Saturday, June 17, 2006

Not in our backyard, and not now

A group called PanIIT Alumni Association, claiming to represent "approximately 150,000 alumni of the seven IITs worldwide", has written a letter to the President of India and the Prime Minister (among others) about the proposed OBC quotas. After the preamble, the letter states the following right at the outset:

The PanIIT alumni organizations, are strongly supportive of affirmative action and creating equal opportunity for all. [...]

After making this refreshing admission of its support for affirmative action, the group goes on to pour bucket-fuls of cold water on the OBC quota proposal. In the second part of the letter, it restates its commitment:

The PanIIT Alumni association is united in its commitment to the need to work with underprivileged groups. We will bring the resources of our association to work with the government to help implement programs that achieve the goals of social reform.

The group follows this up with some of its ideas about how "the goals of social reform" can be achieved. What are these ideas?

a. Increased access to primary and secondary education in backward areas: This action will create opportunities for people from all classes from backward areas to be better prepared for the Joint Entrance Examination to the IITs. Such focused schools may adopt a process for identifying �gifted and talented� students for special education, and consider having them participate in summer programs at IITs.

b. Creation of institutions similar to the IITs but focused on vocational education, and highly-skilled workers: We see a big gap between the IITs and India�s ability to produce good technicians. We recommend the creation of institutions similar to the IITs but focused on vocational education, and highly skilled workers. As India encourages the growth of the manufacturing sector, we believe the demand for such services will greatly increase and, thus, offer new economic opportunities.

c. Implementing programs at IITs for regular and after-hours classes: Post- graduate students should be encouraged thru Teaching Fellowships to teach tutorial classes and after�hours programs that are designed for SC/ST/OBC students who are competent but unable to compete effectively in the JEE. Distance learning classes using Edusat and the internet should be adopted for offering preparatory tutorials to enable such students become fully capable to compete in JEE.

d. All course work from the IITs should be made available for free on the Internet: Such a program would give unrestricted access to all individuals who want to follow the daily classroom lectures at the IITs, greatly expanding the reach of the existing facilities. Students who follow this program may be able to supplement their Internet-based education through private or public institutions leading to an Associates Degree, recognized by the IITs.

Well, there you have it. That's the PanIIT Alumni Association's agenda for social reform.

* * *

I want to restrict myself to just three comments.

First, if you read the letter, you will realize that the group's grouse (I don't think all the IIT alumni share this group's views, notwithstanding its grand claim that it represents "approximately 150,000 alumni of the seven IITs worldwide") is not just with the proposed OBC quotas; not-so-well-hidden in the letter is the message that the group is against all quotas -- including the existing SC/ST quotas.

Second, the group continues to swear by the sanctity of the Joint Entrance Examination. Remember, this is an exam that "getting increasingly closer to the syllabus of science graduate programmes, making aspirants more and more dependent on coaching classes", and hence has an in-built bias against the poor and rural students (more on this in an earlier post). Finally, this is an exam that's so exquisitely designed that it manages to bring in a nearly all-male student body (in spite of the fact that women do about as well as men in their high school exams). Clearly, PanIIT AA doesn't believe that JEE might need to be re-jigged, or that IITs need a re-examine their JEE-centric admissions policy.

Finally, just read PanIIT AA's second idea ("Creation of institutions similar to the IITs but focused on vocational education, and highly-skilled workers"). It's one thing to propose such an idea in the broader context of education reforms in India; but, it's an entirely different thing -- with seriously nasty connotations -- when this proposal is made as one of the alternatives to quotas for OBCs.


  1. barbarindian said...

    Much better and practical ideas than the mindless tokenism of politicians. Of course these will not win any votes.

    Elections in our country are not won by numbers. They are won by gaining the support of the enabling powerful middle layers. For instance if you do not give free seats to the three/four powerful OBC sects in TN who carry out the local campaigns, intimidations and TV sets/rice bag distributions - you can not win elections in TN.

  2. T. Jayaraman said...

    Following your post, I went to the PanIIT conference website.
    Come on guys, Shashi
    Tharoor and SriSriRavishankar as key-note speakers?!! Pathetic. Before the IITians decide to change the country maybe they should first give themselves a check-up?
    The blogs are worse. Somebody even talks
    of how IITians are ready to follow the
    Swadesh and (hold your breath) Rang de
    Basanti model of social engineering!!
    Hopefully there are smarter IITians around. I draw some solace from the
    content of your post and the fact you
    are an IITian yourself.

    Thnks for your blogging, Abi. Most useful.