existing IITs and NITs together would not have been more than this amount. Coaching classes are not a cause, but a symptom of the malaise in the system. Given that the public is bent on going to all lengths to get admission to their wards in top IITs and NITs, this will continue to happen. Their financial inputs help pay teachers of JEE coaching classes ludicrous salaries, who in turn devise methods to beat the exam. JEE coaching classes thrive because of the demand-supply mismatch in engineering education. The only guaranteed way to get rid of the coaching classes is to increase the number of good quality seats fifty to hundred fold and provide admission on demand to every reasonably good student.
This is not going to happen through the traditional approach of IIT-NIT centric undergraduate education, despite the tens of new IITs and NITs that are being established. Despite this thrust, there is an all around deterioration of overall engineering education during the last decade. The increasing faculty shortage in all the IITs and NITs, including the well established ones, does not give confidence in this approach.
We can achieve the above said task of good engineering education on demand only by improving the quality of the about 5,000 engineering colleges that already exist in the country. Top IITs, NITs and select engineering colleges should be encouraged to take up this nation-building task. In order to provide an undivided attention to this important work, and to avoid any conflict of interest, they may be requested to vacate the undergraduate training space. To produce the large number of teachers required in the engineering colleges, the postgraduate and research programmes of top IITs-NITs be strengthened manifold. Hopefully, successful coaching classes can be encouraged to convert themselves into good engineering colleges. Naturally, government interventions are required in this approach.
Coming back to the Rajat Moona Committee report, most families possibly find it difficult to provide the extraordinary financial and other kind of support required to their female children to clear the entrance exams. This may be one important reason why the presence of females is abysmally low in top IITs and NITs. What I am proposing now will address this issue and also other imbalances, such as urban-rural.
The Rs 1,50,000 crore that is annually spent on coaching is a colossal national waste. Possibly it helps a small percentage of students to get better, to become good enough to secure admission in top institutions, but for all others, it is an utter waste. It may actually lead to the loss of self confidence of more than 90 per cent of our aspiring youth who are denied admission in these institutions, even after a rigorous preparation.
Burning out and the loss of childhood are other collateral damages that result in this warlike preparation.
Opponents to the proposed approach give examples, such as China and South Korea, where also a similar rigorous selection process is possibly in place. But should we not learn from good examples, such as the ones practised in the west and also in countries like Israel? It is a pleasure to see Israeli high school students spending all their energies in new ideas, projects and inventions, without having to worry about the future admission processes and round the clock preparation for entrance exams.
Finally, the approach proposed here has the potential to make us a centre of learning for the whole world. A trillion dollar education economy is certainly achievable in the near term.
(The author is a professor of Chemical Engineering, Systems and Control, and Educational Technology at IIT-Bombay)