India is on the cusp of history. Our nation is blessed with a remarkable opportunity which experts call as the demographic dividend. Almost 65% of Indians are below the age of 35 years. This makes India one of the youngest nations in the world. Many of the developed nations like Japan, UK, Germany, France and US have a much older population. Hence, the number of Indians in the prime working age is the 2nd highest in the world after China. If these youth are equipped with employable skills and education, India can potentially be catapulted into being a superpower - into a league of its own in the next 10-20 years.
In order to achieve this objective, one of the central areas of focus in education must be Science & Technology education. Indian youth needs to be educated, empowered and skilled to world-class levels in this aspect. Technology is indispensable in every business and a skilled work force at all levels is the urgent need of the hour. If we examine the quality of Science & Technology education imparted in the colleges and Universities in India, we are confronted with shocking facts. Out of over a million students enrolling in over 3500 Engineering colleges in India, hardly 50-60 thousand students find themselves in A-grade colleges. NASSCOM has repeatedly said that over 80% of Engineering graduates every year in India are unemployable. It is also observed that 85% of Engineering graduates pursue a career after graduation which is different from the core branch of Engineering in which they pursued their Engineering studies. The central problem in all Science & Engineering colleges in India is lack of sufficient number of talented and dedicated teachers. Even the prestigious IITs have 38% of their faculty positions unfilled. The number of students opting for Pure Sciences in the elite Pure Sciences colleges of India like IITs, BITS, IISc-Bangalore, NISER, ISI, CMI, IISERs etc. does not exceed 2500 per year. Thus, it is clear that a minuscule fraction of the bright Indian students community gets exposure to world-class education.
It is due to the IT revolution since the 1990s during which software firms employed a huge number of Engineering graduates in the past 2 decades that, this acute problem of poor quality Science & Engineering graduates remained covered up. The MBA revolution was the other important factor. However, with renewed focus by the Modi Govt. on manufacturing sector with its Make In India and Digital India campaigns along with thrust on research and innovation, the need for a talented pool of Science and Technology graduates in India cannot be overemphasized.
But how do we build quality Science & Technology human resources ? The answers are not to be found merely in the usual narrative of having to improve the quality of Professors and curriculum in Science & Engineering colleges. We need to probe deeper and address the fundamental issue of Science education from School and Junior college level.
Experts on child psychology, learning scientists, renowned educationists and teachers across the world recommend that intense left-brain activity for a student is advisable from the age of around 12 years (Std.7-8) on-wards for the holistic development of the student. The logical, conceptual and analytic thinking abilities which are key to Science & Technology education are essentially left-brain activities.
If we were to examine the school curriculum of various Indian Boards in Science & Math from Std.8 to 12, it is observed that the emphasis is more on rote learning and information and less on conceptual understanding of the subject and application skills (problem solving ability). Though some text books of certain Boards are written beautifully, the teachers in school or college are not able to deliver the spirit, power and beauty of the underlying concepts of the subject thereby depriving the student of any confidence and abilities. This has been found ubiquitously in almost all the schools and junior colleges in India with very few notable exceptions. If the student is not initiated in the correct way to learn the fascinating subjects of Science & Math, then the fundamentals of the subjects are bound to be weak and such a student is bound to emerge as a weak Science & Engineering graduate who would either deviate from the Technology field or remain unemployed or end up being a Technology clerk. Thus, there is a void in our formal education system which is grave and must be addressed.
It is to precisely fill this void that JEE coaching classes have been mushrooming across the nation as students need extra coaching to cultivate interest, learn fundamentals and develop problem solving abilities. The fact that this need is acutely felt by the Engineering aspirant community throughout India is unfortunate and is the clearest proof that quality of Science education in junior colleges is sub-standard and inadequate. Of-course, the pretext of joining JEE coaching classes is to clear the Entrance Exam called JEE but the process ensures that the above stated objectives get fulfilled provided the JEE coaching class is A-listed and student is sincere and hard-working.
Most Junior colleges across the nation have gradually accepted the JEE coaching classes phenomenon as a fall-out of the realities of the current scenario. Some colleges wish to be in a state of denial and even go to the extent of criticizing JEE classes as commercial ventures and nothing more. On the other hand, a few junior colleges have joined hands with JEE coaching classes and forged Integrated Tie-ups or Synchronized Learning paradigms wherein a student learns the college curriculum and takes JEE coaching within the college timings in the same college premises. This helps in saving loads of time of the student and rescues him from being sandwiched by the double pressure from junior college and JEE coaching class. The Integrated Tie-up concept has been pioneered by a couple of JEE coaching institutes in Mumbai and Delhi but the idea has spread like wild fire and now a huge number of such Integrated Tie-ups are reported across the length and breadth of the nation.
Another version of the Integrated Tie-up concept is the Attendance Tie-up concept. In this arrangement, a student is advised to join a particular junior college which has an understanding with the JEE coaching class. The understanding states that the student shall attend minimal lectures in the Junior college but shall attend all Labs / Practicals. The student attends the JEE coaching class to gain all the concepts and attends college for Practicals only. This way the student has lots of time to study and practice problems at home and is eventually able to excel in JEE as well as Board exams. This is also due to the fact that every chapter of XII Boards is also part of JEE syllabi and hence preparation of any chapter from JEE point of view by and large prepares the student for XII Boards as well. Again, the college internal exams like Unit Tests, Terminals, Prelims have zero weightage for final XII Boards evaluation. Thus, akin to the Integrated Tie-up, the Attendance Tie-up concept is equally effective in giving time to the student for self-study and produce results.
There is however a kind of malpractice which goes on under the guise of Integrated and Attendance Tie-ups. The malpractice is that students enrolling for such Tie-ups are charged a premium in fees in addition to normal JEE coaching class fees and Junior college fees. Sometimes, the premium is to the extent of Rs.1 lakh per year which is unethical and can be construed as commercial exploitation of parents. However, as long as there is no premium charged from parents, the Tie-up concept either in Integrated Tie-up form or Attendance Tie-up form is a sensible and smart concept and should be seen as true Symbiosis. Thus, zero-premium Tie-ups are the need of the hour to address the burning need of Engineering and Medical Aspirants across the nation.
In this context, it is pertinent to highlight the fact that less than 5% of the Top 2500 All India Ranks in JEE ADVANCED (formerly IIT-JEE) are bagged by First-Attempter students who attend compulsory attendance junior colleges. Needless to state, these students are exceptionally brilliant. The rest (95%) are either Repeaters or First Attempters who attend Tie-up colleges or lenient attendance colleges.
Parents must see the pseudo-socialism involved in forcing their wards into compulsory attendance junior colleges if the ward is bright enough to be a world-class Technocrat, scientist, innovator, researcher or Entrepreneur.