simple writing, high thinking…

In an op-ed in yesterday’s Business Standard, Deepak Lal writes

Hume believed that all ideas are based either on logic or sense experience, and that our inductive inferences based on constant conjunction of particular temporal sequences do not give us secure grounds from observing instances to inferring a general rule.

Totally haemoglobin-in-the-atmosphere level stuff. I mean, it may be ok (or even necessary) to use such complicated and unreadable language in an academic journal. But in an op-ed of a newspaper? Even if it is a business newspaper whose readers are more informed in general?

I think there is a conspiracy by academics to prevent “normal people” from understanding concepts that are simple and intuitive.

Now it’s the turn of the economists

To fear the engineers that is. It seems like TCA Srinivasa Raghavan had an extremely tight deadline with respect to his analysis of the Raghuram Rajan Report. So, instead of taking on the report, he decides to go after the chief author instead. And he doesn’t even do a good job of this. He goes after the chief author’s educational background (Raghuram is a BTech (elec) from IITD). And proceeds to say that the invasion of engineers into economics has in a way ruined the subject.

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Teaching Economics: Part Two

Madman Aadisht has extended my earlier post to talk about why Economics toppers from DU don’t necessarily need to clear in their concepts. He talks about the admission process and the internal examination process and the course content to arrive at this particular conclusion. So what could be done to fix it? There is no dearth of enthu for the study of economics in India. And I get the feeling that a lot of people are put off from it due to absence of quality colleges (apart from a couple of colleges in Delhi, and one in Bombay, nothing really stands out).

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Rewarding Research At Universities CEO Ajit Balakrishnan, in this edit page article in the Business Standard, talks about his interest in a certain paper by a Professor at IIT Bombay, and his attempts to commercialize it.

Now, the interesting part is, though Professor Soumen Chakravarty gladly agreed to share his research, and be a consultant to Rediff, getting IITB to partner with Rediff almost seemed impossible. The problem, according to Ajit, was ?solved? when two of Prof Soumen’s students joined Rediff upon graduation. “… seems to be the way R&D is done today”, he concludes, seemingly happy with the arrangement.

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Starting this academic year, the Humanities and Social Sciences (HS) department of IIT Madras is starting integrated 5-year MA courses in Economics, English and Developmental Studies. With this IITM becomes the second IIT to start undergrad courses in Economics after IIT Kanpur which started an integrated MSc in Economics last year. This particular move of IITM is commendable mainly for two reasons – one to provide meaningful employment to HS profs and also in a branding context.

Continue reading “MA at IIT”

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.