Abhay Shivgounda Patil

About what matters.

The Loss of Innocence – The IIT, Then and Now

with 8 comments

“That was the age of innocence! A typical IIT student was intelligent, unassuming, self made, studious – and may I say – rooted well in the “local” ethos.”

I was in Sangli and ours was the first 12th class of the new 10+2+3 model introduced by the state education board. I performed better in Biology and got admission to the Medical college – but I had to wait for 2 years to get in as I was 15 years old at that time.  I was hoping to get my second choice of Engineering college – but to my surprise I could secure the only open seat at VJTI in Mumbai. I took it.  A few days later we came to know that someone I knew got in the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay via JEE (Joint Entrance Examination).

That was the first time I heard of the IIT! Later I did my post-graduation in IIT(B).

May be my being unaware of IIT was a not a very common thing even then.  But I soon came to know how intelligent students from all over India appeared for the JEE and got in the IITs.

BTW – a little earlier than that, IIT was the preserve of only the “English educated” elite! Initially, score in the English language test too was considered for the ranking. That was the time when the medium of secondary education in the country was still predominantly the regional language.  English medium “Convent” schools were few and that too only in the major cities.  Sometime in the late seventies IIT JEE ranking started counting only Maths and Science scores – and finally the smart students from all over the country started pouring in, irrespective of their fluency in English.

That was THE age of innocence! A typical IIT student was intelligent, unassuming, self made, studious – and may I say – rooted well in the “local” ethos.  There was no gruesome competition to get in.  There was no laborious and hard toil for mastering the technique of the entrance examination. Undergraduates used to spend 5 years for their degree.  (Now it’s a four year course.)  Cultural and sports activities were popular – especially in the students studying in the first three years.

I asked a friend how he prepared for the JEE then.  He was in Nagpur and had subscribed to the correspondence course of the famed “Agrawal Classes” in Mumbai.  “Their course material used to come in regularly, but I never used it fully. My board examination got over in March and I had a little more than a month for JEE preparations.  I was living at my aunt’s place and marriage preparations for her daughter were in full swing.  I studied for JEE in that melee – spending almost 3 weeks just for Physics.”  This friend cracked JEE nicely and completed his Mechanical Engineering at IIT(B) in the early eighties.

Fast forward to now.  I just glanced at the website of a leading IIT JEE training institution. It solemnly declared that unless one is ready to spend 12 hours every day for the next two years (after class 10), they should not even think of preparing for IIT JEE!

There are institutions (most notably in Kota, Rajasthan) which charge huge fees, provide hostel facility and where students give every waking hour of their two years to prepare for JEE.

Gone are the days when we used to hear stories of smart and intelligent students from far away places cracking JEE with self study – of course with some help from their teachers.

The fact is that today the number of seats in the IITs are woefully short – compared with the huge pool of extremely smart students.  That has turned the competition so fierce that being intelligent and fluent in Math and Science is just not good enough.  You have to master the technique and and practice it brutally to stand a chance!

That I call the loss of innocence!  I remember my PG days at IIT when I, along with my UG hostel mates, used to spend night after night in the corridors of the main building or in the “Convo” (convocation hall) rehearsing for the annual production – a full fledged Marathi play.  Friends of mine had gone to the extent of getting an Elephant for the inter hostel entertainment program competition.  (You can catch some of it in the book Madhouse.)  Sports was always very popular.  Of course, this was on the side as we studied for our respective degrees.

I am not sure how much of that remains in the IIT of today – where may be the preparations for GRE and insanely high salary offers to campus recruits must have drowned all of that vibrancy for good (or bad)!

Comments?

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

December 30, 2012 at 12:35 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Abhay,

    Wonderfully captured! But doesn’t this apply to all aspects of life in India?

    After a gap of 20 years, I had an opportunity to spend two years in Pune, I observed that poor are as poor as they were before and rich are as obnoxious as they were before. But the rude shock came from the well respected, culture sustaining middle class of India. They changed. And they have changed for worst. I am sorry to say that the biggest hypocrites in the country are the so called middle class of India. And that is where the innocence is lost.

    I see parents teaching their kids how to beat the system, right from their childhood. Did our parents teach us how? Getting knowledge and becoming a good citizen was the biggest priority in life those days.

    The current popular process of getting admission to IIT is designed to beat the system. Attending two year long expensive classes gets you good score. No one cares if you learn anything. Now I hear, these classes also have entrance exams and now there are classes who prepare you for the entrance exams of these classes (when society starts going down in an uninterruptable loop, you know the end is near).

    I had predicted 5 years back to a some friends from India (visiting US) what will happen in India in another 5-10 years and that included description of gruesome and shameful event which took place 10 days back in India’s capital. I was burnt alive (verbally) by these friends while sipping their (sorry, mine) Black Label. They tried to convince me how US is going down and how India will arrive in the next 5 years. The scams and the rapes and the khap killings are telling me how India has arrived.

    Dont you think the root cause of loss of innocence is the failure to sustain the basic value system in the entire walk of life? When the kids are brain washed into believing that definition of success/power directly relates to how much property one owns (does not matter the means of building it) and society respects only those who have material richness, what kind of innocence you are expecting in the future India?

    Wish and hope India proves me wrong!!

    Please do keep writing. You write well.

    Hemant

    Hemant

    December 30, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    • Hemant – thanks a lot for your detailed comment – and the kind words about my writing. You are absolutely right in saying that the root cause is the massive erosion of the value system. The blatant celebration of the successes of lumpen elements is everywhere to see – and that has irreversible effect. I think the only hope is each one of us keeping the right perspective, thinking of “actionable” solutions and actually taking steps, however small or big, to make the difference.

      Abhay Shivgounda Patil

      December 31, 2012 at 6:58 am

  2. Dear Abhay,

    Excellently drafted and nice perspective to IIT education of the current era. I second Hemant’s opinion about your writing but slightly disagree with his comparative judgement on India and US. I think we have to come out from these jinx now of comparing because I have seen people behaving polymorphic when they live in India and when they live in abroad so it is very relative . You made an important point of taking actionable steps however small or big they are. It is critical in this era that we should define deliverable for ourselves and try delivering that and start riding on the road of successful life.

    Keep writing.

    Sambprasad

    December 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm

  3. Dear Abhay,

    Very thought provoking.

    Actually these days JEE aspirants start early, very early … “Mera beta engineer banega” from 3 idiots is not so unreal.

    Being in Pune you must be aware of a few popular coaching class that start JEE preparations as early as 8th standard! (I won’t take names, lest I get sued). Personally, I don’t believe that a student has enough exposure at 8th standard to indicate her liking with any certainty. She is actually trying to live a parental dream than own aspiration. I pity the expectation pressure that is put on the students these days. Increasing student suicide cases are an obvious manifestation of the same.

    We talk about many more opportunities being available these days – but for the urban middle class engineering and medicine are still the ultimate goal for their children.

    Over-competitive steak is evident everywhere. Kids are sent to sports camp ONLY to become champions. Concept of sports for health has been lost somewhere. Without trying to undermine the achievements of film stars and cricketers, we collectively still fail to expose our kids to the heros like Verghese Kurien, Abhay & Rani Bang, and the likes. In our society, the success has got equated to net worth.

    IITs have to take their share of blame too. The concept of IITs for quality education has actually taken a back seat, it is now IITs as stepping stone for jump starting career. A case in point is IIT Powai as business incubator, which “encourages” students to pursue business idea – I haven’t heard of an equivalent attempt to promote research at IIT.

    The talk of being a good law abiding citizen is laughed at. When I was being interviewed😉 for my daughter’s admission to a rather sought after school in my part of the town, I asked them what they do to inculcate good values in their students, I could see an “are you for real?” look in the faces.

    Each one of us have to try and restore the value system that our previous generation had imparted to us.

    Regards,
    – Vikram

    Vikram Lele

    December 31, 2012 at 4:34 pm

  4. Dear Abhay,

    Very well written post. Though the title (and subject) of your post is specifically targeted at “IIT”, it should be “The Loss of Innocence – Education, Then and Now”. Not just JEE preparations start from std. 8th, even for admission to any college (be it engineering, medical, etc., government/private/etc). I am not sure if this is “rat-race” or if there is some other word we can use.
    My daughter starts with her 10th std soon and all this madness really worries me. Along with teaching good values, we should also let our children decide what career they want to opt, we should support them and guide them with our knowledge & experience.

    Supriya

    January 2, 2013 at 1:47 pm

  5. I have been part of a number of discussions/articles on JEE/IITs & predictably, the comments kind of go ’round’ in this particular case too. As a parent, the real tragedy is that other engineering colleges in Maharashtra (& that includes govt colleges too) at least, seem to be very mediocre in comparison with the IITs. Things were not so bad ‘at our time’. For students, the ‘loss of innocence’ starts from std XI – when they realize how tough things are. I daresay that things are actually easier for kids who start preparing early (std VIII). The ‘shock’ is not so rude for these kids.

    Megh

    September 15, 2016 at 8:44 am

    • Thanks Megh for the comment! Actually we need a few hundreds of IITs to do justice to the talent in the country – and lack of a good number of quality institutes makes the competition brutal and lopsided. By the way, I suggest you also check out this answer by Navin Kabra, who got 14th rank in JEE in the “old-fashioned” way! http://blog.askiitians.com/exceptional-way-bagging-rank-14-jee-navin-kabra/

      Abhay Shivgounda Patil

      September 15, 2016 at 8:52 am

      • Seriously Abhay, if you know anybody ‘old fashioned’ who has managed a rank less than 1000, I would like to know about that student. Things have changed since Mr Kabra’s days (1988). I actually know about one recent student who studied for JEE only in std XII & managed to get a ‘decent’ rank (<2000).

        Megh

        September 15, 2016 at 9:14 am


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