Open letter to Mr. Sibal

Dear Mr. Sibal,

This is an open letter to you. And I just want to focus one of your whims - Replacing JEE with a SAT like exam and including 12th Board marks in the overall equation.

This is one of those issues where you can actually present some logical (not in the political sense but in the real sense of the word logic) arguments for your decisions. And I must say, the smile with which you put forward your arguments can be really endearing. Anyways, I will try and steer clear of personal comments and sarcasm. I just want to put forward logical arguments both for and against this proposal and let you decide whats best.

Lets start with your point of view. So JEE has gotten tough over the years. The rejection ratio is probably highest in the world. It adds to the already unbearable stress of the students who have to prepare for boards and other competitives and worry about their future. This trend will lead to a burn out amongst the kids. At a tender age of 15-16 they are forced to study 10 hours a day or more. And this intense competition has led to the booming coaching industry, which adds to the stress and is adversly affecting the education scenario. I must say, you really care for the kids. Beneath that charming smile of yours lies a kinder heart.

Competition really is intense, Mr. Sibal. And it only gets worse every year. Just the rejection ratio is bound to make anyone shiver. One in hunderd make it to basic undergraduate engineering courses. And we are not talking about the best engineering college in the world. For all their maginficance, IITs stand pretty much in the middle on the global level, and very rightly so. Just that if you select the top 1-2% students in a country of over a billion, law of averages say you will get some really smart people. Anyways, despite all this, I and the rest of the country has every reason to be proud of our premiere institutes. Anyways, lets get the platitudes out of the way. Sir, its not the high standards of the JEE paper that add to the duress of the kids, or force the parents to spend their lifes earnings on coaching. I totally agree that the examination can throw up some really tough questions which can't be solved without proper training and coaching. But to reject 99 out of 100 people, you need to have a fool proof filtering mechanism.

Even if you set the bar low, the rejection ratio still remians the same. So the stress of being that one in a hundred still remains unchanged. Rather, when the filtering mechanism becomes less stringent, it will become more unscientific and more random. This will rather add to the stress, because earlier if you studied well you stood a fair chance. You knew what was expected of you. The proposed scenario will only increase the paranoia. As the rejection ratio doesn't change, the fear and anxiety of the parents and students won't change and they still will flock to the coaching institutes. The only thing that will change is earlier they studied for JEE, now they will study for SAT (or whatever you want to call it).

Dear Minister, in all this you have thrown in the idea of adding a weightage to class 12th Board marks in the mix. In a country of over 20 Educational boards and their varied marking schemes, how are you going to ensure fairness? Lets say you find some way of normalization (similar to CAT), and work out a formula. But how are you going to ensure that the board results are not rigged? Why should you subject the IITs to adopt a variable in the selection process which they can't control or even be completely sure of its authenticity. I am not criticizing any particular educational board, but today's CBSE boards marks are way off the norm, almost bordering on unbelievability. And there have been instances of large scale rigging in state boards. There is absolutely no quality control in this process. Do you realize this opens up a huge potential for corruption in the Boards?

The answer to increasing competition and stress is not by trying to tinker with the filtering process. The answer lies in building more world class institutions. Why is that a country of over 1.2 billion has just 5 world class engineering institutions? And just one world class Medical College? And just a few colleges in other streams worthy of being compared with the best? Why haven't we built any IITs after 1960s? The way in which new IITs have been created is a total joke. Lets not even get there. That was more of a political stunt than real concern for students. I've seen students opting not to join those colleges. There is a process for building great institutions. You can't lease a few buildings, name them IIT, and say, voila. There is a long nurturing period.

Sir, whatever the selection mode, if you choose only a few thousand students out of half a million, they will always be stressed. The coaching institutes will always thrive. Specially given the fact that not making it through subjects you to mediocrity at best. I totally appreciate you for raising the right issues. But the solutions you propose seem more of a coverup act than solving them. There are no quick fix solutions. If you invest your efforts in building institutions aiming to make them world class, they will bear fruit after 20 years. It will be thankless act. Most building processes are. Someone else will claim the success. But the fruits would be real. Five don't suffice. We need 50 IITs and 50 AIIMS. We need 10 more JNUs. We need world class Architecture schools. And much more.

Humble request, Mr. Sibal. You've had your glory. Build a few (a lot would be preferable) institutions without much fanfare. Give them autonomy. Let them thrive. We need them. And desperately. All the students and India would be eternally grateful.