The weightage to Class XII board examition marks for admission to higher professiol studies like engineering has for some time been about socio-economic justice. The idea has been that such weightage will help reduce the rural-urban and gender divides that had become entrenched in admission to IITs and NITs before 2012. That was the year the then Human Resource Minister Kapil Sibal persuaded the central engineering institutes to change direction by also taking Class XII board performances into consideration for admitting candidates. By 2013, the NITs began giving 40 percent weightage to Class XII marks and 60 percent to the performance in Joint Entrance Examition (Main). As for the IITs, candidates were admitted after they cracked the JEE (Main) and JEE (Advanced) within three months, but with the added criteria that they had to be placed in the top 20 percentile of their board results or had scored above 75 percent marks. Sibal had pointed out that the entrance tests were becoming skewed in favour of candidates from urban areas and boys over girls. This was because very intensively tutored candidates were mostly cracking the tough JEE-Main and JEE-Advanced. The pressures were such that most students were neglecting school work to keep up with coaching classes.
Sibal had argued that Class XII results more closely reflected the actual rural-urban ratio of 7:3, apart from the fact that girls were regularly outperforming boys in the board exams. So giving weightage to Class XII marks in the engineering entrance tests would reduce the pro-urban and pro-boys bias in admissions. But three years after his suggestions were implemented, things seem to be back to square one. A government appointed nine-member expert committee headed by C-DAC director Rajat Moo has recently submitted its report which offers much food for thought. It has found that the influence of coaching has, in fact, increased by four percent among candidates appearing for the JEE-Main. Among the top one lakh candidates in JEE-Main, the number of candidates from rural areas increased less than one percent, while the proportion of girls remained nearly the same at 22 percent. The reality is that coaching institutes are mushrooming all over the country, including Assam and other Northeast States. Candidates for engineering entrance tests now undergo two kinds of gruelling coaching — one for JEE-Main for getting a seat in the NITs and other engineering colleges, the other for JEE-advanced for admission to the IITs. The different examition patterns mean more fincial burden on candidates and parents.
Even as the experiment in changing the admission format has failed to yield desired results, the IITs and NITs are reportedly dissatisfied with it and wish to change it again at the earliest. Meanwhile, the Smriti Irani-led HRD ministry is continuing where Kapil Sibal had left off, insisting that the entrance examition pattern be revised to give a level playing field to students of different backgrounds, so that expensive coaching will not be the deciding factor in clearing the test. The buzzword now is ‘one exam, one rank, one counselling’ for admissions in engineering institutes, with the IIT Council last week setting up a panel to examine whether the existing two-tier tests can be merged back into one test. This would form the cornerstone of a faster and more streamlined tionwide admission process in the engineering institutes. Presently, nearly 13 lakh candidates appear for the JEE-Main, with only the top 1.5 lakh making it to the advanced level for a shot at the IITs. These are big numbers, so the recommendations of the panel expected by the first week of November will be keenly awaited. The problem remains the same — how to devise a reliable test less stressful for candidates, but which strikes the right balance between testing their knowledge and alytical abilities. The pressures of competition will remain, but there is a crying need for better testing and selection of top quality human resources.