(This post is written by Sudershan Singh, Research Associate in CCS’ School Choice Campaign)

The HRD ministry has decided to launch a new system of entrance test for admission to government funded technical institutes of India, notably, the IITs, NITs and NIITs, etc. The tests are in the name and style of ISEET and will be implemented starting in 2013. The government effectively imposed this admission system on all IITs after a long row over the issue. Finally, the IITs capitulated and agreed to a two tier, complicated examination system for getting into IITs.

In the new system, students seeking admission to an IIT must go through JEE-main and JEE-advanced, to be conducted on the same day. The board examination marks will receive 40% weightage and each the JEE examination has 30% weightage.

Earlier, students could apply to IIT Joint Entrance Exam (IIT-JEE) if they scored 60% or higher on the board exams.  Now government has required that students must be in the 80th percentile or higher in their board examination—only the top 20% candidates from each board can choose to apply to IITs. This decision is arbitrary and unreasonable. In the past, students who have not scored as high on the board exams have been accepted to IITs.  This means that the boards may not be the best way to sort for students.  Secondly, the marks graded by different boards are hard to equate.  The new system will have to develop a process of “normalisation” to make the scores comparable.

With this system, government aims to provide a “level ground” for everyone to compete, thereby reducing the pressure on students. The government assumes that this system will eliminate the huge gap between the syllabus for board examinations and the IIT entrance tests, causing students to pay more attention to board examinations and less to commercial coaching centres for cracking the IIT-JEE. Since the facilities for IIT coaching are available only in a few places, students with rural backgrounds and female students are put at a disadvantage because they cannot afford to go to such coaching centres so far away from their residence. The government hopes that their new system will help these groups.  But it is necessary to understand the root cause for the unabated mushrooming of the coaching centres.

The coaching centres have been started and continue to flourish because of a huge gap between school teaching and the expectations from students aspiring to pursue professional courses in elite institutions. The bulk of school teaching and the board examination system encourage students to memorize the syllabus and regurgitate it in examinations even if they do not fully grasp the application of such theory. The IIT entrance examinations, however, demand better content coverage, understanding and aptitude of a student from given course material.

The government assumes that its new system will reduce the demand for coaching centres.  But because schools are not doing a very good job, and since coaching centres are driven by customer demand, coaching centres may design a new product that coaches to Boards as well as the Single Entrance Exam.

The government’s concerns that some people cannot take advantage of coaching centres are valid.  But the solution is not to disadvantage other people by trying to shut them down.  If not everyone is able to consume a product, the government reasons, it should be eliminated from the market. But this does not help the people who could not get the product before; it only hurts the other group.  The solution must be to improve the schooling system overall.