Planning, Public Issues

New Engineering Entrance Exam: Has anything being achieved?

In Physics, there is a very interesting concept of ‘distance’ and ‘displacement’. Distance refers to the measurement of length covered by a person while moving. Displacement refers to the final difference between the initial and final position of a person. So when a man moves in a complete circle, he has moved some distance but his displacement is zero. Something similar can be said about our HRD Ministry and its new pattern for engineering entrance.

When this topic (change in the pattern of engineering entrance exam) first came in public limelight, there were loads of speculations as to how the new pattern would affect the main stakeholders (students, teachers, schools and engineering institutions). The ministry defined following objectives that it wished to achieve through the new pattern – 1) Reducing the stress on students 2) Incorporating the Class XII boards marks in the entrance system and thereby increasing the importance of school-going 3) Discouraging the business of coaching centres thriving in the country. Assuming that these objectives are worth achieving (which in itself is a big assumption), it’s time public evaluates if the new entrance pattern is a step in right direction to help the ministry achieve the aforementioned goals

First objective relates to stress.  Ministry said that the two exams would be fused into 1 single exam. Seeing the current pattern (and assuming that I can count correctly) there are still going to be two exams. And the surprise is that both of them are going to be on the same day. That means if a person is, for some unfortunate reason, not able to give test on that day, he/she would have to wait for an year. Unlike the present system, there would be no second chance in the proposed system. I believe that any rational person would take this step as one that increases stress rather than reducing it.

Then comes the perennial topic of discussion among science students, JEE enthusiasts, schools and the government: the importance of school education vis-à-vis subject matter of engineering entrance exams. The government has been successful to pay a deaf ear to the concerns regarding the inequalities and drawbacks in the prevalent system of board exams and somehow incorporate Class XIIth marks into the entrance system. But does that mean that there would be a steep increase in attendance? Not necessarily. The level of board exams is very low and there are enough books in the market to help students prepare for that. Many people will say that only those who go to school will get good marks in practicals. But the truth is that schools care a lot more for overall results. Hence, 90-95% of the students would still get good marks in practicals. So, the second objective looks as distant as it used to look before.

And now we come to the so-called eternal villains of the society – coaching centers. I would not comment anything on whether coaching centers are good or bad. That is for another article. What we need to see is whether the new pattern is adversely affecting the business of coaching centres or not? And the answer is: Definetely NOT. Coaching centers are already teaching physics, chemistry and maths. Now, they would supplement the engineering course material with some material for board exams. There is even a possibility that some coaching centres hire teachers for teaching the other two subjects: English and one among Economics / Physical Education / Computers etc. The point is, the new system does not present any considerable difficulty to the working model of coaching centres. So, even the last objective looks as near as horizon.

So, if the HRD Ministry looks nowhere near to achieve what it has envisaged, then what’s the point of bringing the new pattern? And at the time of writing this, IITs, other engineering institutions and alumni bodies are making plans to drag the issue to courts. Apart from feeling disgust for the interfering nature of HRD Ministry, I also feel sorry for the engineering aspirants. Especially those, who would appear in 2013 and are still uncertain about the entrance system.  I could only advise them to study hard for JEE topics and draw up a plan to get some good (if not too high) marks in Class XII board exams. But what advice for our HRD Ministry that has messed up once again? Seeing that the 2014 elections may be pre-poned, I could say only one thing – “Vinashkaaale vipreet buddhi” (during the time of our destruction, we go against our intelligence)

 

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engineering-education
Planning, Public Issues, Strategy

IIT and AIEEE coaching classes – Villians or Necessary evils

Article by a Guest Strater – Ankur Singh.

In the 1st week of October, Mr. Narayan Murthy, one of the greatest visionaries of our times, said at a Pan-IIT conference that quality of IIT students is falling because of coaching classes. Few days later, Mr. Chetan Bhagat, a noted engineer-turned-novelist, remarked that Narayan Murthy could have been gentler in his comments. He even slammed Infosys as a “body shop” and said that one should look into the system and not criticize students.

Both of them had a point. The falling quality of IITians may indeed be true. Mr Murthy has been in industry for long and he may have observed that. However, putting the blame straight-away on coaching centres may not be right. The main criticism leveled against coaching centres is that they kill the innovation instincts of students. That coaching centres are actually producing dull students.
Let’s take a look at an alternate scenario. Suppose that there are no coaching centres. Everybody prepares for engineering entrance exams with help of the education provided by school. Now consider what is taught in the school and what is asked in the entrance exams. The concept may be the same but the difference comes in the level of practice provided by schools and the level that exams like IIT-JEE and AIEEE demand. Almost 99% of Indian schools worry about the result of class XII board exams. And here we see the reality. The board exams are so easy (at least those for Maths stream) that anybody who has studied Maths sincerely for 2 months may score 95+ marks. Do coaching centres kill the innovation instincts will always remain a debatable question but most of the students who both take coaching classes and pass entrance exams with good ranks are hard-working and well-versed in basics. They have a good background of Physics-Chemistry-Maths and are better prepared to take on the rigors of college academic system. So who is better, a 99% school topper with fragile concepts or a 90% percent scoring student with good knowledge-base of Maths and Science? The choice is not difficult to make.

Another keypoint is that Mr Murthy said that quality has been going down “OF LATE”. Now coaching centres have been there since 1980s. Hence, some recent phenomenon must have aided this downfall. And that could well be the unnecessary increase in quota for backward classes. I am not against helping the needy but one must understand there is no feedback mechanism in this quota system. Government passes the law for increasing the seats and then walks away. What they should actually do is to see if the students who got admission via quota are actually doing well or not. Analyse their performance in college, look at the jobs they have got or the research they have done. I, being an IITian and a placement student-head of an IIT, know that the results, as measured by these parameters, are grim. It clearly states that help must be given, but not as reserved seats in premier institutes but compulsory primary and secondary education.

This is where our government should rise from deep slumber. Rather than making blunders like increasing the quota or making the Class-12th exams easier and “stress-free”, the curriculum and the level of papers should be re-modelled. The logic is simple, if the Boards exams for science students are difficult enough, then they would not need any coaching preparation for entrance exams.

The fault lies in our education system. That’s why I mentioned in the beginning that Mr Bhagat had a point. As we don’t have a good-enough class 11-12th education level, coaching centres are actually doing this country a favor. I am not saying that they are a necessity but to make them redundant would require a considerable effort on the part of government and a sound thinking on the part of guardians, parents and students. I request all of you to express your views on this glaring educational issue of our time.

Notes from the Editor: This is an article contributed by Ankur Singh – A guest strater. Ankur works as a Strategy and Operations Analyst with Deloitte Consulting and studied at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi earlier. The article serves as an eye opener about the value added by Engineering Entrance Exam coaching centers in the Indian Education Ecosystem. We look forward to more insights from Ankur in the coming months. Also, the views expressed are author’s own and Strat.in neither supports or opposes them. Strat.in is a forum for thought provoking discussions and will continue to remain so.

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Entrepreneurship, Human Resources, Public Issues

Why we need a Liberal Arts School ?

Off the various experiences that I have had during my hostel life, this one in particular is worth sharing. Due to lack of better things to do at 4 in the monring, for good or bad – me and Saurabh – were discussing the biggest HR question – Where do you see yourself 15 years down the line ? “While I was thinking of an answer, Saurabh reacted almost insataneously – I would like to start off with a liberal arts school in India.

“What do you plan to do now ? How do you see your career shaping up – Would you want to join Mckinsey after 4 years – or do you have plans to go to Standford ? I don’t think you would settle for anything less than a harvard” If you have scored a rank in IIT JEE or any other premier entrance exam Medical, Law, Engineering- ( Just that Engineering Entrance has a touch of glamor to itself ) these questions are bound to come to you – from reporters who think students at IIT’s publish a patent every day.Then obviously there are friends_who_would_tag_you_as_god, the aunt who always called you Einstein, the Girl_You_Had_A_Crush on.

And now picture this – a spectacled guy who was locked in a room of a coaching institute for two years, probably 3 (if he wasn’t lucky the first time ), who was ignored by everybody including his family for 2 years -getting the world to attend him – including the girls who nagged him persistently for two years and the good friends who never thought that YOU of all people would make it to Stephens/IIT/NLU/NID  pampering you. And then comes the big advise – I think you should go for Computer Science. The placements were fantastic last year.”

career_flow1

Reality Check –

If you have completed your graduation or are doing a summer intern, the probability of you knowing what you would be doing next summer or a year later is the same as predicting fate of stock markets. Decisions like Which College and Which Branch, are more than often decided with help of  Family and Friends- who normally rely on “Market Trends” to decide which branch/course is better than the other. Decided by the placements and not the interest area, a majority of students end up opting for courses that have best placement history. And yes this condition holds without fail for all the student- be it  Law- Engineering- Commerce- Pure Sciences – Arts – Mass Media.

But to expect a 19 year old student to make an informed decision on the basis of his understanding of  available courses would be unfair. It takes a while to understand one’s areas of interest. However for good or bad the IT jobs have become the default interest area.

SO WHAT EXACTLY TRIGGERS OFF THIS CONFUSION ?

Until and unless one is an exception, the choice of the major subject usually proves to be a fairly important criteria during the placement and hence in deciding the career path.  The irony however is the fact that most of the students do not really choose their branch. end up choosing the nearest possible “best” branch.  Here is an excerpt from an inorganic chemistry lecture that I had attended

(This one in particular was targeted at students from the IIT’s but would fit in well for most of the UG students) –

A Degree is AWARDED to a selected lot of students, while it is GIVEN to a some of them but fortunately or unfortunately, to the rest of them the degree is “THRUSTED” upon.

This statement came from a professor who had over 20 years of experience and more papers published than the average class strength of any UG college.  After 4 years of student life,  I can confirm that the statement has no extrapolation.  The big question now is – is there a way this statement can be rectified  – Where exactly is the flaw ?
Is it at the entrance exam level ? or Is it during the branch selection process ? Why do most of the students end up ranting about their course curriculum ?
IS THIS THE ACTUAL PROBLEM ?
Or lets actually take a step back and ask ourselves – When we were 18, did we have the slightest understanding of the difference between – Electrical or Computer engineering – Or What they meant when they used fancy terms like Computational Chemistry or Optics Fiber Communication.  Very few students are blessed with the ability to pick their courses that interest them. I was not. I ended up “opting” for chemistry for reasons beyond my control.  Do students really understand what they want to do at the age of 18 ? In my opinion No.
This is where comes in the concept of Liberal Arts School. Here is a very apt explanation of Liberal Arts School -(From Wikipedia)
A “liberal arts” institution can be defined as a “college or university curriculum aimed at imparting general knowledge and developing general intellectual capacities, in contrast to a professional, vocational, or technical curriculum.”  Read this for more .
While attending a liberal arts school is a trend in the US and Europe, the concept still needs to recognized in India.  I had another interesting discussion on Quora (an upcoming Questions and Answers platform).The question asked was – Are there any liberal arts schools in India? (Answered by Viksit Gaur)
From my understanding of the term “Liberal Arts”, a student studying them is expected to become well rounded in a number of subjects – from languages and literature, to science and mathematics and everything in between. One also gets to choose a Major (and/or a minor) as an area of focus. This of course is slightly broader than the definition that stems from the term “Classical Education” that included a narrower set of subjects. Liberal Arts colleges (if the seven sisters are a good model to go by) also tend to have smaller classes, and provide a greater set of activities to their students when compared to a larger university.
If we were to talk about a college that is exactly like the ones in the US, then no, it would be safe to assume there are no well known, purely liberal arts schools in India.
However, there are a number of colleges that offer similar courses to their students, although with differences. I’d say Delhi University’s top colleges – St. Stephens, Miranda House and others definitely keep up the tradition of providing BA or BS degrees in various Majors, while allowing students to study other core subjects from different fields. Other major cities like Kolkata and Mumbai have similar, well known colleges as well. All of these colleges are very, very selective  for their top programs – so much so that a large number of people who may get into top engineering or other professional programs may not even be on the list for say, a BA in Economics from them. (The dynamics of these admissions processes is a subject for an entirely new Quora post :))
Another point to note here is that increasingly, the rush to join engineering, law or medicine undergraduate programs has really taken over the focus of a lot of high schoolers. Combined with the selectivity of these programs, the relative shortage of options, as well as the inability to foresee strong career options post a liberal arts degree – lots of people never even consider these as their primary
Rather then seeing thousands of engineering colleges blossoming across the country, it would be great to see more Colleges on these lines – that help students really understand their interest and help in pursuing them.
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Business, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Strategy, Technology, Web

FlipKart: India’s Amazon

To be honest whatever I write is probably already covered in the video, except that Binny and Sachin Bansal are from IIT Delhi 2005 batch, one year senior to me! Flipkart is an amazing site and its success makes me very proud. Firstly because the founders are my seniors, secondly because it proves that ebusinesses are possible in India, and thirdly because instead of an established player a startup has been able to crack the ecommerce market of books in India. All credit to Sachin and Binny for having the guts to take the risk, leave their jobs, start a website and take it to such a level. Kudos guys and all the best for the way ahead.

Update: Just a day after this post the following came up in VCCircle! “FlipKart raises upto $10mn from Tiger Global”

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Human Resources, IIM, Planning, Politics, Public Issues, Strategy

The need for more IITs and IIMs

Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) are a brand known all over the world in technology, and Indian Institute of Management (IIMs) have also made their mark in the world in terms of management. The premier institutes of India are known for selecting the best of the best, or the cream of the country as some people call it and make this cream even better. Well I really don’t think I need to write more about IITs and IIMs, as the identity is well established. But the question right now in front of us is the dilemma of Central Government opening 7 more IITs and 7 more IIMs. I will try and present some points around the topic and hope for a nice discussion in the comments.

The intake of more students! The number of students who get into IITs and IIMs is so few, it is actually minuscule. Lakhs of students aspire to get into these centers of excellence and a few thousands are able to get in. The system clearly needs expansion with the intake to be increased. But another question in this regard can be, what will the increased intake mean? The whole concept of cream comes when the selection ratio is very low, and the best amongst the candidates is selected. As the number of IITs and IIMs increases, doesn’t the quality decrease a bit? A highly debatable question!

The Brand: I think most of us we agree that the entire world today is a big marketing game. A resume is a way to market yourself isn’t it? So your education gives you a branding indeed! IITs and IIMs have always been together but separate as well. It has always been IIT Delhi or IIT Bombay and similarly in case of IIMs – IIM A, IIM B, IIM C! The pan-IIT and pan-IIM movements were just beginning to pickup. I really wonder what will the impact be with this sudden jump in the number of IITs and IIMs? After all when a student applies to a foreign university for Master’s after IIT won’t it matter whether the student is from IIT Delhi or from a recently started IIT?

Planning & Execution: One of the most important factors which has been forgotten is planning and execution. The government simply announces such programs (probably for political gains) and then leaves people hanging! Although 7 new IITs were started by Government on paper, and students were also given admission under these new IITs, the campuses are yet to be built! IIT Punjab classes were taking place in IIT Delhi till the last time I visited a few months ago. How can we expect a student to study in such conditions?

I remember when IIT Roorkee was given IIT status. IIT-R has always been a great institute and it just did not have the IIT status. By giving it IIT status there was no problem of infrastructure or loss to branding or any other such factors! Why cannot the Government move in such a direction? The government just announces plans for new IITs and IIMs without any real infrastructure / faculty / resources.

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Public Issues, Strategy

Why Indians, but not India lead in Research?

 

We welcome our latest strater, Chandini Jain who is an undergraduate student at Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Kanpur. She has been the Dance Club President at IIT Kanpur and is currently interning at University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign.

 

I recently came across an interesting piece of news. The U.S House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2005 honoring the contributions of Indian Americans, especially the IIT graduates to American society. The resolution states, “Whereas IIT graduates are highly committed and dedicated to research, innovation, and promotion of trade and international cooperation between India and the United States”. It seems ironical, that while the innovations and technological changes attributable to Indians are widely recognized and honored, there is a dearth of internationally recognized research output from within India itself. The state of research in India is evident from a McKinsey study that observes that a typical IIT was granted 3-6 patents in 1996-97 against 64 for Stanford Engineering and 102 for MIT Engineering. Also, the number of citations per faculty in 1993-98 was 2-3 for a typical IIT, while it was 52 in the case of Stanford Engineering and 45 for MIT Engineering.

Any sorts of research, apart from a researcher studying and investigating the topic of interest, and demands resources, both in the form of the lab, tools, facilities and funds required to carry out the work, and a demand or value for the output from that research.  The industry with the demand for the output generally provides the financial backing for the work.

A comparison between the academic research scenarios in India and the US reveals several stark differences between the two. The most obvious are the Brain Drain and the lack of funding opportunities. We find the most brilliant of Indian minds opting to drive the technological advances in a foreign lab, than working here in India. But again, a foreign lab allows them the luxury of carrying out capital intensive research. Working in a lab back in India, they will first have to struggle against the shortage of resources, and unavailability of state of the art facilities, before they can hope to compete with their foreign counterparts. As an undergraduate intern in research group in a university in the U.S, I was allowed to order tools worth 400$ every week. However, working on a bigger project in a central lab in India, I was unable to obtain a simple instrument, essential to the accuracy of my project, worth just 5k during the entire intern. It had an adverse effect both on the speed of the work, and the quality of results.

Another difference is in the attitude towards research. While research in the U.S is centered on originality and innovation, in India it tends to move on the lines of work already done in reputed labs abroad. A factor for this would be the university-industry collaboration, which is one of the primary sources of funding and hence tends to shape the research trends. Industries in the U.S are constantly looking for new breakthroughs and developments, and also liberally support research promising new cutting edge technologies. The Indian Government and industries on the other hand are looking to attain self reliance first, and hence tend to support research that could reduce import of technology from abroad. The focus in most of the research labs is hence on attempting production of technology already available abroad in the country itself. I can quote the recent Chandrayaan Project by the Indian Government as an example, which I was a part of. It requires development of lunar rovers and spacecrafts suitable for lunar landing. Such projects have already been undertaken by NASA 40 years ago, and our group was instructed to use their work as a guide, and model most of my work after it.

Indians may power the Silicon Valley, or drive the indices at NASDAQ, but we are currently not in a position to attain notable success in quality research from within the country itself.  Research accelerates development, but we are yet to reach the level of development that can promote original research. Research output from India till then can be expected to trail behind that in other countries.

 

 

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IIM, Public Issues, Strategy

Compare People – Why? Part 2

In my last post on Compare people – Why?, I discussed the beneficial aspects of comparing people. Readers gave some interesting insights as well in the comments, one of which I quote during the post. In this post I try to discuss the flip side of comparison among people.

Comparison has always been a debated subject. Right from the times of the Mahabharata, comparison and the resulting jealousy has been the bane of human history. The seeds of the war at Kurukshetra during Mahabharata were sown during the childhood days of Kauravas and Pandavas in the minds of Duryodhana. (For more, read here) A number of times, the fruits of our action are relative, example, by achieving my revenue targets, I shall get a bigger raise than the rest of my colleagues. Perhaps the greatest verse ever told to mankind, asks one to not let the fruits of your actions be the motive behind the same.

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते संगोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥

Translation: To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.

Next issue here is the objects of comparison. Comparing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal perhaps is justified, but imagine comparing an upcoming young tennis player, say Prakash Amritraj, with Roger Federer. Not only would the comparison be unjust and unfair, it would put an unbelievable amount of pressure on Prakash. Sadly, in real life, you see exactly this happening a lot of times. Inter-sibling comparison, inter-family comparison, comparison between friends, comparison among people you know, all this has become too common. While comparing, the focus is extremely unilateral – just one aspect of personalities is compared. That one brother is a good-for-nothing chap is decided solely on the basis that the other brother got through an Ivy league college in USA and the other couldn’t. Now, is that fair? Not only will this lead to a tremendous loss of confidence for the child at that age, it would lead to a huge inner urge to get back at his family for making him the constant subject of humiliation.

To quote an earlier comment made by Somyvan on the verse quoted by me in this post:

Comparison is a question of determining the magnitude of variance and its direction. We feel a certain direction is more desirable. That leads to the action of striving in that direction.If people break down because this one-up-man-ship is not achieved, it is sad.

Its not only sad, but also a huge loss of resource. Possibly these people who break down might have become champions at something else, if their aptitudes were tapped in the right manner. However, in India and perhaps all over the world as well, there is a huge crowd mentality. Just because one trader became a millionaire, millions of people put all their life savings into the stock market and lose it all. The dark side of comparison is that it has and it will continue to destroy millions of homes. It will take away the peace of mind from someone wishing to do anything constructive. While some people may take comparison as a motivating factor, for most, tackling it may become too overwhelming.

Next, comparison is a major source of unethical behaviour. Cycling as a competitive sport is on the verge of collapse today and the major reason is comparison.  The list of doping incidents in Cycling is long and this article on wikipedia is evidence of the same. Floyd Landis – the declared winner at 2006 Tour De France -was disqualified after a drug control test. Why cycling, look at perhaps the greatest sport in human history – Running. Marion Jones, an athlete who supposedly took women’s track and field to another level at the Sydney Olympics, was jailed in 2008 for 6 months and was stripped of all her Golds since she took performance enhancing drugs. Why do such great athletes who take up cycling surrender to the lure of doping? Its perhaps due to this fear of failure and need to succeed at any cost.Some great mind has heroically given us a motivational quote ‘You never win the silver, you lose the Gold’ . However, the consequences of such an attitude are disastrous. It pushes even the brightest of the bright over the limit in terms of ethics. While the proverb is great for motivation, if not accompanied with examples of ethical behavior, it can ruin the life of an upcoming player.

Finally, what is really achieved out of this constant and never-ending comparison? Perhaps we establish the greatness of someone – ‘XYZ is the best because he beat all his peers for a certain number of times at something’. But does that mean that those peers who lost then were any lesser than the victors? To give an example of this in the modern context – we have 4000 out of 300,000 students entering IITs every year. These are supposed to be the best in the country, as they beat lakhs of their contemporaries at an exam. But does that mean that all of the peers who they beat were inferior? Certainly not! Failure to enter IITs has a psychological effect on many bright ones. Who knows how many great scientists India has lost and will lose in future because these students couldn’t enter the IITs since their families couldn’t afford sending these kids to famous (and expensive) IIT professors!

So, how can one beat this deadly comparison game? I believe the only way to beat this comparison is look for self betterment. What should be done is one should look at self betterment as a source of motivation for oneself. One has to consider his past performance and strive for improvement – constant and multifaceted as the only parameter for success. Apart from this, we should inculcate a positive attitude in life – the occasional setback may come. There will be days when the unthinkable will happen . One has to learn to take these things in their stride and move on, perhaps even try harder. To conclude, its about setting the bar higher for yourself and then, overcoming it ethically. In the words of Albert Einstein

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.

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