IIT Mania – Can kids be kids?

Recently, I read the news about JEE (Advanced) Delhi topper (who is also JEE 4 nationally), who said

I have been preparing for five years for this exam

Wow! This means he started when he was in Class VIII, aged 13-14 years. He goes on to say

When I had school, I usually could put in about four or five hours of study every day, but as soon as the holidays begin, I usually put in about nine hours minimum

So when was he doing things 14 year old kids are supposed to do – like playing with friends, net surfing, reading non-textbook books, watching TV, playing pranks, socializing, etc.?

Here are 2 comments from gem of an interview with another JEE topper

Nobody in Kota, goes to school on all days. We go there for the exams and for the practicals (to meet the attendance requirements). Basically we enroll for a two-year class room contact program. The preparation strategy is guided by my teachers. I did not do anything extra

and

I got 95.8% in class X and it is nothing so great as my English was poor. In Science and Maths I got 97. I never got full marks in Maths, in Class 12 also I got 99 in Maths. I’m not happy about that

I wonder how much would have made him happy, 100%?

One of the self-styled JEE help blog says these things:

“Avoid outdoor sports”, “Avoid going to school daily

“Don’t listen music during studies. If you have a habit, then slowly come out of it by reducing it day by day.

To keep the students on the cutting edge of preparation, FIITJEE now trains students from Class VI for IITJEE and other exams! Very soon, the conversation mentioned in this hilarious Quora response may be a reality!

All this sounds insane to me! Why would we put our students into a situation, where they spend extremely long hours for an extremely long period of time, just to become good at cracking an exam? Only real skill they are picking is hard work. Hard work is great, but it comes at a cost that may be too high and unacceptable – missing out on the joys (and lessons) of teen years, missing out on the chance to enjoy the process of learning in the classroom, missing out on making new friends in school classroom.

What is worse is that while these toppers have achieved ‘success’ by achieving these ranks, there will be thousands others who would have put similar amount of effort without having anything to show for it. I wonder how they cope with this ‘failure’.

Where are we taking our future generation, kids who will be adults in a few years? Why is cracking one entrance examination so important that they (and their parents) are willing to sacrifice so many aspects of their life? Is it really worth this much?

There are many ways of looking at this problem:

  1. Market dynamics – Too many (students) chase too few (IIT seats). Since the perceived gap between IITs and non-IIT institutes is so high, everyone wants to grab those precious few seats, and a rat race ensues.
  2. Lifelong Bragging rights – Students (and parents) consider this as a race to get the bragging rights for entire life – ‘being an IITian’ is too big a tag to let go without a serious fight!
  3. Impact of coaching institutes – This may be a result of pitch being queered by the coaching institutes. They make any average person eligible for (and even successful at) clearing the exam through methodical preparation and sheer hard work. What was once considered as elite and intelligent students’ arena has now been democratized and everyone has a good shot at cracking the JEE.

Whatever may be the reason, the situation is here to stay. 2 problems with this situation concern me the most:

  1. Learning to crack an entrance exam isn’t very useful long term – Preparing for an entrance exam, rather than for honing one’s knowledge areas, seems a wasted effort. 5 years spent in acquiring deeper understanding of science probably would be more beneficial in long run than just getting the right to study computer science at IIT.
  2. Those who don’t qualify mess up their further studies too – Losers of the race (those who fail to get into IIT even after all the hard work) are unable to plan their education well because they were so pre-occupied with the IIT dreams, they didn’t prepare well for their school exams, conceptual understanding, or other entrance exams. This wastes such a large number of careers (3-4 lac students appear for the exams every year).

Ideally, preparation for IIT (or any other higher study preparation) should follow the model mentioned here. This ensures that useful, multi-purpose knowledge is gained, and clearing an entrance exam becomes a by-product rather than the primary goal. Primary goal should always be acquisition of knowledge when preparing for such examinations. Also, students (and their parents) should spend more time understanding their interest and passion and then figure out best area to put the effort in. 8 hours a day for 2 years trying to master an otherwise boring subject isn’t nearly as effective as similar time spent in mastering an area you are passionate about.

To enable such a situation, one or more of the following need to happen:

  1. Parents need to change – Instead of relying on ‘friendly neighbor Mr. Sharma’ to pass judgment on their children’s caliber and future path, parents need to decide for themselves what is right for their children.
  2. Students need to change – They need to assert their right to enjoy their childhood and to appreciate joys of life and learning.
  3. Schools need to change – They need to inculcate the habit of learning and conceptual understanding in the students, make the students independent thinkers and a well-balanced person who can decide about future course of study on their own and assert their right to choose.

Till the changes happen, majority of students will continue to consider these JEE toppers as their role models and keep investing (or wasting) their most productive childhood years in acquiring a skill (cracking JEE entrance exam) which becomes useless very quickly. If only they could think for themselves!

Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

One Reply to “IIT Mania – Can kids be kids?”

  1. Awesome piece Mrityunjay! It is very unfortunate how from Gurukul system of education we started relying upon so-called modern system of education.The rate race doesn’t end but continues with professional certifications. I have interviewed so many folks with all sort of certifications who have cracked the exams but are completely disconnected from the challenges of the practical world. Good basic problem solving skills are becoming very rare commodity!

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