In my post about JEE-bashing I pointed out that this exam has several biases built into it, with the worst being its bias against women. There are other biases too, but let me stick to this one for the moment.
First of all, it doesn't take genius to figure out that this bias exists: the fraction of women in the IITs is abysmally small -- typically less than 10 %. This number was this low when I entered college 25 years ago, and it has stayed there to this day.
I have tried to illustrate this bias using the results of board exams -- CBSE and ISC, in particular. Last year's data show that girls did better than boys in both CBSE and ISC exams. The CBSE results also showed that, in the Class X exams, girls outnumbered boys 9 to 8 among those scoring 95 % or higher. While we don't have the data for Class XII, I would be surprised if girls' performance dropped so drastically at Class XII as to 'justify' their small numbers in the IITs.
Girls also do well enough to get into all medical colleges and non-IIT engineering colleges in large numbers. [I do not have exact numbers for places like AIIMS and JIPMER (for medicine) and NITs and university engineering colleges (for engineering). If you know where I can get this information, do please let me know].
Given the large participation of women in highly sought-after professional courses, and given their minuscule numbers in the IITs, the conclusion is quite evident to me: there must be something in JEE that makes it hostile to women. The question is which specific aspect of JEE is behind the poor representation of women in the IITs.
To me at least, the fact that JEE cannot be cracked without intensive coaching is an important (if not the main) source of its bias against women. Given that engineering and medicine are so much in demand, those who can afford it would always go for some extra coaching help for facing the entrance exams. But, the other entrance examinations differ fundamentally from JEE in that it is possible for a bright -- and diligent -- student to crack them even without the help of coaching classes. In other words, the extra edge that one gets out of coaching is fairly small.
In JEE, however, intensive coaching is *the* only way one can hope to get through. To the extent that coaching facilities are not available or accessible to certain groups of people (women, students from poor families and rural students), well, shame on the IITs for sticking with an exam that demands such an intensive (and expensive) coaching.
Now go read Vivek's post rebutting the idea that the JEE is biased against women.
Do we have any data on the ratio of number of boys to girls in Science/Maths classes (at Std. XII) to that in IIT-JEE? Without that kind of comparison, it is a rather weak claim to allege gender bias in IIT-JEE.
Let us also not forget that parents, in general, discourage girls from taking up engineering because the term “engineer” still evokes the image of someone working in a factory or at a dam. Not to you. Not to me. Certainly not to most people who are capable of reading and writing blogs. But one just needs to take a walk through any Indian town to see evidence for this attitude of parents. And this is when I am talking about parents who are educated and aware enough to allow their daughters to get any sort of professional education at all. For every such enlightened parent, there are thousands of others who force (condition?) their daughters to take the BA/MA/Marriage route. Most parents are unwilling to spend substantial sums of money on their daughters’ education because they want to save it for their dowry, or they consider it a waste to spend money on girls because they are “paraya dhan” (someone else’s - read husband’s - property) anyway.
With such deep-rooted gender bias in the society, it is nothing but sheer escapism to blame IIT-JEE for dismal number of women at IITs. Yes, there must certainly be cases where parents do not send their daughters to late-night coaching classes (who would?) but that number fades in comparison to the number of women missing because of reasons outlined in the previous paragraph. In any case, most coaching classes these days have some arrangement with local schools which allows students to bunk classes and attend daytime coaching sessions.
In short, then, the argument is that the society is screwed up, so what are you doing here complaining about bias in JEE. And, hey, show me more data.
This is beyond silly. First of all, I have cite data that I think are relevant. Sure they are not comprehensive (heck, they would be if only our public institutions like CBSE take their jobs seriously and produce detailed reports and put them in public domain). To call my claim "rather weak", you have to show why the data I cite are irrelevant. You will also have to prove that more nuanced data -- ratio of boys to girls in science classes -- are absolutely essential for proving things one way or the other. But Vivek does neither. He simply asserts that "it's a rather weak claim to allege gender bias in JEE".
But tell me, is there anything that happens between Classes X and XII that leads to a magically different boys-to-girls ratio in science classes? From the limited knowledge I have -- I do interact with high school kids for this quiz -- I don't believe the boys-to-girls ratio in science classes are badly skewed in favour of the boys.
Further, not only do girls do quite well in high school, they also enter engineering colleges (and medical colleges, too, which are even more competitive) in fairly large numbers. And they do very well there too -- just look at the medal winners every year. Thus, the assertion that the pool of girls interested in engineering [because parents "force (condition?) their daughters to take the BA/MA/Marriage route"] must be junked -- at least as irrelevant.
Further, more than 58,000 of them (about 20 percent of the exam-takers) took JEE last year; this number was double that of the previous year! But the number of students who made it to the IITs barely budged! These pieces of information indicate clearly girls' lower JEE-preparedness (attributable, at least in part, to the need for specialized coaching).
Finally, since when have we started allowing our public institutions to hide behind the society moral shortcomings? If the society is screwed up, I would argue that our publicly funded institutions -- prestigious premier ones, in particular-- should do everything to counteract the social ills. Perversely, the JEE seems to be accentuating the corrosive effects of society's immoral treatment of some of its members.
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There seems to be a basic misunderstanding about the role of JEE. Let me illustrate it using an exam that I get involved in once in a while: GATE. This is an exam that all the undergrad students who aspire to do graduate studies in India have to take. At IISc, for example, we take all our M.E. students only through this exam.
The primary purpose of GATE is standardization: since we don't know the standard of education (curriculum and teaching) students receive in different universities, we need one common exam in each discipline. Moreover, as representatives of 'premier' institutions in India, we also use the GATE question papers for sending a signal about the kind of things that (we think) an undergraduate student should know (or, should have learnt). This implies that we ask questions at the undergraduate level.
In particular, it also implies that we do not -- I repeat, we do not -- ask questions that require advanced knowledge and analyzing problems. If we do, there will rightly be a huge hue and cry. From a practical angle too, there will be a problem: how do we assign ranks to thousands of students whose marks range, say, from 10 to 30?
Now, tell me, in what way is JEE different from GATE? Doesn't JEE too have the primary purpose of standardization across the numerous high school exam boards we have in this blessed country of ours? Doesn't JEE too have the responsibility of signaling what it is our premier institutions expect a good high school student to have learnt and mastered?
Instead, what does JEE do? Does it pose questions at a level at which our high school boards cover physics, math and chemistry? Hell, no! Does it have questions that a good student can even attempt to answer without any specialized coaching? No again.
What does it do, then? It provides excellent employment to a great number of people working in coaching centres that exploit parents' paranoia about their kids future in this hypercompetitive world. It demoralizes a huge number of bright kids, not because they get lower marks than their successful counterparts, but because the exam humiliates and mocks them, making them feel ignorant. It devalues schools and renders them -- in the eyes of students and their parents -- inferior to coaching centres. It makes a vast army of students forego their usual adolescent activities (fun and games!), converting their lives into one monomaniacal pursuit.
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Is there a place for a tough exam such as the JEE? Shouldn't a society challenge some of its youth in intellectual affairs? The answer is "Yes!". The Math and Physics Olympiads serve precisely this purpose. The analogy with the Olympic Games is fairly straight forward: (a) most of us 'normal' folks don't take part in these games, (b) those who do take part require intense training under the watchful eyes of an expert coach, and (c) winners receive a PRIZE (and fame!).
In its current form, JEE is like a "Prize" exam. It should not be. Because, a seat at an IIT should not be a "Prize". Many of us seem to think that it is, but it should not be. IITs are about education, and should stay that way. As premier institutions, they should dump the current format and go for one that does the simple job of standardizing across India's many school exam boards.