Here are some of the initial thoughts that passed my mind while reading the recent news items concerning the proposed scraping of the IIT JEE. I noticed this development when Dr. T. A. Abinandanan pointed the news via posts here [^] and here [^], and provided a link to the original The Telegraph news item here [^]. Also see certain IITians’ petition against this decision that Abi referred to, here [^].
An explanation about the title of this post: I call my comments “unjustified” not because these cannot be justified but only because I do not explicitly provide adequate level of justification for them here. And then, I searched for a word to stand for what I had in mind, but didn’t find any. … Anyway: don’t expect an essay-like write-up here; expect only a few points towards jotting down my positions, and some of the related things that strike me. … BTW, I am not a professional writer—only an engineer (in the sense: engineer-cum-physicist), and, for that matter, both my composition skills and English are poor.
Thus having [skillfully] dodged all the responsibility and having absolved myself of all the consequences, here I go:
1. In a proper government, there is no right to education—there are only the individual rights.
For more information (actually, enlightenment) on the idea of individual rights, go to Ayn Rand. [If you don’t have the brains to know how to or where to find the writings by her, about her, or the writings by people qualified to be called her students/followers, stop reading this blog post.] Her writings is the broad context I assume here.
2. In a properly constituted and governed nation, there are no government-run entrance examinations—whether a single examination for a single institute, or a single examination for several institutes bunched together under a single “brand” owned by the government, or several examinations for single/several institutes.
The entire domain of education—like every sphere of production and trade—is left completely free of the coercive government controls. In the context of education, the freedom includes that for founding and running universities including sub-tasks such as hiring teachers/professors and administrators to run them, designing programs and setting syllabus, conducting examinations and evaluating performance, and giving out certificates/degrees. Also, admitting students, and the criteria applied while doing so. Not a single aspect or activity in education would have even a shadow of government controls.
I hear that parents are willing to shell out lakhs of Rupees on coaching classes. Reputations can be, and indeed are, built that way—without government help (actually, hindrance).
3. It’s possible to advocate a gradual lessening of the improper government controls. I mean this statement only in one particular sense: advocating a course of ever-decreasing government controls, one in which government comes to cease interfering with economy (including services) within a finite and reasonable time-frame, cannot be taken as compromising on basic principles of free markets (i.e. laissez-faire capitalism in Ayn Rand’s sense of the term).
4. It’s ridiculous for today’s educated Indian not to see through the decidedly socialistic nature of “brand-“building for IITs (including the IIT JEE). It’s even more ridiculous if a JEE IITian fails to see it. (By JEE IITian, I mean those graduates of IITs who had entered the institutes via the JEE route, as against say, the GATE or any other route.) I say so on several counts: (i) IITs are owned by the government, (ii) JEE is conducted by the government, (iii) the concept of brand has meaning only in the context of free markets.
5. It is improper to attempt to gain support for the idea of a government-run nationwide entrance examination, by making appeal to Olympiads/SAT/GRE etc. The propensity to make comparisons with the specifically 20th (and worse: 21st) century American institutions is nothing but a symptom indicating the basic inability to think in terms of principles. This is one ability that should have been cultivated by any purportedly good education system, e.g. IITs, but evidently doesn’t seem to be.
6. It’s completely shameless on the part of the JEE IITian to try to elevate the JEE brand even above the standards indicated by “the best in/from India”.
The JEE IITian would do well to remember the last time he, his father, or better still, his father-in-law, had received a world-class medical opinion, may be, even a surgery, in India. Then, he should consider the fact that the MBBS program has never had a JEE; that all admissions have always been made on the basis of XII board (or similar) examinations.
Yes, he might also wish to consider statistical aspects—the distribution function for the best to the mediocre among the medical graduates produced by a system that always had board examinations as its input criterion. The results may still surprise him.
I won’t point out the profile of engineers produced by the “other” colleges to a typical JEE IITian, because I know through my personal experience that it would be impossible to overcome the inestimable heights of his JEE-bigotry barrier. But, yes, the case of MBBS might be acknowledged by him to be a bit different.
7. Still, it must be noted that as many as 35% to 50% of the JEE IITian fail to even merely qualify at GATE.
Take a moment to realize what this means. Suppose that 3000 JEE pass folks were admitted to the IITs about 5–10 years ago (the intake capacity was comparatively smaller back then). Almost every one of these 3,000 might proudly tell you that he had had an AIR of within 3,000 out of, say, about 3 lakh aspirants—a selection ratio of 1 in 100 and whatnot. (Refer to their sites—even the official IIT sites—for more hype of this sort.)
Now assume that, putting all branches together, about 1 lakh students sat for GATE. (The figures are like 20 to 30 thousand candidates each for bigger branches like Mechanical and Civil, and so, the total figure of 1 lakh should not be too off the mark.)
What these IITian chappies—and their Professors, Deans, and Directors—won’t tell you is this: about one in every two or three of this “cream of cream” fails to fall within the top 30,000 rank.
And this abysmal performance arises despite the following facts: (i) going by their own words, they had been given the very best of education, (ii) in any case they had far more resources spent on them (perhaps a factor—not percentage—of 10, 25, or more), and (iii) perhaps worst: these IITians, unlike the students coming from “other” engineering colleges had ample opportunity to get used to the style and difficulty level for the kind of questions that would be set at GATE. After all, GATE question papers are set (and evaluated) by the same (or the same kind of) professors who had taught these IITians for as many as 4 years.
8. No matter what be the content, format, or method of conducting an examination, scores produced by any examination will always be, at best, only estimates of the true ability profile.
I plan to post the extent of correlation existing between university BE marks and GATE scores some time in future. (In advance, let me say this much: GATE paper questions tend to be better than those at the typical university examinations. And, the correlation tends to be poor. So much for the “great grades all throughout.” Never confuse persistence or continuity of the effort on the one hand and the consistency of “straight A” grades on the other.)
But coming back to the “estimate” thing. The issue here is not that there is some sort of an inherent epistemological “uncertainty” to scores or evaluations. Or that there is an in-principle inability to precisely determine the objective worth of a candidate. Not that. The issue here is: what you mean by “precisely.”
There is always a finite band to the results of any examination. The band arises due to sampling—not statistics per say, but because of the fact that the actual examination is only a sub-set of all possible questions that can properly be asked. Therefore, the same candidate, with exactly the same preparation (and keeping aside any other variables such as mental mood, energy, etc.) will still perform differently, purely because the profile of the knowledge acquired by him is not uniform across all sub-topics. One question may emphasize one sub-sub-sub topic that the candidate has in fact understood somewhat better than another sub-sub-sub topic. These ups and downs in the level of understanding are always present. They remain there right up to the very top level of performance. (The existence of unevenness of grasp across topics is true even for those people who score a perfect 100/100 marks on examinations.) The band I had in mind actually refers to this kind of a range. To believe that it don’t exist is to fool yourself—which is what most students (esp. those who excel), parents, teachers, administrators, employers, and all are busy doing all the time.
Here I wish to point out that the GRE booklets used to acknowledge that there was a “band” to their scores. Firstly, they would point out that your scores could improve by several hundred points if you were to invest enough time in preparation and practice. Secondly, as a separate point (and this indeed is a separate point), they would also point out that the score could easily be different by a range of about +/- 30-40 score points over the range of the maximum 800 points. I don’t remember if they would gave the range in terms of std deviation or not. But I do remember that +/- 30-40 points was the extent of the range. Notice how huge that range—that band—is: for a guy with a 750 score, this range implies that his score could have been as low as 710 and as high as 790. A lot of change occurs over such a range. May be, it’s as big as going from 92 percentile up to 98 percentile or down to 86 percentile.
The ETS people were honest.
Would the JEE IITians go ahead and identify (in the standard deviations terms or in any other) the band or the range for their scores at the higher end?
9. Treating all board examinations to be completely at par with each other commits the offense of egalitarianism.
The injury does not go away even if you do some jumping around through the statistical hoops—say via “percentile score, normalized via doubly conducted higher-order multi-parameter regression analysis.” It all still might mean that a brilliant student from Maharashtra is displaced by a lesser guy from Uttar Pradesh.
Yes, BITS Pilani has always been doing this. But then, remember: the Birlas are not the Government of India. And, less importantly: BITS Pilani graduates are not known to rest their reputations on the performance they had displayed before getting into their alma matter. The JEE IITians, in contrast, regularly do.
10. The taste of the pudding is in the eating.
Education is not the same as a recreational game. Education is supposed to be a means to help you live your life better—by expanding/improving your efficacy—by expanding your conceptual abilities (or knowledge) in terms of both contents and skills.
. . . . .
May be, more on this topic, later.
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A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “waadiyaan meraa daaman, raaste meri baahen..”
Music: R. D. Burman
Singer: Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
[PS: Updated on April 19, 2010, by inserting what now is point # 7. Also to be further improved some time later… BTW, ]