Today's DNA has two stories where lots of different people offer their views on coaching schools. While I have heard lots of complaints from faculty (in private conversations and through anonymous comments), it is good to hear them echoed by an IITian:
Says Karthik Shashidhar who graduated from IIT, Madras in 2004 and now works as an investment banker in Bangalore, "At IIT, we refer to the coaching centres as factories. I went to the biggest factory - BASE. But it was low intensity compared to most others. We have seen that more intense the preparation, worse they do at IIT. I have seen fairly sad cases of people dropping out, taking 6 years to complete the course and so on. Those who overstretch themselves to clear the JEE, tend to take it easy once they get into IIT. They just give up in life later. It could also be that people who don't have the aptitude somehow manage to scrape through with intense coaching, and then can't cope at IIT."
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Many people have pointed out that the culture of coaching schools cannot be eliminated, given the huge demand for IIT seats. Some people have even argued that coaching may actually be good, because it teaches kids vital skills that their regular schools fail to impart. All this is true; but these arguments misinterpret the concern about coaching schools.
The main complaint is primarily against Extreme Coaching exemplified by the Kota-style residential centres, which encourage students to develop and internalize a disdain for 'regular' studies -- a disdain that many students take to the IITs!
I think it's fair to say that it's worth pursuing ways of minimizing -- if not eliminating -- the pernicious influence of Extreme Coaching.
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One of them is to use multiple rounds of contests, like the math and physics Olympiads do.
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A simpler version -- involving a two-step process -- could also work. In fact, IITs did use (for a brief period that ended in 2005) a screening test that selected a small subset of JEE applicants for the final exam.
However, this didn't do anything to reduce the need for Extreme Coaching primarily because the screening test itself was as brutal as ever.
I think the trick is to make the screening test really simple. Something that a bright, diligent student should be able to ace without needing serious coaching. Ideally, the screening test should also be done about a year in advance, so that a huge majority of students can get on with their lives and make other plans.
With this scheme, Extreme Coaching loses its sting: where the numbers are huge (the screening test) coaching is not needed, and where coaching might be needed, the numbers are small.
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An even better option is to give some weight to broader measures of students' achievement, including performance in X and XII board exams (BTW, this is not as outlandish as it sounds -- IIM-B uses them). Use of X and XII results would also reward consistent performance -- something that was found in a study to correlate well with the performance of IIT-M students.
Given their stature and prestige, IITs will not have any trouble at all in getting the boards to declare percentile scores along with marks in Class X and Class XII. The percentile scores can also be used as an input into the ranking exercise in AIEEE, Pre-Medical Test, and other such tests.