Thursday, May 26, 2011

Another Year, Another JEE

So, like every year, this year's IITJEE results were declared with much fanfare in the media. Like last year, this year's topper is also from Andhra Pradesh. But of course, he in the topper in the GEN category and all over India. If you go for each and every zone and category and then divide that by gender, you can get 7C1*2C1*4C1 different kinds of toppers!

Well, congratulations to the kid who topped the exam in whatever category. It makes no difference for as many ranks as there are seats in IITB CS, which always gets the top ranks, although AIR1 wants IITB EE.

But I'm not here to discuss these things. Two years at IIT Roorkee have made me wiser and I understand that each and every new IITian weill be reset to pre-school once they enter and the entire hierarchy will be redrawn. Kids who loved to solve complex differential equations will mutiny when they learn how an engineer does it and most of them will not turn their field of study into their career. No matter, the world will continue to move on.

What really worries me is an interview that AIR1 gave to CNN-IBN, in which he showed to the entire middle class of the country that he spoke pathetic English. I'm not making fun of him here - he bagged AIR1 in JEE, something that I could not, and even now cannot, do. But nobody can argue the fact that English is an essential component in today's world, especially for IITians. His English was really quite pathetic and I'm sure there are even worse people on that merit list. Unlike BITSAT, IITJEE does not test you on your English.

In my IIT, the class distinction is clear: what language you can speak in best and what income group you fall into clearly demarcate your groups. There is a great deal of stratification on-campus. AP students are the biggest culprits and are labelled 'haddus,' although the term refers to all South Indians who refuse to speak in Hindi. And North Indian kids (who also speak bad English but without the southern accents) make no qualms about the sort of cultural domination that they enforce simply because they are in a majority. I had read once in the NYT that English is the real glue that ensures that we stay together as a country. Well, if that's the case, then this country is falling apart at the IITs. Did I mention the near-total absence of Northeastern students in UG courses?

Every IIT does its best to work on students' communication skills. But the stratification is so near complete that it hardly works: the regional language sticks and the improving your English is as difficult as clearing JEE itself. It's disappointing to see Union Ministers arguing over whether IITs are world-class or not (and why)... the truth is, the world speaks English and if we don't prioritize that in our school curriculum, then no amount of world-class education is going to help.

PS: If you've qualified JEE this year, I congratulate you. You've gotten in, now I wish you luck in getting out.

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