Why India needs JEE Advanced: Social and economic gains of grooming our best
Brand IIT is flourishing because of the effectiveness of the quality intake facilitated by the JEE Advanced.
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The debate around the modalities of entrance exams picks up steam year after year, peaking with the exams. Commentators have written strongly on both sides of the debate — from these exams being infructuous to being absolutely world-class.
Let us see the selection process for admission to the engineering colleges. At the national level, we have the JEE Mains examination. It is conducted twice a year for intake into the 31 National Institutes of Technology (NIT) and the 23 Government Funded Technical Institutes (GFTI). The top 2 lakh-odd candidates qualify for JEE Advanced, the exam conducted for admission to the 23 Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). JEE Advanced is ranked among the toughest examinations in the world.
We often see commentaries on the need for the JEE Advanced. The principal argument against it is that it is redundant since the toppers of the JEE Mains examination are most likely to top the JEE Advanced too. Hence, why have additional budget for the latter plus the burden on students, it is questioned.
The fact that Brand IIT has continued to flourish is testimony to the effectiveness of the quality intake facilitated by the JEE Advanced.
What these commentators ignore is that the JEE Mains and the JEE Advanced test different abilities of students. The JEE Mains is focused primarily on memory-based concept application. Hence, one may score high on the strength of core intelligence plus what is popularly called ratta – mugging up all that is likely to be part of the question paper.
So it is for medical education, which is largely focused on memorisation and correlation. As a result, in the medical field, a common exam like NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) can suffice for admission to the undergraduate course in even the best medical colleges.
But real engineering is about creativity, originality of thought and development of new technology. We need separate evaluation criteria for admission to the engineering institutes, which are focused on research and development. The manner in which the JEE Advanced exam is structured tests the analytical abilities of the students. This is where JEE Advanced adds value, with its clear target of evaluating the students on their problem-solving and analytical abilities.
Another aspect widely written about is the coaching institutes and how they have managed to “game” the system. The charge is not correct. In the end, what matters is the students’ ability and not the coaching institute. The students who score high have diverse analytical and creative skill-sets – not just subject-matter knowledge.
Admittedly, most good institutes impart reasonable technical knowledge. But the fact that Brand IIT has continued to flourish is testimony to the effectiveness of the quality intake facilitated by the JEE Advanced. It is no coincidence then that the founders of India’s more successful start-ups are IIT alumni. An impressive percentage of Indians at top positions in national and multinational blue-chip organisations in India and abroad are IIT alumni. Qualities like creativity, an aptitude for problem solving and analysis need to be evaluated at the time of induction.
The IIT system has thus far been successful in identifying the right kind of talent for research and development. This establishes the efficacy of the existing system. These are the social and economic gains that come from identifying and grooming our best minds in all fields of knowledge – including engineering. While no system is fault-free, a mistake made often is to replace the existing systems and processes in a kneejerk fashion. The need is to critically evaluate and improve systems which have served us well.