Thursday, April 26, 2007

JEE's bias against women

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.


  1. Anonymous said...

    i can tell you the ratio in aiims, it is 10-14 girls in a batch of 50, ie 20-30%. it is much higher(50% or above) in the university med colleges, but most of them have some sort of reservation for girls.I have no idea about jipmer.

    your data that

    "Further, more than 58,000 of them (about 20 percent of the exam-takers)"

    and 10% girls among the successful candidates seems like evidence of bias to me. but i guess you have never heard the guys complain about how everyone is biased towards girls. they have almost convinced me that things are biased against them.


  2. Vivek Kumar said...


    1. At this moment, Google throws up 1,250,000 results for "GATE" plus "coaching". As I have pointed out earlier, coaching centers exist for every such exam (including GMAT, GRE etc). No amount of standardization is going to change this picture unless the demand-supply gap is addressed.

    2. It is *your* claim that JEE is gender biased. The burden of proof is on you. You have to produce enough data to prove your statement. I merely have to introduce reasonable doubt. So lets keep this debating tactic out.

    In my post, I have clearly stated that I too am concerned about the influence of coaching centers. So the only substantive difference between our positions is this: you believe that changing JEE would change everything and I believe that unless you address the fundamental reasons (demand-supply gap being the most important, IMO) nothing is going to change.

    It is not the JEE that is the "prize". The prize is the IIT seat. So unless you increased the seats (while maintaining the quality), the picture will not alter substantially.

    Beyond this, I guess we just have to agree to disagree.

    [As an aside, I found it quite funny that you dismiss my assertions about "society" while at the same time you keep citing anecdotal evidence from your personal interactions etc.]

  3. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Abi - excellent post. Good to read your own opinion (as opposed to quotes) put forward so forcefully, and I agree with everything you say.

    Vivek -- the question is not whether coaching classes exist; it is whether they are required. I took the SAT without coaching in 1991, and got 1540/1600 (but ended up staying in India). I also took the JEE without coaching, and got a rank somewhere in the 1600s; I'm sure I could have done better with more problem-solving practice and without "coaching classes". This rank may have got me physics at IIT-KGP, but I ended up studying in Delhi University, a decision I'm very happy with in retrospect.

    Today I believe a student of my calibre (well above average, but well below genius material) would still do well in SAT and other standardised tests, but wouldn't stand a chance in the JEE without coaching, in topics far afield of the high school syllabus. That's the problem here.

  4. Madhat said...

    ah! I get your meaning now. It is not that the JEE in isolation are gender biased but they are biased towards men just as they are biased towards upper castes...

  5. Vivek Kumar said...

    @Rahul: The existence of coaching centers is market driven. They exist because there is a demand for them (so they are "required", though certainly not "desirable" in an "ideal situation" IMO). That demand, in turn, exists because there is intense competition to get into these institutes. That intense competition exists because the number of available seats is way too small. If I am mistaken in this line of reasoning, I am open to ideas. So I assert that unless this imbalance is addressed, we are not going to see any major change in the gender situation.

    To prove gender bias, one needs to prove that "all other factors remaining constant", less women get into IITs.

    If the demand-supply gap mandates proliferation of coaching institutes and parents decide not to spend money on sending girls to these institutes, then it is not a problem with JEE - it is then a problem with the so-called "system". You may call the "system" by many names - Government, MHRD, IIT System, Education System, Society, take your pick.

  6. Krish said...


    Great post.


    Let us assume the issue here is the supply demand gap as you say. Let us assume that we need to increase the seats to fill this gap. But it doesn't mean that the bias against women is going to be automatically removed. What is the guarantee that the current distribution of men and women will automatically change with the increase in seats? The only way I could see the distribution to change just by increasing the seats is by assuming that men are superior to women and hence the fill up the current number of seats predominantly and women are next best. They are the ones to fill up the news seats thereby making the distribution equal. Is this what you think will happen? How else will you explain the fact that the distribution can be made equal by only increasing the number of seats in IIT (reduction of supply demand gap)? Explanation please.

  7. Vivek Kumar said...

    @Rahul: I forgot to add one thing.

    AFAIK, the score one gets in SAT, GRE, GMAT (and even GATE) etc is the not the only criteria in securing an admission. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Contrast this with JEE. Even if you draw up a JEE of your choice, you would still have to put up a list of people according to the marks obtained by them in JEE (you certainly can't interview them all or ask them to provide references etc.). So the imperative for joining a coaching class remains unchanged unless the number of available seats has gone up drastically.

    I think I have encroached enough on Abi's blog for now :)

  8. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Vivek -- you are missing the basic point here. The syllabus requirements for SAT, GRE, GATE etc are extremely modest, compared to what most students at that level know. So a student who has not gone to a coaching class, but who is reasonably bright and clear-thinking, stands an excellent chance of doing well in these exams. Not so with the IIT-JEE, where the syllabus requirements are well beyond what students of that age are expected to know by their school boards (and well beyond SAT, including the subject tests). That is why Abi (and I) are saying that coaching is now a requirement for the IIT JEE.

    It is also true that the other tests are not usually taken as sole criteria for admission (though this is entirely the choice of the institution using the test results). That is a different issue entirely.

  9. Vivek Kumar said...

    [Abi, sorry for this extra comment. Krish's comment popped up just as I submitted my last one]

    @Krish: We are actually pretty much in agreement.

    It is Abi's contention (not mine) that girls don't clear JEE mainly because they are not allowed to join coaching classes. To eliminate/minimize the role of coaching classes (as Abi desires, and as I also do), my proposal is to address the demand-supply gap (which, to my mind, is the driving force behind coaching centers). Once you eliminate/minimize the role of coaching institutes, according to Abi's view, the number of women will go up.

    So this position is essentially Abi's position - that women don't get into JEE mainly because of role of coaching classes.

    My own position includes other factors as outlined on my blog.

    [Okay, this is positively the last comment from me. I am sure people have been exposed to enough opinions on both sides by now.]

  10. Tabula Rasa said...

    i have to say vivek's points make more sense to me. he's making them plainly and without rhetoric.

    on the question of coaching classes, one has to consider the basic difference between the jee and the board exams, i.e., that one delivers a rating and the other a ranking. the board examiners are happy if they can assign a number to every candidate, one that corresponds somewhat with the extent of their "true" knowledge of the material. if a million people take the exam and a hundred thousand of them know the material perfectly, they can all get 100% and everyone is happy. the jee examiners otoh have to *rank* all the candidates and this is a substantially different task. in this context, an exam that returned a hundred thousand top-scoring candidates would be a huge failure. this is why the exam must necessarily get tougher every year that the demand-suppply gap gets worse. and this is why a seat at an iit is a prize -- because it is. we can't wish that away.

  11. Abi said...

    Anon (Iva): Thanks for that statistic about AIIMS.

    Vivek: I too am aware of GATE coaching. But, is it in the same league as JEE coaching? A bright, diligent student can ace GATE and get a fantastic rank without having to go through a coaching centre. Do you really think it's possible in JEE?

    I agree with you about the need for a great expansion of higher education opportunities. I'm glad you too would like real universities.

    As for JEE's bias against women, I use a fairly simple standard: when girls do well in their regular studies, how come their numbers are so minuscule at the IITs? I cite other data about women's presence in professional courses in other colleges (where their numbers are much better). Thus, what I have done with publicly available data is to build a plausible case for JEE's bias against women. I leave it to people to decide if this case is a strong one.

    But, let me repeat. These data cannot be brushed aside so easily. All I am asking of you is to tell me why you think the case is 'rather weak'. Just demanding more data will not do.

    No, I did not dismiss your assertions about society; they are perfectly valid. However, I cited my experience (and women's pursuit in large numbers of careers in engineering and medicine) to make the point that you are probably overstating the role of tradition in stopping women from pursuing engineering. My experience is relevant, because I encounter high school kids from quite a few schools in Bangalore; while boys outnumber girls in those groups, the ratio is not as badly skewed as it is in the IITs.

    Rahul, Krish: Thanks for those kind words.

    Rahul: Excellent point about how some of those other exams can be cracked without external help.

    MadHat: Thanks for (finally!) getting the Truth!

    Krish: You make an excellent point: expanding educational opportunities may make JEE somewhat less competitive, but all its current problems (with their associated biases) will not go away.

    Vivek: Yes, American universities use many different criteria for choosing their students. If we are willing to see past the current format for JEE, one can explore a lot of other ideas for selecting IIT students (without having to resort to 'subjective' evaluations that are generally seen as suspect).

  12. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    TR - you say
    "an exam that returned a hundred thousand top-scoring candidates would be a huge failure."

    I don't know what typical JEE scores are like (I suppose only IIT insiders know that), but this article by an insider (earlier linked by Abi) suggests that scores are very low. To quote the relevant bit:

    I agree that the question papers of JEE should be a notch harder than those of the standard higher secondary board examinations, but they should be only reasonably harder. That is not the way it is at present. JEE question papers have no relation at all to what a student is expected to do at school. Preparation for the school examinations and JEE are mutually exclusive (excepting for the student of truly rare ability), therefore it is no surprise that about 60 percent of the intake every year consists of candidates attempting JEE for the second or third time. According to the structure of our education system, students are supposed to join the IITs immediately after they finish school. If JEE militates against that scheme, surely everything is not all right.

    It is argued that, if the examination were any easier, it would be impossible to discriminate and select students. The fact is that, even now, we are not doing a very good job of discriminating. The examination is so hard and the scores so low, that chance plays a very big part. Who would be so brave as to assert that, of two low-scoring students in a low scoring examination, one is better than the other? Or that the student who just missed the cut is inferior?

    And if you agree with Vivek it is because you and he are both missing this essential point, made many times above: the exam goes far beyond what a school student should reasonably be expected to know.

  13. Anonymous said...


    How did you reach this conclusion that medical entrance tests don't require coaching or less coaching? You entire argument is built on this premise which is wrong. I practically know no medical students(and trust me, I know a lot of them) who have cracked the exams without coaching.

    Just go through a site like Aakash coaching and see for your self how many top rankers in AIIMS and MAMC and JIPMER come from coaching classes.

    I have read for a medical entrance exam, its harder than you think...

    Btw, I asked you a question previously. Girls do better than boys in board exams, does that mean boards are baised against boys?

  14. Anonymous said...


    Just a quick response to your point, I entirely agree with our assertion but it is equally true for medical entrance exam. The requirement is much higher than what is taught in high schools.

  15. Madhat said...

    @abi: I blame you for all the confusion. :D
    @confused: whether it is AIIMS or JIPMER or the PG entrance exams, you do not need the kind of coaching you need for JEE. You have to slog, I agree. You have to toil long hours for months, I agree. But it is just not the same. Besides, the 'coaching' is not needed.

  16. Wavefunction said...

    Abi, is there something in IIT-JEE which is biased against women, or is there something in the IITs themselves that is biased against women? The paucity of women in the IITs could be caused by both of these factors.

  17. Falstaff said...

    Abi: Two things.

    First, I think you're actually diluting your case by citing a lot of irrelevant data. If the point is that JEE is biased towards women, it seems to me that the simplest metric of that is the one you bring up only at the end - % of women admitted / % of women taking the test. All this stuff about class X results is a little besides the point. On that number - the fact that 10% of people admitted are women while 20% of test-takers are women, though certainly indicative of bias isn't really conclusive - mostly because the probability of being admitted is really low, so the difference in the odds ratio between men and women may not be statistically significant. If you have the data on number of women taking the JEE vs. number of women admitted (both as a % of the total) for a number of years, however, it's a fairly elementary statistical test.

    Understand, I'm not saying I don't believe you, just that if you're trying to make a case for gender bias in JEE admissions you're doing a fairly sloppy job of it.

    Second, in order to truly refute Vivek's point what you really need is an argument to explain why women are not able to attend coaching classes but would be able to attend IITs. Are coaching classes discriminating against women? I've seen no evidence of this. Why can't women attend coaching classes then?

    The more general argument against JEE as discriminating against low-income / rural candidates I see the point of. The argument there is that these candidates can't afford the training JEE requires and so are kept out of the IITs. Fair enough. But this 'income effect' presumably affects men and women equally. Why can women from high-income families not attend coaching classes, just like their male counterparts?

    Vivek's arguments, such as they are, suggest that the reason we see less women attending coaching classes is because socio-cultural norms make engineering an undesirable profession for women. If that's true, then removing the coaching class barrier won't help - the same factors that caused these women to self-select out of coaching classes would make them self-select out of IITs as well.

    Again, none of this is to deny the merit of your argument against the JEE being poorly designed and prejudicial in general - I agree entirely with the adverse effect on rural / low-income candidates. Given your data / arguments right now I'm still unconvinced that there's an adverse effect on women.

  18. Anonymous said...

    >> 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?

    Hormonal changes, societal pressures ? gender roles ?

    Your assertion that what is essentially a problem solving exercise (JEE) may be biased against one gender is so ridiculous that it defies rebuttal.

    Its like taking two people, feeding one very well, starving the other one, and asking them to take a physical endurance test. When the test results show that person no 2 consistently lags behind person no 1, claim that the endurance test is biased ! Any person who has an iota of intelligence can figure out that its not the endurance test thats biased but the conditions that preceded the test.

    On the other hand, lazy people like you, whose first idea to solve any societal imbalance is a top down approach of reservations, will try to fiddle around with the nature of the test and not even go into the underlying problems in society. Aisa gadhapan apko hi mubarak.. (translation: If you want to be such an arse, be my guest).

    lastly, you seem to recommend a standardized SAT/GRE like test to replace JEE. I can assure you that more than 20,000 people will probably get perfect scores in a SAT like exam. How do you decide now which student is better than whom ? In the US, its done on highly subjective criteria like social background, interests, race, gender, extra curricular activities, social service etc. Are we in India in a position where these techniques can be employed without controversy and bias ? IMO, No.


  19. Anonymous said...

    Also, will you allege that the game of chess is biased against women ? because there are very few female grandmasters as compared to male grandmasters ?

    Have you taken into account the fact that IQ distribution for guys has much heavier tails than girls ?


  20. Anonymous said...

    Keeping things simple, let me state what some of my friends from Bansal classes in Kota told me about what Bansal Sir said to a guy who was sitting in his class and paying attention towards some girl and not what he was teaching:
    You stupid guy, there are millions of guys now who are sitting and studying and muggging and this girl can marry anyone of those!!. What will you do if you dont pass the exam?
    This is the sad condition of the Indian society. You can't make JEE simpler and hence girl friendly.
    The author of the blog suggests as if its in the capacity of IITs to ensure that coaching centres shut down and girls start coming in. I dont quiet concur, since I am a guy, I have written JEE and I know what it takes to get into IITs.

  21. Krish said...


    I am still not sure if I got your argument right. You are saying that the influence of coaching classes can be eliminated by closing the supply demand gap and this will lead to the removal of gender bias. Correct me if this interpretation is right.

    If yes, I would like to make the following assertion. keep in mind that my knowledge of economics is at the periphery and I am relying on common sense. To remove the relevance of coaching classes, you need to increase the supply in a really big way. You need to make the seats in IIT equal in number to what we get in engineering colleges in Tamilnadu. Only then, we can eliminate the relevance of coaching classes. Let us assume that we increase the seats to that much by opening 25-50 IITs. This will create another supply demand issue and this will be on the side of resources for new IITs and getting good faculty. You need to get 25-50 x of the resources and faculty of any single IIT (of the present day level). Let us assume that we meet the resource levels somehow (I am still not sure how we can have that much resource but let us assume we can do it). How are we going to find good faculty at such great numbers (25-50 times the current faculty of single IIT). There is no way these supply issue can be addressed. Then the only way is to take all and sundry as faculties in IITs. With this, we can meed the demand. But this will bring down the quality of IITs to the engg. colleges of Tamilnadu, thereby making the concept of IITs useless.

    So your idea of increasing the supply to remove the gender bias doesn't appear to be a practical one. I seriously feel that we should find other ways to remove the gender bias. Tell me where I am going wrong in the above interpretation of your idea.

  22. Krish said...

    Oops!! It should read "correct me if the interpretation is wrong" :-)

  23. Saurabh said...

    It was about 6 years ago, but I hear things haven't changed much since...

    "you need 3 subject tutions - one each for physics, maths, and chemistry - if you're even thinking of getting in to the IITs", I had been told by a 'senior'.

    Amritsar's a small city. But there used to be 300 students in each of the two batches for class XI. About 40% were girls. In medical entrance exams, a lot of people from the city would be selected, even in institutes like AIIMS, including a good percentage of girls.

    However, in IITs only about 5 a year would make it, even though the number of seats are relatively larger if one compares to the top medical colleges. And these 5 would be part of students who'd pay to attend "special IIT groups". The number of girls in these groups used to be only about 5-10%, much less than the total number of girls writing other engineering and medical exams (apart from JEE, that is).

    I wish to share my impressions from this:

    1. Yes, coaching institutes play a HUGE role, and have become almost a necessary stop en-route to the IITs.

    2. I agree with Abi that girls do well in CBSE, and are competing in good numbers for medican entrance exams. But when it comes to these "IIT groups", their numbers, indeed are miserably small just to begin with. I guess this is similar to what Vivek pointed out, too.

    3. I also have a question: Agreed, that the JEE is way more tough than it should be. But why is it tougher for girls than for guys? (this, in the backdrop of your rejection of Vivek's idea of social pressure, and belief in that girls attempt just the way guys do, in terms of numbers and coaching, that is).

  24. Anonymous said...

    Accepted statement:
    It is almost impossible to join IIT for an undergraduate degree without coaching.

    Deduction:Coaching provides a significant comparative advantage in JEE.

    Accepted:Percentage of women in IITs is extremely low approx (10-15%)

    Deduction:Women dont have access to coaching classes.

    Hypothesis: They dont have access due to time,money and geography. the major coaching centers are loacted presently in Kota, New delhi, Bhilai, Hyderabad. Most students at Kota, New delhi are students from other states. Parents are reluctant to let women travel and live by themselves in far away states at ages of 16-18.

    In places like Delhi and hyderabad, classes are often held in early mornings and nights simply becuase the school system has not been completely bypassed .Most parents are again reluctant to let women to travel by themselves at these hours. In addition , coaching costs a non trivial sum of money presently and this introduces a bias in favour of men.

    Solution: Minimize the comparative advantage produced by coaching or increase access to coaching. The latter cannot be provided by the govt or the IITs. The former can be achieved in two ways: increase supply(and this can be done if truly desired) or make coaching redundant.

    Coaching classes are required not simply because of supply and demand,but beacuse JEE is not based on any high school curriculum of any board.Therefore the only people who do teach these new ideas and concepts are the coaching classes. And that is the crucial difference between JEE and GATE.And I have taken both exams,so I have seen the difference first hand.

    JEE is also completely untransparent whose syllabus is garangutan and ambiguous.

    Smart students do pretty well in CBSE exams without any coaching. Even though coaching exists very much for board exams, yet the toppers do just fine without it. But CBSE cannot effectively discriminate at the tail end. Thus just make JEE a little harder,by publicly benchmarking it against well known books like HC Verma et al.

    PS:Anybody who thinks that the dilution of JEE will lead to mere memorizers to get access to IITs should consider the difference in the input of MIT and IITs. MIT admits students with the help of far lesser stringent methods, SAT2 is no match for the JEE. At present MIT incoming class is 50% women. I will be damned if somebody were to claim that the output from MIT at the end of 4 years is any less competent,creative than IITians, which points to the golden truth that what matters is what happens once they get inside.

  25. Anonymous said...

    @@ as said:

    >> Coaching classes are required not simply because of supply and demand,but beacuse JEE is not based on any high school curriculum of any board.Therefore the only people who do teach these new ideas and concepts are the coaching classes. And that is the crucial difference between JEE and GATE.And I have taken both exams,so I have seen the difference first hand.

    JEE can be considered to be a more advanced version of whats being taught in various board curricula. Its not completely mutually exclusive, but then the purpose of the boards and the JEE is completely different, one serves as a Lowest Common Denominator and the other to get a long tail out of test score results. In recent times, the standards of CBSE have been changed to give respite to students. The purpose now is to find the student fit at a particular standard, not to discriminate among students.

    >> PS:Anybody who thinks that the dilution of JEE will lead to mere memorizers to get access to IITs should consider the difference in the input of MIT and IITs. MIT admits students with the help of far lesser stringent methods, SAT2 is no match for the JEE. At present MIT incoming class is 50% women. I will be damned if somebody were to claim that the output from MIT at the end of 4 years is any less competent,creative than IITians, which points to the golden truth that what matters is what happens once they get inside.

    MIT has the luxury of taking a *lot* of factors into consideration apart from SAT2 scores when taking admission decisions. These factors are even more subjective and opaque than JEE and include race, gender, extra curriculars, recommendations, research done at high school student level, parents backgrounds, essays written by the applicants, financial background etc. Its not as if a 100% score on the SAT2 will automatically give you a ticket to a MIT UG degree !

    In the Indian environment, such a selection is virtually impossible. What chances does a student from a village have of doing extra curricular work that may be cited in a cover letter ? what about language differences, can you ask a person who has gone to a hindi medium school for 15 years to write an essay in english ? How do you judge the relative merits of essays written in different languages ?

    All said and done, JEE provides a medium thats much more neutral than any other system in practice. It is obvious to all but those blinded by their politics, that such an unbiased test will reflect the biases present in the society that it functions in!


  26. Anonymous said...

    First, we must be clear what consitutes bias. It is a pretty heavy word.

    Biased in what way ?

    First, there is a natural gender bias that is part of society. For instance, girls are not encouraged to stay out till 2AM at night - thereby missing out some intensive coaching. There is also the case, where parents dont want to spend for extra coaching for girls, but dont mind doling it out for the boys. In addition, throughout the world there is a gender imbalance in the engineering field.

    You cannot hold the IIT-JEE responsible for any of the above.

    To prove bias in JEE "the exam", you have to establish the following.

    Consider two candidates Student-A and Student-B. The "selection machine" can distinguish, just by looking at the answer sheets, which one of the two is a girl and which one is a boy.

    If you cant prove the above, then the JEE has no bias. It is simply because the "selection machine" is incapable of distinguishing in the first place.

    To drive home my point, I think the IIM "selection machine" with the group discussions and interviews atleast have the ability to distinguish. So, if anyone alleges bias in IIMs due to way of speaking or rural accents, I would be inclined to hear them out.

    Maybe society has a bias in terms of prepping girls sufficiently. Perhaps what you need is for more girls to put their foot down and demand access to coaching from their parents, on par with their brothers.

    Let us come to the Tamilnadu angle from one of the distinguished commenters.

    Perhaps people from the north are confounded about these arguments. Could Tamilnadu be the torch bearer here ? They even abolished entrance exams over there.

    Lets start with this question. What is the impact on the distribution of resources (seats) among a population, as exams get progressively easier? In Tamilnadu, for example, in 2004 there were 1400 "centums" (100%) in Biology for 1200 or so seats. Hundreds of students are grouped in marks like 99.5, 98.25, etc.

    If you had a system like the above. Basic schooling and neighborhood tuitions will get students into the top bracket. Further intensive coaching or extra studies, above and beyond the school practise exams, will not make a difference. Beyond a point, extra coaching actually yields diminishing returns.

    In other words, it is quite easy to get to 98%, beyond that it is a crap shoot.

    Now, with such an easy exam, the distributions are likely to be fairly evenly spread among those who have the ability to get into the top bunch. You can pick out Mr Motivated or Ms Good Enough or Mr Par-For-The-Course. Can you pick out that Ms Exceptional ?

    I do agree on several points that Abi makes. For example 85% of IITians from the south are from Hyderabad. Now, does this imply that JEE is biased against Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam speakers ? Not.

    The real problem I see is the cost and accessibility of these coaching centers.

    One of your commenters, Dr Bruno had a good suggestion. Maybe the IITs can change patterns and content dramatically every year.

    Disclaimer : I tried my luck at the IIT exam a long time back. I tanked so bad that I wasnt even sure whether the paper in front of me was maths, physics, or chemistry.

  27. Pratik Ray said...

    The IIT JEE should be held in a town called Chongqing. [:P]
    Why? Well, go ahead and take a look here

    Joking apart, yeah, one has to admit that the boys:girls ratio in IITs is rather skewed. Whether diluting the JEE is the solution is open to question. I would rather we had a larger number of "elite" institutes (and consequently lower competition for the seats).

    It is debatable whether the predominance of coaching centers is due to the tough nature of JEE or the cut throat competition for a "prize" IIT seat.

    I may be out of sync with times, but I dont think such a proliferation of coaching centers exist for the Olympiads (which in my view are as tough as the JEE, if not tougher). At least, when we appeared the Olympiad in '97 and '98, we didnt have coaching centers for Olympiads, although FIITJEE and co were ruling the roost for JEE. Which, probably has to do with the fact that Olympiad isnt considered as big a "prize" as the JEE.

  28. Arun said...

    I studied in NIT Calicut. % of girls in the college- 10-15%. that too mainly due to civil engg.

    % of girls coming in top 100 ranks in Kerala CET (Engg): less than 10.

    So its not JEE alone.

  29. Vivek Kumar said...

    @Krish: I am not really a fan of summarizing complex positions in one sentence for the benefit of someone who has (quite obviously) not taken the trouble to read the relevant posts/comments.

    This is what I had said in my previous comment (which was a direct response to you):

    "It is Abi's contention (not mine) that girls don't clear JEE mainly because they are not allowed to join coaching classes. To eliminate/minimize the role of coaching classes (as Abi desires, and as I also do), my proposal is to address the demand-supply gap (which, to my mind, is the driving force behind coaching centers). Once you eliminate/minimize the role of coaching institutes, according to Abi's view, the number of women will go up."

    "So this position is essentially Abi's position - that women don't get into JEE mainly because of role of coaching classes."

    "My own position includes other factors as outlined on my blog."

    Even after (presumably) reading this comment, if you have to falsely attribute words to me then I can't help you.

    My views have been laid out in my post and comments. I suggest that you take the trouble to read those before trying to crystallize my views in over-simplified one-line statements. It doesn't work that way.

    @Abi: I know, I had said that I would not comment again. Sorry for yet another encroachment but I can't accept people attributing false views to me. I promise, "God promise", to stay away now :)

  30. Anonymous said...

    Now Abi,

    Coming to "getting into MBBS" in Tamil Nadu, the motivation as well as the facilites were same to both....

    THere will be equal number of boys and girls in Physics, Chemistry and Biology Tuitions / SPecial Classes and Coaching Classes and there will be equal number of boys and girls in the Entrance Coaching Institutes...

    What you say (Boys getting more facilities / being motivated) may be true as far as IIT-JEE, PMPD etc, but as far as I know I don't thing that there is a difference between the genders at State Exams....

    Yet the results are varied...

    This year, there is NO entrance in Tamil Nadu.... You will see that out of the 1500 seats, at least 1100 will be filled by girls...

    By the way, take the TOP 100 rankers in any Board Exams..... How many of them have got there without and coaching... Not even 5...

    In my knowledge, the level of coaching / special classes / tuitions needed for Class XII exams are more than the one month Training for Entrance Exams....

    I do not think that the difference is due to "coaching".. Both boys and girls attend coaching for Board Exams as well as coaching for Entrance Exams, but girls outperform boys in board exams and boys out perform boys in entrance exams

    I do not think that JEE is more biased than any entrance (objective type of questions).... It is as biased against girls as any other entrance in the same way board exam (needing to memorise 1200 pages with comma full stop etc) is biased against boys !!!!

  31. Anonymous said...

    Well, in this discussion, we can safely omit social factors like late night coaching, early morning etc since this lack of girls in engg is well known in so called hyper egalitarial societies like in scandinavia (where fathers have paternity leave and cook the evening meal). Therefore, there must be other natural factors like aptitude for a particular field. Is the JEE concentrating too much on math and fields such as geometry and statistics that women dont seem to enjoy doing. It is also well known that while women can multitask without much effort, they are confused when faced with engg problems that involve visualising in three dimensions-it is not that they cannot be trained but they dont seem to have a natural aptitude. I think women should be equally good at solving algebraic problems or writing software. So, if the JEE changed so as to include the various aspects of knowledge such as verbal, intuitive etc. I am sure that more women will pass the test. If more women role models existed, there would be other that will follow.

  32. Abi said...

    Wow, 31 comments, and counting! Definitely a record for this humble blog ...

    TR: If you are bothered by the 'ranking' function of an entrance exam, it can be achieved quite easily through many, many different ways. A standardized exam (where difficulty levels are pre-tested, and more difficult ones are given a greater weight) will do wonders. If this exam is designed in such a way that an average student gets about 50 to 60 %, it will be able to pick the high end of the bell curve rather easily.

    Those are just a couple of ideas. But here's something that I would really prefer: Use the standardized test to also standardize (assign relative weightage to) different school exam boards. Then use both JEE score and the high school exam (weighted by the JEE) to arrive at a composite score. Why do I want high school performance to be included? It's because of this study.

    [Aside: In the year I took the JEE (1981), I really wonder how the 'ranking' was done; we all felt that the chemistry and math papers were so freakin' difficult that all we could do was to attempt only 25 percent of the questions! Here's something from B.N. Banerjee's article: "Those who set the monstrous mathematics papers of JEE-86 and JEE-87 kept on insisting, even after the debacle, that the papers were not unreasonable."]

    I agree that an IIT admission is now a "Prize". But should it stay that way? Further, if it should be treated as a "Prize", I would like the rules of the game to be changed to ensure a better mix of students!

    Confused: My understanding is that the medical entrance exams are tough because they cover a lot of material. Not because they test you on concepts that are at a far higher level than what is covered in high school curriculum (CBSE, for example). A bright, diligent student should be able to get through without external help. As MadHat put it, you have to slog, but this slog is qualitatively different from the JEE slog.

    Where it is sought, external help may give someone a minor edge (exam taking strategies, time management tips, etc) in other exams AIEEE, state level exams, etc.; but in JEE, external help is *the* only thing!

    About the 9:8 edge girls have at the high end of Class X CBSE exams: You really think you asked a very clever question, don't you?!

    Rahul, MadHat: Thanks for adding your supporting material, and for addressing interesting issues raised by other commenters.

    Ashutosh: In the absence of any publicly available data, I would not throw around allegations of gender bias at institutions.

    Falstaff: The correct metric for showing the existence of bias is something reasonable people may disagree on. While women's percentage among exam takers and among the successful candidates is a good metric, it may not be useful for reasons such as: the force of history which may have discouraged girls from even taking JEE. [Interestingly, last year the number of women taking JEE almost doubled; one of the reasons is that the application fee was halved last year! This sort of variability caused by external factors may also cloud the analysis.] Having said that, I agree with you that this information would be a useful way of looking at it; IITs have it, but they also hoard it!

    I have used a different metric: the pool of eligible candidates [I don't care how you define them: a mere pass in CBSE, or those with 70 + percent in CBSE]. If the fraction of girls among the successful candidates is far smaller than that in the eligible pool, there is a plausibility of bias. This is what I have tried to do, with some available evidence. I wish I could get more -- and more detailed -- data, but this is all I have.

    I used the stuff about girls getting into engineering colleges in large numbers to counter the argument that our culture somehow has a strong 'bias against engineering'. I don't know of any evidence for this bias.

    As for why I haven't talked about -- in this post -- how women get affected by the need for coaching, it's something I covered in a comment on some other post. Basically, it boils down to two things:

    (a) Indian families typically spend less on girls' education than on boys' [I will have to dig up the data on this one; I have to ask you to accept it as a reasonable premise]; so, to the extent that coaching represents an additional expense, it puts them at a disadvantage.

    (b) Coaching centres' practices. Boys can go to Kota and camp out there for a year (foregoing a year of college!); I can't imagine parents sending their girls there for such a long period. Also (as AS observed in his/her comment), coaching centres operate during ungodly hours (a centre in Mumbai even tried all-night coaching sessions!) This too puts girls at a disadvantage.

    Sudeep: Read the post again, before you show off your ignorance: Girls do very well in high school. The 'prior conditions' didn't put them at a disadvantage there.

    Your characterization of JEE as a 'mere' problem-solving exercise is false. It's a problem-solving exercise that requires intensive coaching.

    And, what was that stuff about hormones? Do boys get an extra dose of JEE hormones?

    As for analogy with chess, I will have to ask you the following: Do you want higher education (seen as a stepping stone for prosperity and better life) to be like playing chess (a voluntary activity)? Is our government spending hundreds of crores on chess?

    Anon: I'm not just asking for a 'simpler' JEE. I'm asking for a 'fairer' JEE: one that will test students on what they learn (or, should have learnt) in their regular high school education.

    Krish: I'm with Vivek (and many others) on the need to increase the supply of educational opportunities. Your point that it may not be feasible is valid; but it also points to the difficult path ahead. That's how I see it; for the purposes of this post, I will stop with that.

    AS: Thanks for all those supporting points! So clear; so wonderful! Thanks again.

    RC: Please don't accuse me of things I haven't said. When I said 'bias', I was careful to operationalize the concept before applying it to JEE (using data on girl's performance in CBSE, etc).

    Now, if success in JEE requires expensive coaching, and if IITs still stick with the same format, in what way can we say that they aren't responsible?

    Any procedurally fair exam (including the CBSE's exam!) will fit your description of 'selection machine'. Such an exam need not be the JEE. Thank you.

    Pratik: Thanks for the stuff about the recent proliferation of coaching centres for JEE, and lack of them for Olympiad.

    Sahodaran: Thanks for those data on NIT-Calicut and Kerala entrance exams. Looks like they are about as 'biased' as the JEE!

    Bruno: Your points are interesting. However, would you say that there is a good correlation between entrance exam marks and high school exam marks?

    Further, the TN entrance exams are just not in the same league as the JEE, Bruno. 95 % of the students may go to a coaching centre, but do you think it is really necessary for a bright, diligent student?

  33. Anonymous said...

    V. interesting, especially when Dr.Bruno talks sense for a change and doesn't whip out the old saw.

    -MIT isn't the most exclusive UG sc. and engg. school in the US. Caltech is by a few miles. MIT more than any other school in the US looks for high test scores and will admit as many students as possible from the 2400 SAT; 4.0-4-5 GPA group, regardless of ethnic balance, regional balance etc. MIT like many top-shelf univs has compiled a ranking of school districts all over the US (and even school boards outside the US). This is v.important because school districts in the US are autonomous and evaluate their students independent of any central authority either nationally or within the state. So for instance MIT knows how to rank 2 students with the same GPA but from different school districts. At the same time MIT will also accord some preference to a single parent student from the South Side of Chicago, Applachians, or from a Native American reservation, who may be the first in their family to apply to college. Caltech takes very few UG students (about 200) a year and apart from high test scores (>2100) looks for record of exceptional achievement in science with practical projects being preferred. So given an Olympiad topper and a student who implemented a low cost wireless network for her neighborhood or a student who has been running a used car garage since the age of 13; the las two might actually stand a better chance of getting in, the the first one. (The first one may go to Harvard instead!)

    -For a nation of a billion people we have just 3000 top quality engg seats between the IITs? What a shame! (Well there are more shameful things - but we won't go there yet!) The Big Ten universities in the US between them admit about 8000 engg students annually So the current plan for about 20-25 IITs of all sorts is a good idea. Better still would be to provide some common base level of budgetary support to all engg (and medical) schools that would bring a lot of schools up greatly while some IITs may not get anything at all; and free them to expand any way they want, relaxing all constraints, wrt faculty pay, coursework, student fees etc. Too ambitious? Try it in phases. Run the same JEE then, and the IITs alone will be looking at admitting not 3000 but about 30000 students! One of the reasons why there is such a high demand for IITs or for other 'exclusive' schools is that there is a steep drop in quality beyond these 'exclusives'. But if the JEE itself were made any easier you would find test scores getting clustered towards the higher end (as already happens with state entrance tests). The problem is supply demand - very economic as most of the time!

    As for specialised coaching, women do it for medical entrance tests. Quite common. And especially these days since children from brahmin families are all but debarred (what an achievement!) from TN medical colleges, some of these families take their daughters to Delhi for a year to swot and cram for the tough JIPMER, PGI, and AIIMS tests. Some make it many don't.

  34. Falstaff said...

    Abi: The point is that I have no reason to believe that the 'eligible' pool of candidates as you define it actually want to get in. By your own numbers, only 20% of JEE candidates are women, vs. the 50+% we would expect from class X results. You claim (I imagine) that the gap between the 50% at the class X level and the 20% applying for JEE is driven by girls choosing not to bother applying to JEE at all because in the absence of coaching they don't see the point. That's certainly possible, but it's equally plausible that Vivek's claim that the balance simply aren't interested is true. Which is why focussing on the admission vs. application proportions makes more sense, because it controls for desire to be admitted.

    And yes, I noticed your claim that girls attend other engineering colleges in large numbers, but I'd need to see some figures on that - so far it's just a claim.

    Let's think about this another way. If the argument is that girls can't attend coaching classes, then we would assume that their attendance in coaching classes would be low across all entrance exams, not simply in JEE coaching classes. The absence of coaching class support may have a greater impact at the JEE than at other competitive exams, but there's no reason why % of girls attending coaching classes for JEE should be lower than that in other classes. If anything, given that coaching classes matter more for JEE it should be higher.

    Is that true, do you think? (I, frankly, have no idea). If it's true that girls make up an equal (but low) proportion of coaching classes for all competitive exams - medical, JEE, GATE, whatever - but that the admission rate for women from JEE is significantly lower than that from other exams, then that's strong support for your argument. On the other hand, if girls make up a lower proportion of JEE coaching classes than other coaching, then that suggests the kind of anti-engineering bias that Vivek is talking about.

    More generally, I'm not sure why we're focussing this debate on bias against women - it seems to me the argument for the JEE being biased against women (as laid out here) is much weaker than the argument against it being biased against low-income / rural candidates.

    "Accepted:Percentage of women in IITs is extremely low approx (10-15%)

    Deduction:Women dont have access to coaching classes."

    That's a non-sequitur. Just because coaching classes are one source of advantage in clearing JEE doesn't imply that the lower % age of women in IITs must be because they don't have access to coaching classes. Specially if the reason there are less women in the IITs is because less women apply.

    sudeep: I think the point is precisely that JEE is NOT a problem solving exercise. It's a test that requires knowledge of concepts that students who haven't attended coaching classes wouldn't be familiar with. If it were an IQ test it would be probably be fairer.

  35. Abi said...

    Falstaff: You are as tough as JEE to get past. I'm looking for a coaching centre to train me in dealing with your data demands ...

    One of the things you are asking for is about women's participation in not just JEE coaching centres, but also in coaching centres for other exams! To my knowledge, the Democratic Republic of Bansal County is even more secretive about such data than the IITs are about theirs ... So, no, I have no idea about whether the proportion of women going to JEE centres is higher/lower than that of women going to the other centres.

    But, here's my take. To me, the far smaller number of women taking JEE (just about a fifth of all JEE-takers) indicates that a big chunk of eligible pool of women candidates has given up on the IITs. [If this is so, the result would be the opposite of what you suggested: coaching-centre-going girls would flock to those that deal with other exams!]

    This does not (have to) mean that women have opted out of engineering altogether. Engineering colleges in TN (both private and public ones), for example, have tons of women studying in them; a friend of mine from a government college in Coimbatore studied in a class in which women outnumbered men, and this was as way back as the late eighties and nineties. So, women's aversion to engineering is a myth.

    Since you asked for numbers, and since I don't have them, let me do the next best thing: ask my readers.

  36. Vivek Kumar said...

    @Abi: Women's "aversion to" (actually "diversion from") engineering is a reality even in countries that are considered as paragons of equality (across gender, race and whatnot).

    The difference being that those countries seem to accept it and are working at it. And here we are, discussing whether we should blame the entrance exam.

    On my blog, I have collected data from USA, Canada and UK. Do take a look.

  37. Madhat said...

    @vivek: if you think US (or UK or Canada) is a "paragon of equality", think again.

  38. Krish said...


    I didn't say that we shouldn't increase the supply. I said it is just not possible now without compromising on the quality offered by the institutions. We have a tough time in even getting good faculty members for the existing IITs. Under such a situation, I am arguing that indiscriminate increase (which appears to be coming) will only result in dilution of the quality (by quality I don't mean the student's quality. Rather I mean the ability of the institutes to offer quality education). As you said it is the hard part. I have no questions on that either. My question to Vivek (which he misunderstood) is that in the absence of any practical way to increase the supply without compromising the quality, what are the ways in which we can remove the gender gap. I seriously don't see any immediate increase in the supply of good faculty (that too with the kinda pay it offers vis a vis private sector) and hence I don't see increasing the supply as a solution for removing the gender gap. But again, as a disclaimer, I want to state that I am far removed from the reality in India.

    Madhat: I second you on that equality part.

  39. Tabula Rasa said...

    i should have been clearer -- i meant that the whole objective of an entrance exam (as opposed to a board exam) is to serve as a ranking exercise. that's what it's meant to do. and as long as there's a hundred thousand people appearing, even the high end of the bell curve, will have loads and loads of people sitting on it (e.g., the 99th percentile would mean a thousand people). so how do you then decide who gets kanpur computer science and who gets madras mechanical?

    decreasing the difficulty of the exam will not reduce the intensity of the competition, in fact it may even increase it. and as long as there's competition, there will be coaching classes as people strive for the extra edge.

    the point is that the premier educational institute in the country will always be regarded as a prize. i wonder if you noticed the recent nyt article about the overachieving high school girl students who were targeting harvard. these kids have to do all kinds of stuff above and beyond their high school curricula as well. that's just the nature of the beast. and ultimately harvard may end up picking the odd person from inner city cleveland, but the majority of its intake will be from the class of people that could afford to pad their extracurricular cvs, through institutions that were merely coaching classes by another name.

    ultimately, the point boils down to perceptions of entitlement -- as rahul put it, he thinks i'm missing the point that the exam goes beyond what a high school student "should be reasonably expected to know". well, all over the world, wherever there is competition, requirements go beyond what an *average* student "should" be expected to know. i wonder how many rural students make the cut-off for the elite du colleges -- as falstaff has been pointing out, the "discrimination" is inbuilt into our non-classless society. some of us think that is wrong, others accept it as the nature of the beast. to me, it looks uncomfortably close to the sort of idealistic enforced socialism that has crippled many societies in the modern world.

    or maybe i just got carried away.

  40. Vivek Kumar said...

    @madhat: No.. I added "considered as" before "paragons of equality". There is no doubt that they are generally considered as such (at least on gender, if not on race).

  41. Vivek Kumar said...

    @Krish: I completely agree with you on the part about the expansion being very difficult. As to the question posed by you, let me pose a counter-question:

    Why does this proposed expansion have to be "immediate"?

    That is what we have been doing so far, isn't it? That is what the reservation policy is - immediate. You put them in place, the representation goes up. Then everyone goes home and forgets all about it. Nobody makes any efforts at addressing the fundamental issues that led to these imbalances in the first place.

    Are you sure you want to continue with that strategy? Real change is hard and takes time to take place.

  42. Anonymous said...


    That is an endless debate simply because most people(including me) have only prepared for one exam.

    I do accept that conceptually, JEE is tougher than a medical entrance exam, however, you must also accept that there is no IIT kind of institute in medicine. Most good schools admit 50 to 100 students and hence the competition is tougher. For example, while a 1800 rank in JEE would get you in a reasonably good program, with an equivalent rank in C.B.S.E P.M.T, you would land in a state medical college in some far flung part of the country. So the ''need'' for coaching is felt as much as in JEE if you wish to get into a reasonable school.


    The question is important because this trend has been consistent over the years, at least in the case of C.B.S.E.Instead of examining whether my question was clever or not, perhaps you should tell us why this has been so.

    Second, as I said in my post, why do girls opt for gynecology in post graduate medical examinations? How many women Cardio-thoracic surgeons you know of? Why? Where is the entrance exam based bias there?

  43. Falstaff said...

    Abi: Sorry. I'm not trying to be a pain (though on evidence, I'm doing a good job of it). I just think we've got two equally plausible hypotheses about why less women end up taking the JEE, with conclusive evidence for neither, so the only way to take the discussion forward is to define what data we could collect to test it and then look for that information (as you're now doing). One suggestion - while you are asking your readers about % of women in engineering schools, maybe you could also ask for % of women in other non-engineering schools (medical, etc.) as well as % of women in coaching classes your readers may have taken.

    As a non-engineer and someone who took no coaching classes in school, I really have very little perspective on this. My only prior is the fact that in my school, where over half the class X toppers were women, there was a clear skew in Class XI and XII with a greater proportion of boys taking science and a much greater proportion of boys preparing for JEE. The girls in my school weren't shying away from JEE because they couldn't afford / take coaching classes - they came from high-income households and took coaching classes for other stuff - they just weren't that interested in engineering. That's just anecdotal, of course, and not remotely generalisable, still it makes me think Vivek may have a point.

    Your point about parents not being willing to let girls travel makes me wonder if there isn't a distance effect here as well. Maybe (and I'm just speculating here - the workings of the patriarchal parent mind are a closed book to me) parents want their daughters to stay at home while they study / attend colleges that are close by and are uncomfortable with them going off to live in some far-off city by themselves. Just thinking out aloud.

    Of course, for your argument on JEE being discriminatory to work, it doesn't have to be true that the entire difference between the class X results and the JEE results is caused by the format of the JEE. I think it not unlikely that even if the JEE required little or no coaching you'd still see a smaller proportion of women sitting for the exam, but that doesn't mean the way the JEE is structured doesn't make the problem worse.

  44. Anonymous said...

    @@ Abi
    >> Sudeep: Read the post again, before you show off your ignorance: Girls do very well in high school. The 'prior conditions' didn't put them at a disadvantage there.

    Its not me who is 'showing off ignorance', its you who is displaying a curious incapability to understand any viewpoint that clashes with your pet political theories. This debate you are trying to win is not about academics, its about your politics.

    >> Your characterization of JEE as a 'mere' problem-solving exercise is false. It's a problem-solving exercise that requires intensive coaching.

    And what problem solving exercise does'nt involve coaching ? even the 'fairer' exam you favor will also require coaching, albeit in high school. One can argue, that your fair exam is biased in favor of urban students who have better access to better high schools. Next you will perhaps argue that the fair exam be made more fair by eliminating it altogether !

    >> And, what was that stuff about hormones? Do boys get an extra dose of JEE hormones?

    No. But as girls grow up in the 9-12 period, they are exposed to far greater social pressures than boys.

    >> As for analogy with chess, I will have to ask you the following: Do you want higher education (seen as a stepping stone for prosperity and better life) to be like playing chess (a voluntary activity)? Is our government spending hundreds of crores on chess?

    I hope you understand that you can not answer a question with another question. I pointed out that chess has far fewer female grand masters than male grand masters, and asked you if you think the game of chess is biased against women.

    Instead of answering that question, you jump into a truism about higher education being in general better for ones future and govt. spending money into higher education. All true, but how is it related to your original assertion that JEE (and IITs by extension) is biased ?

    You have nothing constructive to offer beyond platitudes about "fairness", "social justice" etc. about the JEE. You do not offer an alternative that can work.

    1) Your fairer exam will have no way to get the long tailed results that an examination like JEE needs.

    2) Your fairer exam will be far more opaque and subjective than the JEE. (e.g. the SAT2 and the MIT admission process).

    3) The fairer exam itself will be biased in a different way. Urban students will always have better access to high schools and better teachers. Besides requiring the children to be from a particular social background, remember the DPS case about the little girl who could not get an admission because her father was a constable ?


    In defense of coaching centers, they are nothing but advanced problem solving courses in PCM subjects.

    The best, the most involved and the most accessible teachers I ever had were in coaching centers. In my time it used to be cheap, 5K Rs. per year for both physics and maths, now its more expensive.

    They did'nt ask you what job your parents had, what 'medium' you studied in, you only had to clear their entrance exam. You had to have 80% in Sc/Math. in 10th std even to write the entrance exam. If you were really bright and really poor, they would not turn you away (probably because a good rank for any student was like an ad. for their coaching, but this is besides the point).

    Within the coaching center, we were seperated into groups of different capabilities. Each group -15-20 ppl- studying at its own pace (as fast as it could humanely go).

    My high school education on the other hand, catered to the Lowest Common Denominator in a 90 strong class. Obviously, some were pretty 'low' in this class. IIRC, one person in my class was convicted for murder. The lectures were insipid, did not have access to the latest teaching aids, or the best books. (Curiosly, my years at JEE were similar: some pretty bad profs , tremendous work load, insipid lectures etc).

    This foundation helped me a lot in my professional life. (I am a Computer Science engineer, and frequently need to understand and implement math. algorithms that are new to me).

    Abi, you dont know what you are talking about when you bad mouth coaching centers. In the first place you do it only because of your politics.. This endeavor of yours is dishonest in the extreme.


  45. Vivek Kumar said...

    @falstaff: the data is available now. check my blog, or this page:

  46. Nilu said...

    As Falstaff has pointed out, the data is not sufficient to prove that there exists a bias. Your assertion that historical evidence of lesser women making past the JEE discourages current female students has serious consequences. That leaves open the possibility that male students, because of a perceived advantage, concentrate more on JEE and therefore less on their CBSE exams. This, if true, makes the claim of 'pool of possible candidates' shaky.

    I really do not know any reasons and don't have an opinion on this. However, your correlation appears weak. Especially because the possibility at the other end of the spectrum seems to be over looked.

  47. Anonymous said...

    I disagree with the authors POV. Correlating two statistics and arriving at a trivial solution seems horribly wrong to me.

    I would like to add, that this is not a trend exclusive to India. An american feminist had criticised a measure by the US Government to get more girls into science and maths, by initiating special programs that concentrated on correcting learning abilities. Her arguement being that the way society percieves women in science and industry, girls find the option unattractive. It was a long post and unfortunately I can not find it at the moment. I did however came across these interesting articles.

    1) The Myth That Schools Shortchange Girls: Social Science in the Service of Deception

    2) Steering Girls into Science:,9171,1032346,00.html

    3)Why girls turn their backs on a science education?


  48. Anonymous said...

    What we miss here is an input from women professors of engineering who have done their degree in IIT (I happen to know a couple of them, I have sent to one of them the address of this blog). We need to know what motivation they had and how they managed to survive in the male dominated environment once they were in.

  49. barbarindian said...

    Vote for Congress, problems of JEE will get solved. Arjun Singh will do it for you, one OBC at a time.

  50. Doctor Bruno said...

    //(b) Coaching centres' practices. Boys can go to Kota and camp out there for a year (foregoing a year of college!); I can't imagine parents sending their girls there for such a long period. Also (as AS observed in his/her comment), coaching centres operate during ungodly hours (a centre in Mumbai even tried all-night coaching sessions!) This too puts girls at a disadvantage.//

    I don't have any idea about Kota, but there is a Coaching Institute for PG Entrance at Kottayam. You just will not believe the number of girls from Tamil Nadu staying there for one full year (and then getting a good rank in PG Entrance)....

    Similarly, if you see Speed, Positive or Lotus Fast Track, the number of girls attending these PG Medical Entrance Exam Coaching tells that parents no longer differentiate between a girl and boy (at least as far as Medical Field is concerned)

  51. Doctor Bruno said...

    //Bruno: Your points are interesting. However, would you say that there is a good correlation between entrance exam marks and high school exam marks?//

    What I am telling is the other way around. I am telling that though both the (same batch of) boys and girls attend the same "Extra Coaching" (read as Tuition / Special Classes) for Board Exams and the same Coaching Institute for Entrance Exams, the boys outperform girls in Entrance and girls out perform boys in Board Exams....

    This I am telling from following the Education / Entrance scenario in Tamil Nadu.

    What I am trying to tell is that there is an natural inclination for girls to score well in MEMORY based exams and BOYS in Application based Exams.

    //Further, the TN entrance exams are just not in the same league as the JEE, Bruno. //
    The papers may not be tough. But what about the Competetion Levels. You score Only One Question and you are out of the competetion. IIT-JEE has a tough question paper, but I feel the competetion is more intense in TN Entrance (inspite of the "Low" quality of questions) because the margin of error is very low

    //95 % of the students may go to a coaching centre, but do you think it is really necessary for a bright, diligent student?//

    Let me put it this way....
    It (Coaching) is not necessary for a bright diligent student to score 99 %

    But of the 3 lakhs odd students, 3000 (at least 1 %) are bright and diligent and can get 99% without Coaching. But they have only 1500 seats !!!!

    Who among the 3000 gets this 1500 is decided more by the Coaching !!!!

  52. Doctor Bruno said...

    //i can tell you the ratio in aiims, it is 10-14 girls in a batch of 50, ie 20-30%. it is much higher(50% or above) in the university med colleges, but most of them have some sort of reservation for girls.I have no idea about jipmer.//

    There is NO reservation for girls in MBBS Admissions. Reservation for girls are there in Government Job (after MBBS) in Tamil Nadu. I have no idea about other states

    No reservation for Girls in JIPMER

  53. Doctor Bruno said...

    Something about Tamil Nadu Scenario... This may not be related to the debate, but I want to record my comments...

    This year there is going to be NO Entrance Exams in Tamil Nadu for MBBS Admission

    You will see that there is atleast 70 % of girls in the allotment list

    And then, Not even 50 Students from Rural Areas will be getting seats (as Entrances are removed)

    This may sound funny, but the truth is that the Amount of Coaching needed (read as money spent) for Entrance Exams is just 10 % of the Coaching (read money spent) that is being given for Board Exams to enable the candidate get centum.

    Hence, Rural Students will be at a great disadvantage because of Cancellation of Entrance Exams....

    After seeing the pathetic result of the regulation, they will bring back the entrance in few years.. !!!

  54. ரவி ஸ்ரீநிவாஸ் said...

    It is difficult to prove a bias
    as perceptions vary.One can at best present a hypothesis.Is this a problem unique to India.Perhaps no.I have noticed that the IT
    industry employs many girls
    with B.E/B.Tech.Perhaps the
    software/ITES boom has ensured
    more job opportunities to women
    than any other sector. So if we take the overall ratio the picture
    may be different.We need affirmative action plans
    that take into account gender
    bias and under-representation
    of women in some fields and
    institutions.Instead we have
    a caste based quota.Institutions
    like IITs,IIMs can take a conscious
    decision to attract more women in
    their programs.Women may or may not
    need reservations but they will need some programs/incentives so that they can participate more in some fields.We need more studies on reasons to find out why
    women's participation in science
    and engineering in India is low.
    I think INSA commissioned such a
    study some years ago.Social Studies
    of Science had published an article
    on women and science in India some
    years ago.

  55. Anonymous said...

    No one in this discussion has brought up an important feature of IITs/NITs... they are completely residential institutions where everyone has to stay in hostels soon after their schooling. This is
    a very important consideration for many parents who are not keen on letting their daughters to stay in hostels at that age. I think this attitude is still widespread even now.
    - Gopal

  56. Anonymous said...

    Sudeep's arguments are excellent and logical.

    I went to various engineering schools -- including IITs -- to recruit new hires for my employer(s). My observation: The proportion of women in a class is abysmally low in discplines like mechanical engineering, and relatively high in computer science and communications engineering. Which seems to point to me that there's merit to the argument that engineering is (still) perceived as basically a male vocation. Disciplines that promise desk jobs, like computers-based ones, do score well with girls.

    While on the subject: those who regularly read Communications of ACM will notice a refrain that has been going on in its pages for quite a long while now: that the number of female applicants to Computer Science courses in US universities is very low and is *further declining*. Can anybody explain this? Are CS departments of US varsities biased against women?

  57. Doctor Bruno said...

    //This is
    a very important consideration for many parents who are not keen on letting their daughters to stay in hostels at that age. I think this attitude is still widespread even now.
    - Gopal//

    I think this is also an important factor..... Many would prefer their girl to study in the near by Engineering College rather than IIT....

    I know that this may sound absurd, but look this from the perspective of a parent who did his college in 1970s and not from your point of view

  58. Anonymous said...

    Dr. Bruno says, What I am trying to tell is that there is an natural inclination for girls to score well in MEMORY based exams and BOYS in Application based Exams.

    That is pithalaattam of the worst sort. There is absolutely no science to back any such conclusion.

    Abi's stirred a hornet's nest, in the process revealing his and his admirers' biases. Abi, as a man of learning pleese try to do only one thing about htis issue. Simply ensure that there is no discrimination of opportunity wrt women in engineering.

    It is amusing to see the good professor and his minions talking in terms of girls and boys! for heaven's sake they are grown-ups men and women - most certainly not girls and boys!

  59. Anonymous said...

    It is an interesting article. I do not think there is any bias in JEE against girls. I myself went to IIT many years ago. I think you also want to get statistics about how many of the girls who do so well in X and XII standards take up the JEE exam in the first place. The percentage of boys taking the JEE exam should be much much more than girls. My daughter didn't take up JEE because I am not ready to see her move away from home so early. This is the common (probably Indian) sentiment that anyway in a few years she will get married and move away so why shorten that period even more? Whether she would have made it to IIT is another point altogether. I feel if there was an IIT in every reasonablt big city and if day scholars were encouraged, then we will see more and more girls trying for, and getting into IITs
    - Sudheer

  60. Anonymous said...

    In India for everything we cant do, we can blame something, someone, even the stars. So that lady's rantings have to be ignored. It is a fact that Women have a less developed logical reasoning while their intuitive skills are better than men. Refer Carl Sagan. Explains why they dont feature more in IITs where logical reasoning is the basis. As an alumini of IIT Madras of 85 batch, we had 6 girls in our class. In fact the previous batch if I remember right had just 3. If that has not improved, some amount of blame is to do with gender bias in our society, no doubt. Parents probably yet pamper their boys then their girls. Pitiably though this cant be the reason for a 6 girls in my batch of about 225 that is about 3%. Truth is women are not the best in Engineering on the average and most men cant be good Nurses. I am not gender phobic but well we are good at somethings only. So dont blame JEE. Even though JEE has been diluted terribly, I did have a look at the 2008 paper, it is a shame one can get in by doing DIP DIP DIP, or choosing arbitrary answere in a to d choices. In my times there used to be really tough questions in Physics and Maths. Yet JEE stands out compared to other exams. Other exams test the knowledge from the limited books the student studies. So dont compare ICSE or CBSE or state boards with JEE. JEE tests applicability and intelligence.
    My son who studies standard 4 does just very good in NSTSE a science test conducted in schools. While he managed say 82 there are those who take get 88 or 92 in his school. At the same time when he takes a McMillan test where there can be no coaching or where it is intelligence that is tested he gets 99 percentile. JEE is like McMillan. Even with IITs having to give multiple answer dip dip questions, because of outside pressure, they yet make is much more difficult than useless board exams. So if you want to compare JEE with boards, then that lady who said it can go and compare her brains with that of a donkey and hope I am not insulting the donkey.
    Forget feminism and all such crap. JEE is THE BEST exam one can write in the world. Even if I can afford to relocate to US, I will yet want to give my son a shot at JEE. I have not come across any better exam all my life.

  61. Anonymous said...

    Your post completely ignores the lower percentage of female students taking the JEE. In 1993, the year that I got into JEE, about 88000 students took the exam, out of which only 8000 were women! Not surprisingly, women only constituted 10% of the incoming class.

    The reasons for this are largely sociological - I know many Indian parents who love their daughters, but think that it will be harder for their 17-year old daughters to survive on a remote campus in another city. How likely is it that a father in Vishakapatnam will want to send his daughter to IIT Guwahati?

    For the record, I am female, scored in the top 100 in JEE and still think it is the best entrance exam in Asia. No need to tinker with the JEE, we women are just as smart and competent as the men thank you.

  62. Anonymous said...

    From an IITian(read "prize" receiver
    To Abi,

    You wanna know how to get it girls. Very simple. Do it the Classic way. Like it has been done time and again.
    Check the latest Census data for the percentage of women in India. Then ask the HRD ministry to order the IITs to implement the Reservation of girls equal to the percentage found. Then Mr. Narayan Murthy calls a meeting with other IIT directors and calls the "order"
    imposible to implement. 2 days later all the IIT directors,issue in famous newspapers, an apology for their "harsh statements" and announce implementation of the Reservation from next year's batch. However they wud always consider that the ones who passed exams meritoriously shud not suffer. So the seats wud be accordingly increased to around "double". Ain't it that simple.

  63. Ananth said...

    AIIMS has around 20% girls in its undergrad course, and this has remained stable over decades.
    this is in spite of the fact that there are lots more female aspirants for medicine than for engineering.
    same story for jipmer and other elite medical colleges.

  64. Unknown said...

    hey....ive read most of thes pts....

    1. Callng an exam biasd is rediculous....reducing its difficulty will create if u used board marks 2 decide who gets into iits, can u really say a guy wth 99.5 is bettr than som 1 with 99.4??

    2. Boards r very different from jee....boards r subjective so things like neatness, handwriting, organization, prettiness com into consideration....girls tend 2 b bettr than boys at ths(at least during school age).....jee is objective so girls lose ths advantage....dont get me wrong i dont mean girls r dumb, just tht board results do not necessarily mean girls r smartr....

    3. Also ive read tht boys tend 2be bettr at maths n girls tend 2be bettr at languages....this is not a myth but based on studies....

    4. Although girls tend 2 beat boys at boards.,, this is only considerng th overall %... I wondr if ths still holds true when considering only maths n science

  65. Unknown said...

    If you change JEE, the coaching classes will anyway blend themselves so as to train their students in the best possible way. I do not think changing anything about JEE can affect the gender ratio. I completely agree with you that it is very difficult to get through JEE without coaching, but as Rahul said, I don't think it is a must.
    I have taken coaching from Kota, and was AIR 99, plus I am sure that I couldn't have even cracked JEE if I hadn't opted for coaching classes. But it was because of the study environment. It is because I was sent out of house, which is a very rare scenario for a girl in India.
    Hence I clearly support Vivek's thoughts.