The IIT system, that was born in the early, optimistic years of the young Indian state, was truly one of kind. It articulated the scientific and technological aspirations of a nation, that had just found its feet in the global community, and exemplified -- what Thomas Friedman would later refer to as -- the process of "drilling for talent" : the search for the best and finest minds in the country -- irrespective of where they came from and who they were related to. By raising the bar on exclusivity and fairness, the JEE, that guarded the portals of the IIT system from the general mediocrity of the population, has become such a legend in itself that Brand JEE dominates Brand IIT by miles ! This is evident in the difference in the market esteem ( if not market value ) between IIT students who have cracked the JEE ( undergraduates) and those who have not ( for example the M.Techs, PhDs and what not ).
But like all other institutions in the country, the JEE is under attack and is in mortal danger of being subverted by the poisonous ambience of what Nirad Chaudhury referred to as the Continent of Circe. "India" has a way of debilitating people -- from the Aryaputra's of yore, through the Huns, Kushans and Turks right upto the British, whose conquest of the country spelled the doom of their Empire. Killing the JEE, and the excellence that it embodies, is KEE, the Kota Examination Enhancer, the Rajasthan based set of coaching classes that converts dross into (fool's) gold.
With due respect to the 10000+ youngsters who have cracked JEE-2009 ( and that includes my son) we observe that there is a marked difference in the success rates in different parts of the country. Success is highest in the western region -- which includes Kota, where most of the KEE coaching classes are located -- and lowest in the east. At the risk of being politically incorrect and possibly chauvinistic, we do know that the Residents of Rajasthan are not exceptionally brilliant ! In the absence of any firm evidence of foul play, once is forced to admit that it is the ultra-rigorous, possibly brutal, practice regime enforced in these coaching classes that equip otherwise mediocre students with the skills to somehow crack the JEE and lay claim to the value of a brand that has been built by far smarter predecessors.
Can sheer practice help ? I am sure it does -- under high pressure and temperature, graphite does get converted into diamond, but never of the quality that is used in jewellery. If you rub a brick long enough and hard enough it just might shine like a slab of marble ! But are we interested in bricks that look like marble and diamonds made from graphite ? Or are we interested in actual marbles and gem quality diamonds ?
The answer is obvious : we would like the JEE to help locate the gems, and reaffirm our faith in the brand. But the BIG QUESTION is HOW ?
Should we bring in ham handed legislation and ban coaching schools ? That would be patently illegal and unfair (though such lofty considerations have hardly deterred our legislators from passing obnoxious laws )
Should we consider Class XII marks for IIT entrance ? Obviously not because all state boards are manipulated by local politicians to push through politically correct candidates ( In West Bengal, it used to be "rural" candidates who would get high marks and now, after the Sachar Revelations, it is "muslims" who are seen to be successful)
Should we change the pattern of questions so that they reveal more of the innate ability than rote learning ? Of course we should but AGAIN, HOW ? I am sure the JEE organisers have agonised over this but have not found a way to do this. So there is no hope for an immediate breakthrough on this front.
Perhaps PAN-IIT, the umbrella organisation for all IIT alumni should take this up a subject for intense debate and deliberations. If the best and brightest in the land cannot come up with a way to protect and preserve their own brand equity then who will ? Such a debate could throw up interesting ideas ...
For example : can we consider percentile ranks ( not percentage ) in Class X and Class XII examinations, convert the raw JEE rank into a corresponding percentile and then define a modified JEE rank based on the weighted average of the percentiles in Class X, Class XII and the JEE ? There is some research that indicates that the average of Class X and Class XII marks is a good indicator of a persons ability and this scheme is an extension of this line of thought.
This is one suggestion. I am sure that there will be other ways by which we can save the JEE and kill the KEE !