Let us look at one of the proposals being discussed:
Instead of the two-stage screening process, only one examination may be introduced from the year 2006-07. ... [T]he JEE should be made more simple and based on Class XII syllabi. Performance in the Board exam may be used as criteria for determining the eligibility. The directors of all the IITs would examine the possibility of making the examination more student-friendly giving due credit to the school system, and thereby enhance the credibility of the Board exam.The two-stage screening process happened when the number of candidates writing the exam increased phenomenally in the late 1980s. I think this process was introduced from JEE 1988. Since the time JEE was introduced, until 1988, JEE followed its own syllabi and there were three hour examinations in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and English. The ranking was determined from the scores in these examinations and Board examination for Std. XII were not taken into account at all.
Since 1988, there is a first-stage screening process through a multiple choice exam, and those who qualify go through the second stage exam in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics.
It is unclear what the standing committe's suggestion is with respect to making the exams student-friendly. The exams are being used to filter out students and choose a smaller number - on par with the number of seats available across the seven IITs. What use is there in making the exams simpler? One can argue that the exam pattern may have to change to find the really deserving students, than those who learn how to crack the problems but may not have the real aptitude.
It appears that the main reasaon for making changes in the examination system is because of the "mushrooming of coaching institutions." However, the suggestions will not result in curbing the coaching institutions. There are coaching institutions for IAS exams, GATE, SAT, GRE, GMAT, JEE, CAT and any other abbreviations you can throw. When something is coveted, like a seat in the IITs, as much, coaching institutions are inevitable. Starting up more IITs - another 10 over the next 5 years, and increasing the number of seats in the existing institutions should help. There is anyway a need for high quality engineers. The Central Government could convert some of the existing engineering colleges (like it did with Roorkee) into IITs, bring in more funds and improve on the infrastructure.
It appears that the IITs are also starting all sorts of crazy courses at the undergraduate level, such as B.Tech in pulp and paper technology (IIT Roorkee), B.Tech in environmental science and engineering (IIT Bombay) and a course in Earth sciences (IIT Kanpur). This seems quite stupid to me. IIT Madras had courses in Naval Architecture.
There is nothing new in Naval Architecture. It is a specialisation in Mechanical Engineering with perhaps a bit of Electronic instrumentation etc. It is enough to offer a few more interesting courses as electives. I am afraid courses in pulp and paper technology, environmental sciences etc. will only create unemployable students, who will soon take up jobs in information technology sector coding for Google, or take up an MBA, and start selling soaps and napkins for P & G.
I cannot remember anything more than 5 or 6 options in Cornell University undergraduate engineering program. Civil, Mechnical, Chemical, Electrical, Computer Science and Metullurgy. I guess most American Universities follow a similar model.
It is only our premier institutions who come up with crazy ideas.
IITs are also planning to attract talented professionals to work at IITs. Since they cannot match the salaries offered by the industries, IITs will be looking at offering certain other perks such as employment opportunities for their spouses, education for their children etc.
The same tehelka issue also carries an interview with SG Dhande, Director of IIT Kanpur, but that is a topic for another post.