20 June 2016
Respected Mrs. Irani,
I hope this letter finds you in the pink of your health and spirits. I am a young citizen of our country, India, and feel very strongly about the higher education system. The current scenario of our higher education system pains me. As you are India’s Human Resource Development Minister, I am writing this letter to you in the hope that you will give this topic some serious thought. I am a grade 12 student studying in Pune, Maharashtra. I am going through one of the most critical part of my student life and hence am at the heart of the higher education system. As I encounter the various aspects of this system, I feel that the system is plagued with some shortcomings and there is definite room for improvement.
The problems begin with the entrance examinations conducted to admit students to colleges across the country. The number of entrance examinations after grade 12 is simply too large. Among the engineering entrance examinations, the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) have 2 separate entrance exams i.e. the JEE Mains and JEE Advanced. The regional government colleges in my state (Maharashtra) use the MH-CET (Maharashtra Common Entrance Test) exam for admission. Several private colleges use their own, independent entrance examinations. For example, the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS) conducts its own entrance examination i.e. the BIT-SAT. Eventually, a grade 12 student is expected to take around 8 to 10 entrance examinations after his grade 12 Board Examinations have ended. The fact that these exams are conducted at the end of a tiring year makes them even more tedious. The large number of entrance exams also makes it difficult to know which exam is useful for which college.
The number of entrance examinations confuses students. To add to it, the syllabi for these examinations is not the same. For example, the JEE exams are based on the central board (CBSE) syllabus whereas the MHT-CET exam is based on the Maharashtra State Board syllabus. This keeps the students wondering which exam/college to chase. Eventually students give up on some of their options. This hampers the freedom of choice for students. Students miss out on some of the better opportunities. This deters them from achieving their full potential. This waste of potential is a big loss to the nation.
The second problem with these numerous entrance examinations is the implementation. The entrance exams are often conducted on consecutive Sundays, sometimes consecutive days, with last minute changes. This limits the time for preparation and consequently lowers the quality of output delivered by students. Another thing, which is grossly overlooked is the lack of strict invigilation. Rampant copying that goes on at the test centers is never prevented. The invigilators are under-trained, leading to chaos at the testing centers even before and after the examination. This situation gives rise to an unfair selection of students. The hardworking students who do not subscribe to such malpractices feel cheated. This results in selection of undeserving students to colleges at times. The nation’s future, the country’s intelligentsia get passed on in to the correct hands.
After the entrance examinations, comes the process of securing admission. Is this process clear? Is this process the same throughout the nation? The admission process for colleges across the country is not uniform. Colleges use separate criteria for admission. Some colleges rely solely on their entrance examinations. Some colleges rely only on the grade 12 scores of a student. Some colleges use a weighted average of grade 12 scores and an entrance examination’s scores. The criteria of admission also keep changing very often. For example, in the year 2015 the ranklist for the JEE mains exam was a weighted average for grade 12 marks and the JEE Mains score. In 2016 the ranklist is going to be solely based on the JEE Mains scores. The selection criteria for the year of 2017, is also not clear. Will states conduct their separate entrance examinations? Until 2 years ago the JEE Mains (Joint Entrance Examination) was considered as the main engineering entrance test across the nation. One year ago, the Maharashtra Government introduced the Maharashtra Common Entrance Test applicable to the engineering colleges in Maharashtra. Now I have read news that the Government is again planning to revert back to the previous model of entrance tests. I, as a result, have no clarity regarding the entrance examinations I am supposed to take after grade 12 even one year before the exam. Will there be a centrally conducted common entrance test? What is the syllabus for this? These questions are still unanswered. The huge variance in the selection process and the ambiguity around it affects the student preparation. At the end of the day I am left wondering, are we guinea pigs that each government continues to experiment with us without any consideration for our well being?
To add to it the Class 12 syllabi and the way the examinations are conducted changes from state to state. Is this fair? Is this what the crème de la crème of our student body should be exposed to? The situation is not too different in the field of medicine. The lack of a central evaluation process leads to the selection of many undeserving students and most importantly the omission of some of the deserving students. The inconsistent admission process across the nation builds unnecessary strain on students and parents alike. The weightage the grade 12 exams should receive during the admission process is a constantly debated topic. I am quite perplexed at this situation and the lack of consideration towards the student body.
The grade 12 exams (also known as the board exams) have traditionally been very important. Earlier these exams were the sole deciders for admitting a student to any college. The grade 12 exams have today turned into a mere formality. Most of the colleges require students to pass the Grade 12 exam with a minimum score. The minimum score being low, students take this exam lightly and instead focus only on the preparation for the various entrance examinations. The Government as well as the colleges have to spend a lot of their resources to conduct this exam. What is the point in expending valuable resources if the exam does not hold any weightage? Students are unnecessarily compelled to take an exam that is not going to have any effect on their admission into college. Students view this as a formality and a waste of time.
If the class 12 board examination is taken seriously, it can help evaluate the competence of the students not just in subjects of choice (like Science, Accounting etc.. ) but also in languages. As the importance of this exam goes down, so does the importance of a well-balanced education system. The decrease in importance of grade 12 exams has seen a fall in the importance of junior colleges as well. Students always prefer private coaching as it helps them get better for the entrance exams.
Another worrying trend I sense in my country is the obsession of students to pursue just medicine or engineering. In India, around 1.5 million students graduate every year as engineers. This is more than the number of engineers graduating from the U.S. and China combined. About a third of them are likely to be unemployed or employed at a place that is way below their level of expertise. Similar statistics indicate the plight of India’s medicine aspirants. These numbers clearly indicate that we have assigned undue importance to these two fields. Studies indicate that many students wanting to study the humanities or the social sciences opt to study abroad. Data from the publication of “The Hindu” suggests that there are only a small number of respectable departments in India in the field of the humanities and none of those have international repute. Such is the state of these fields, which again forces the students to always choose engineering and medicine over the other fields. The perceived lack of importance for other fields is making them unwanted. Students also feel that the lack of excellent colleges in the field of humanities and the social sciences will make an education in those fields poor. This creates a lot of rush to get into the top engineering and medical colleges. These colleges as a result get over-burdened. On the other hand, the students who chose one of the social sciences or the humanities are many a times those who have no other option and often not the intellectual cream. Over time this means that the brightest of the bright stay away from politics, legal careers. The 2G scam, the Augusta Chopper scam, the Jessica Lal murder trial are just some of the prominent examples of the disgusting socio-legal problems we are stuck in, often a result of the importance we award to these areas and the student class picking these fields.
These loopholes in our current system are hurting the nation very seriously. A new system that eliminates these moments of anguish for us is long due.
- The Government can merge the Grade 12 Board exams along with the entrance examinations.
- This new exam should serve as the basis for admission into any college (and not just the cool engineering and medical colleges) across the nation.
- A few basic subjects that test some basic skills should be compulsory for everybody for graduation from Class 12.
- After this test of basic skills, the government can initiate tests for certain specializations. For example, an engineering aspirant can take specialized tests in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry where as a student aspiring to study one of the social sciences should take specialized tests in History, Political Science or Economics.
- The pattern of these tests can be devised to include the MCQs (multiple choice questions) and Subjective type of questions.
- The syllabus of these tests should be set by a central body like NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) and should be the same throughout the nation.
- Currently the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology), the IISERs (Indian Institute of Science Education and Reasearch), the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and some other colleges are considered to be the best in the field of any of the sciences. We do not have such a top-class colleges for any of the social sciences or humanities. I strongly feel that the Government should establish top-notch colleges for the social sciences as well as the humanities.
- The Government should also ensure that each state in the country has at least one of these top-notch colleges for each field. This will ensure that the students have a plethora of excellent colleges to choose from, even in the field of humanities and the social sciences.
- Finally we need an impeccable implementation. We cannot afford to have an administration that flip flops between initiatives, makes changes each year, does not give enough notice or transparent details to the students
The number of entrance examinations will be reduced to just one standard exam throughout the nation. This system will also put in place a common admission process across the nation, eliminating all ambiguity. The new test after Grade 12 being the only one in the new system, will carry a lot of importance. The establishment of good colleges in the fields of humanities and the social sciences will prevent over-crowding in the fields of Engineering and Medicine. A well thought through approach that covers all variations is the solution to multiple problems.
I sincerely believe that these changes have the potential to nurture our nation’s youth. As a country with a large and young population, we can give the world a very well developed and qualified youth. This will not happen if we continue with our current system. Hence it is high time for us to change. This reformative change will create, in the words of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, armies of physicists, engineers, doctors, mathematicians, politicians, lawyers and so on. The younger generation of this nation looks up to you to bring about this change. As a Human Resource Development Minister you can leave behind a legacy future generations will thank you for. Like me, many student friends, thinkers, and educationists will join you in this journey if you call out for them. All we need is to hear from you. Is that too much to expect?
Awaiting your response and action
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