Quantity over quality? The IIT-JEE numbers game

By Col. Rajendra Prasad Nadella, Co-Founder, Managing Director iScholar


Pursuing an engineering degree at an IIT is a dream for millions of Indians. It is a dream that draws millions into toiling for months and many a time years, to make the cut.


Over the years, IIT has come to be known as a brand that moulds only the ‘Highly Intelligent Minds’ and offers not just lucrative job offers on successfully completing the degree, but is also a great learning platform.


An acceptance rate of barely 1% speaks volumes of the challenge of cracking the JEE.
Interestingly, while all the IITs together offer only 11,000 seats, hundreds have been going abegging. The reason? Not enough qualified occupants.


This summer didn’t change anything. In fact, the numbers got worse. So bad that the government had to intervene and ask the JEE to pare the cut-off mark by 10%.


The cut-off mark set by the Joint Admission Board (JAB) saw only 18,138 candidates declared eligible for admission to the 11,279 IIT seats.


At a time when the government is trying hard to fight long-time issues like the Gender Diversity at the IITs, the ‘not so encouraging results’ forced the government to take matters into its own hands.


After bringing down the cut-off mark by 10% this year, with the sharp dip in the number of qualifying students, the government has asked the Joint Admission Board (JAB) to examine the modalities and the test design of JEE-Advanced exam.


Is the interference justified?

In 2017, the JAB had approved a quota of supernumerary seats for women in a phased manner, increasing it to 20% by 2026 which was supposed to start at 14% from this year.


Everyone saw this plan crumbling even before it started when the JEE Advanced was announced. Even before the results were announced, the IIT system itself assessed that at least 1,000 seats could go vacant. This was expected to hit certain categories such as women and the students belonging to Scheduled Tribes (ST) category.


Although the IIT as an institute that enjoys autonomy, there are aspects that need supervision and guidelines from the government. Hundreds of seats going vacant at the most prestigious engineering institutions is something that should be of concern.


IIT has an image of one nurturing the most brilliant minds, minds that would take the nation to greater heights. Every vacant seat means throwing away an opportunity, it is like dragging the nation back in its journey to being the superpower that everyone looks up to.

While it is true that the IIT is known for being challenging, bringing down the difficulty levels won’t do any harm. In fact, it would encourage even more students to join the IITs and will give an opportunity to many more to learn from the best.


With the government allocating thousands of crores every year for the education sector, and with the new IITs and NITs being set up, it is important that students are trained well to take up these exams. This should start at the elementary level, wherein students are trained well in the basics.


Having said that, is JEE being tough the reason for the dismal show or are there other flaws that are being overlooked.


It’s all about the basics

While India brags about its ever-improving literacy levels, in the quality of educational, it is a terrible under-performer. Studies have repeatedly established that a majority of those in each class in India have educational attainments much lower than the one they are in.


How can someone expect a student to excel in the JEE when he doesn’t even understand the hows and whys of anything that he is learning.


Then again, can one blame the students?

A student is as good as his teacher. Unfortunately, teachers in India, especially in rural India, have been failing their students for years. There have been numerous instances where teachers are not even acquainted with the basic numeric and literacy skills.


While we expect the government schools to be the drivers of change by becoming the first, not the last, the choice of parents to send their children to, parents have lost so much trust that they prefer to even sell their land and send their children to a private institution rather than keeping them in the ‘hell’ that these government-run institutes have become.


The inexorable shift to private school education represents a failure of the public-schooling system.


It is time that India began viewing school education as a critical, strategic investment and gave it the status of a vital infrastructure project.
The public-school system must be swiftly and radically revamped and our teacher’s training institutions should be speedily re-jigged to turn out world-class teachers, the kind that will encourage children to stay on and not drop out of school.


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