reservation fundaes…

Spent the last couple of hours teaching math to a friend of mine. He entered IIMB through a reserved quota last year. Did extremely badly and flunked the first year. If he doesn’t do well this time round, he’s been told he’ll be asked to leave.

During the course of my teaching, I figured out that his level of understanding is much lower than most other people I have encountered. The way I had to teach today was totally different from the style I adopt during the tutorials I take. I had to literally hand-hold him as I took him through one of the not-so-tough parts of probability theory.

Having finished teaching him, I am forced to raise this fundamental question as to whether we are overdoing reservations in the premier institutes. Many candidates who enter through the reserved quota end up doing pretty well (in fact this year one such guy, a good friend of mine, narrowly missed out on the coveted Director’s Merit List which is awarded to the top 10 performers in the batch) but there are also many who end up doing really badly.

Some of them take three years to finish the course. Some of them are forced to drop out. Some manage to finish the course but it’s a nightmare for the placement committee to place them at the end of the course (yeah the last bit happens with some general category people also but the incidence is much less among them).

There’s this other incident I would like to quote here. A girl wrote the JEE one year before me. Didn’t do well enough to get in but was offered the “Preparatory Course”. At the end of the course, she was found not to have done well enough to continue to the main program and was asked to leave. She raised a hue and cry, moved court, moved the National Commission for SC/STs and managed to get in (as my batchmate). I have heard from my friends and juniors that she’s unlikely to leave IIT with a degree.

Are we raising false hopes for these “weaker sections” by reserving too many seats for them? Would we be better off taking only those candidates from the “weaker sections” who are reasonably good and are likely to successfully complete the course and not keep taking just to fill a quota?

The guy whom I taught today has already spent a year and a quarter and 2 lakh rupees for his education at IIMB. And he seemed to give an indication that he’s not doing too well this time round also and is likely to quit sooner or later. And he had a software job before he joined IIMB. Now, as an “IIMB dropout”, it would be tough for him to find a job. Wasn’t he better off still working in that software firm?

Important questions to be answered but i bet that in the name of populism, vote banks, etc. these quotas will only increase and more people’s life will get ruined this way.

the new JEE pattern

After 30-odd years of “successful conduct”, the fundamental JEE patterns are being revised. People have gone on protest everywhere in the country; “factories” are crying foul; and i’m pretty sure the larger community in IIT is also claiming blasphemy – saying that the “quality” of the exam is falling further.

The director of IITM, MS Ananth, has gone on record saying that the only people this decision will adversely affect are the coaching centers (“factories” that manufacture IITians). The other group that i would find affected by the new system is the set of people who rely purely on the factories to get into IIT.

IIT JEE was initially intended to be an exam which would identify the brightest of the bright students in the country. These could be trained to become top-class engineers who could contribute to the development of the world. The examinations were designed such that each question was new and there was no way anyone would have done them in advance, thus putting everyone on an equal ground and testing only the concepts and sharpness.

However, slowly (and sadly) this exam has become “muggable”. There is only a certain degree to which one can design new problems in the given syllabus and coaching institutes have mushroomed in different parts of the country where the students are rigorously made to go through thousands of such problems several times. The training imparted is such that by the time of the JEE, any problem that will appear in the paper would have been “seen” by the candidate and just like our board exams, it has become an indicator of how well one can remember the solution!

There are two factors which go into making a student successful ? raw brilliance and hard work. While the former is a natural thing and is influenced by early life, the latter can be inculcated at any point of time in life. Hence, if the IITs want the ?best? students in the country, they should rather be looking for ?brilliant? people rather than ?hardworking? people. By making the course more rigorous and assignment oriented, hard work can be easily inculcated into the students (?brilliant? students would definitely have the ability to work hard but may not have the willingness). However, over the last few years the JEE has laid more stress on the hard work aspect rather than on brilliance.

Given all these above factors, the IITs have indeed taken a step forward by adopting new procedures for conduct of the examination. As for critics of multiple choice exams who say that it can be a lottery, suitable negative marking can ensure that only people who genuinely attempt are successful. Also, an objective exam would test the speed of the candidate, which is sometimes an indicator of the ?raw brilliance?. And critics must note that any evaluation based on a single examination is a lottery and hence there is no increased randomness being introduced by the new format.

Other criticisms for this new format would be that coaching institutes were helping many students from rural areas and backward classes get through and that their reduced influence may bias the exam towards urban candidates who have had the luxury of good schooling. It may also be argued that many people could earlier hope to make up for their natural talent by sheer hard work and the new pattern defeats the hopes of such people.

In response to these, it must be argued that the IITs are elitist institutions where merit is the only criterion to be looked at. The IITs haven?t been set up in order to promote equity. They are meant to be for the best people and only the best should deserve to get in. The new pattern also helps people from disadvantaged sections of society who may not be able to afford the expensive coaching classes.

There are also the issues of minimum qualification marks in the boards and restriction on the number of attempts. As for the restriction on the number of attempts, it must be argued that people who prepared for JEE longer got an ?unfair advantage? over people with lesser years of preparation. This again comes to the point of brilliant versus hardworking students. Two seems to be a fair number because it is very unlikely that a student is ?unlucky? twice over and even if he/she is, it could also mean that he/she is unable to handle pressure.

There have been protests all over the country regarding these new rules. Initially all of them were applicable effective from 2006. However, the IITs have been right in allowing people with less than 60% marks or those in multiple attempts to write the exam in 2006, given that these people have already invested since some of them have given up another year of their career preparing for this exam.

An issue where I would like to differ from the IITs? views is the point that the system will be reviewed after 2006. I believe that it takes some time for any system to show its true colors and hence the government should study the new system for at least 3-4 years before they decide to revise it.

In conclusion, the decision by the IITs about revising the JEE pattern is a positive one and would ensure better quality of students in the IITs. Apart from this, it would decrease the pressure on the students and also make the logistics of conducting the JEE (in terms of corrections) easier and bring in greater objectivity. If the implementation (in terms of quality of question papers) is also good, it will ensure that brilliance is the only criterion for entry.

inverse bumping

it is not easy to reject a job. especially if it is from the world’s second largest bank. with a posting in london. a compensation which starts at the same level as the security guard at the bank but quickly grows to make me a millionaire within 5-6 years. and in an industry which is most coveted for most people in my college.

it’s not easy to accept a job, either. if the two months you spent at your “future workplace” were hell. Where you were made to do the jobs normally done by “class IV employees”. where the only thing that mattered to anyone was money. in an industry where everyone is grossly overpaid and hence one has to be lucky to survive. where the job, as i see it, is hardly intellectually stimulating. where you’re just another brick – no just a grain of sand making up a brick – in the wall. in a far-off land, where I don’t have too many friends (except a handful from my college who’ll be going there to – do what else? i-banking). where i have trouble getting the kind of food i like; where i managed to get rid of my addiction to caffeine because the coffee was so bad.

well, it has been hard to make this decision. have thought over it. talked to a few people around me. have faced extreme reactions – in both directions. well, if you’ve been following my blog over the last month, i think you’ve guessed right.

i am currently in the process of writing my “inverse bump” mail. i believe even when you’re saying “no”, there’s a nice way of doing it. hope to complete this mail in some time. early tomorrow morning, i’ll get it proofread by a few friends and send it on it’s way.

yet another glorious (??!!??) chapter in my life comes to a close. one that started with signing in a grubby yellow notebook saying “i accept the offer”. it had it’s highs and lows and stuff. was interesting, to say the least. well, it’ll end as soon as that mails leaves my mailbox a few hours from now.

hmmm… as usual, i’m not finding a good ending for this essay, so i guess i’ll stop here. and yeah, in a few days you can find articles on the investment banking myth and also a complete porter’s analysis on the investment banking industry.

more on simulated annealling

This time, I pick one of my favorite topics: Indian Politics.

Simulated annealing is a popular heuristic technique. I’ve written some preliminary intro about it here . Read it before you go ahead with this… for those who are too lazy to do that, here goes… as for those who already know what simulated annealing is, ignore the next two paragraphs.

Continue reading “more on simulated annealling”

Mass Weddings

In a month’s time from now, 200 girls from our tribe are going to be married. The weddings will start on the 10th of March and go on for a week, until all the brides have been married. Preparations have already begun in full swing and some girls have already been engaged – they won’t go through the process of finding a groom in those days.

Continue reading “Mass Weddings”

Cricket Illustrated

This is in reference to the article “life is a game of cricket” I wrote a few days ago. Today we were discussing the answers to a certain examination and I was able to explain everything in cricketing terms… The paper consisted of 40 Multiple Choice Questions with +1 for every right answer and -1 for every wrong.

Continue reading “Cricket Illustrated”

On cultural events and simulated annealling

As part of my “Artificial Intelligence” course three years ago, I had learnt about this search technique called “simulated annealling”. I learnt this again as part of an advanced course in Operations Research. It is used to solve problems where solving rigorously is not feasible as it would take too much time.

Continue reading “On cultural events and simulated annealling”