Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Competing is not a cup of coffee

Excerpts from P V Indiresan article:

  • The IITs have had a long history of admitting SC/ST students. In 1971, the Indian government introduced reservation of 22.5 per cent for the SCs and STs in admission to the IITs. It was done hurriedly and without preparation.
  • Reportedly, there was a case in one of the IITs, where a student was admitted with zero marks in all four subjects of the entrance examination. While the other SC/ST students had realised they had performed badly and opted out of the later examinations, this particular candidate had entered all four exams, and as it happened, there were not enough students to fill the quota, and so he too was admitted.
  • At this stage, I became the Dean in IIT Delhi, in charge of undergraduate courses. Realising what a travesty of justice it would be if such poor quality students were allowed to continue for five years or even more without any prospect of getting a degree, I introduced minimum performance for continuing in IIT. At the end of the year, of the 53 SC/ST students admitted, admission for 47 of them was terminated. In fact, one of them wrote me a letter of thanks for saving his career.
  • Professor Nurul Hasan, the then Minister for Education, called me for an explanation. I told him that every student had written two sets of internal tests, two semester examinations and also a supplementary examination. On each occasion, I had sent letters to the student and to the parents, expressing my concern at the poor performance and fears that if they continued in the IIT, their future would be ruined.
  • The Minister was impressed but still concerned. He went through the list of students who had been terminated and found one Ashok Chaturvedi there. Ye kaisa aa gaya (how did he come in here?) he asked. I explained that the IITs give automatic admission to the top 10 students from each school board and that he was one of them. He looked at me and then asked aap kya lenge — chaior coffee? (What will you have, tea or coffee?) That was that.
  • In a subsequent meeting, I suggested that no SC or ST student should be admitted without securing a minimum of two-thirds of the marks listed for admission for the general candidates to the IITs and to the BHU.
  • That did not help because not enough candidates qualified. Mr Shankaranand, himself an SC, had become Minister for Education and, at first, he objected to the suggestion made by the Additional Secretary, Professor Jha, to reduce the qualifying marks further, by saying that it would bring a bad name to the community. In the end, he yielded.
  • Nowadays, the cut-off is 50 per cent. Unfortunately, sympathy and charity have not helped. Even after 40 years of reservation, SC/ST candidates do not seem to be doing well in the IITs. In IIT Delhi, general category students passed out with an average Grade Point Average of 7.5, whereas the SC/STs had an average of around 5-6. By IIT standards that is low, very low.

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