Dear Mr. Kapil Sibal,
I was not surprised that the first sentence of your introduction on your website is “Kapil Sibal comes from an illustrious Punjabi family.” Yes – I have highlighted the word illustrious there. You are a lawyer and one of your alma mater is Harvard Law School as I can see from your wikipedia page1. So, you went to HLS. Did you go through a stressful exam to get scholarship for HLS? Let me guess. No. Your illustrious family was able to support you. 2
I am not surprised, then, Mr. Sibal that you do not understand what is the stress that lacs (crores?) of students from middle and lower than middle classes go through and what is the real reason behind that stress. So, I am going to talk about my personal experiences of the time when an illustrious leader like you had other things to think about than the stress students face.
I was an engineering education aspirant and these were pre-AIEEE days. My preparation had been going well. So, I had not filled up the forms for as many entrance exams as some of my less confident friends had. But I still had JEE, Roorkee entrance exam (REE), BIT Mesra exam, DCE entrance exam and the Bihar state common entrance exam on my list. For DCE entrance exam I had gotten seat in the corner of a room in which there was only one fan and it was barely enough for the people sitting right under it. I was close to fainting by the time I had finished the paper (that place was a JEE center as well. So, some people would have gotten that seat during JEE also). During BIT Mesra’s entrance exam I had a heat stroke and was barely able to keep my eyes open while writing the paper. But thank my stars that was not the case during JEE and REE. And yeah – by the time of Bihar state common entrance exams, I had caught malaria and well… Thankfully JEE results were out by then, so I did not have to take that exam.
And here is something you do not understand, but need to understand. Having five different exams, which gave me five chances to fulfill my aspirations, was not a stress! It was a way to reduce it. If you fell ill, if you had a family emergency, if your had an accident while reaching the venue, if you were simply having a bad day and your mind was not working in the exam hall, or if the sky had fallen – you had another chance! Yes – I would have felt really bad, if I had fallen ill during JEE. But that would not have been the end of my life, because there still was REE and BIT Mesra and State entrance exam and DCE. I might not have achieved the best, but the doors would not have closed on me for another year or for my entire life.
There was another aspect of having different exams. They had different patterns. Some of them I was good at. Some of them I wasn’t. In fact, let me talk about your favourite – board exams. At the cost of appearing to brag, let me tell you that I was a good, sincere, hard-working student. Simply put, I knew my stuff well before the exams. I wasn’t the kind to have panic attacks before exams. I was better or at par with most students in my class. And I had not neglected board exams for JEE preparation – my teachers can vouch for that. But you know something -I performed bad, real bad in board exams compared to my equally talented friends. Why? Was I having a bad day? Nope. Had I fallen sick? Nope. Had I messed up with the exam schedule and studied for a different subject that the exam was for? No, Sir. I just had a bad handwriting! That’s right. (And I know you were born in 1950 and you probably think that it was right of the system to punish me for that. But from my point of view it was just lazy of the system.)
You know what! The disproportionate effect handwriting had on board exams results was the biggest stress for me in the student life. And you know what helped me cope with that stress? That there were these other exams, where it did not matter – not so much at least. There were people, who could not do well in JEE because they weren’t good on that pattern, but performed well in the board exams and got admissions in the colleges which considered board exam results. Yet others performed well in the state common entrance exams.
Let me accept. The system is not perfect. None of these ways of selecting students might be great. But it had two qualities that reduced stress for students.
- There are a number of chances someone gets
- Different exams give chance to people with different aptitudes
Giving people only one way to succeed and only one chance of doing that is NOT going to reduce the stress.
And let me get back to your favourite board exams again. Have you heard the stories of how board exam answer sheets are graded? How teachers are under immense pressure to finish grading in a short time? How they are paid per answer sheet and are in a hurry to finish grading without going through the answers? How teachers continue grading even in the darkness to finish their quota (I’m sure they are now owls)? How they weigh the answer sheets and give marks based on that? How they check the copy until the student has gotten marks enough to pass and then use a blue pen to strike out rest of the pages to make it appear like the student had crossed them?
No? Then I am really not surprised how you do not understand the stress students face. And nor do you understand why using board exam marks (apart from the statistical issues of different boards) at any stage of IIT entrance is not an idea I am elated at. If my paper had fallen into the hands of one of those overworked, underpaid teachers, who did not realize how they could be destroying a life through their shortcuts, I would never have made into even the 50000 students you intend to select using board exam marks.
So what, you say. What is the guarantee that checking JEE papers does not suffer from these problems? Umm – yeah. There is no guarantee, but here are the things I know
- People grading JEE papers are much more qualified than the teachers grading board exam papers.
- People grading JEE papers are not as overworked (and do not have to check as many answer sheets) and are much better paid than the school teachers grading board exam papers.
- People grading JEE papers know that they have to live with the results. They will teach the students they select . And any teacher wants to teach good students.
So – yes! I have reasons to trust JEE more than board exams, even though it would have (and it had) its own set of issues.
Mr. Sibal – I know you are trying to simultaneously solve the problems of capitation fees and financial stress and coaching institute and world hunger by messing up with engineering entrance examinations. But I have some humble objections to your ways of achieving those too. I will write it in another post.
For the time being, some of the other things are crying for my attention.
(Follow up post: Stress, Coaching Institutes, Capitation Fee and World Hunger!)
- Nope! Don’t tell me that you actually let something inaccurate about you lie about on Internet just like that. You know, no one will believe you.
- Let me humbly point out that I tried to check about the scholarship thing by clicking on “Read more” button on your website. But it gave me a server error. Have you over-stressed your web design/hosting vendor? Or have they been so unstressed and relaxed under your tutelage that they don’t care to do their job at all?