“It is ironic when someone who runs a body-shopping company and calls it hi-tech, makes sweeping comments on the quality of IIT students.” These are the words of a product of the Kota factory, who got rejected by Infosys at campus placement interviews at IIT Delhi, and later went on to study at IIM Ahmedabad, do a banking job in Hong Kong, and become a hugely successful English novelist, and a youth icon in India. Yes, we, IITians, are used to being ridiculed and made fun of by ‘normal’ people, but when someone like Narayana Murthy, an IITian himself, hit us where it hurt the most (read: being a nerd), Chetan Bhagat couldn’t hold it anymore, and decided to hit back immediately. Kind of like when Sunny Deol retaliates after an Amrish Puri comment on his folk, his country, or his dancing skills.
Anyways, as an IITian myself, I, too, felt that Deolesque gust of anger over Murthy’s comment, which was ironically made at a PanIIT Conclave, which is probably the only place where the density of IITians exceeds that at IITs itself. This comment has surely stirred up a lot of debate among the media, the academicians and IITians themselves, to such an extent that Rajdeep Sardesai chose this as his Goodnight Tweet Topic Of The Day for one full week.The question is, where do we stand? Was Murthy’s comment constructive criticism? Has the quality of IITians really deteriorated? Or did Narayana Murthy just get bored and decided to provoke Chetan Bhagat for more controversial tweets?
Well, let us compare. Two decades ago, to get into an IIT, one had to crack the IIT-JEE, which was then the most difficult examination in the world. And one had to do it on his own. (Feminists, excuse me. We are talking about IITians here. ‘His’ should suffice.) This surely called for ingenuous ingenuity in a student. There were no short cuts. Once in an IIT, the student and the institute worked symbiotically. The student got quality education from the institute, and in turn produced research work and employment that benefited the institute, and in general, the nation. The world was a simple and happy place. And there were no Rajdeep Sardesai Goodnight Tweets.
However, times have changed. There are four basic reasons why an IITian is not as ‘employable’ today as he was two decades ago:
1. To say that the IIT-JEE has changed would be an understatement. Gone are the days when JEE, with olympiad-like subjective problems, would require not only a thorough understanding of basic concepts, but also deft problem analysing and solving skills. Today, with Lady Luck smiling, a simple ‘inky-pinky-ponky’ suffices. An entire industry thrives on devising shortcuts to crack the objective JEE. To add to this is the government’s insistence on reserving a huge chunk of seats for the ‘underprivileged’. All these things ensure poor quality of students coming into an IIT.
2. The word ‘employable’ no longer means what it did two decades ago. Back then, it meant having sound technical knowledge in one’s field. However, with globalisation and the rise in number of jobs that require inter-disciplinary knowledge, ‘employable’ also includes having good communication and management skills, and possessing in-depth knowledge of multiple fields of study. While universities abroad have modified their training programmes to incorporate greater flexibility and enhanced their domain, sadly, the IITs haven’t.
3. Rapid advancements in technology is another huge factor. Back then, whatever one learnt during his time at an IIT would help him get through his entire career. Today, however, things change so quickly that whatever one learns in his first departmental course at an IIT might become obsolete by the time he graduates. Hence, as Dr. Sudhir Jain, Director, IIT Gandhinagar, said, IITs shouldn’t teach engineering, but should teach how to ‘learn’ engineering. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen either, depreciating our employability quotient.
4. According to Murthy, coaching classes are the major reason behind the deteriorating quality of IITians. On the contrary, however, it is the IITs which disappoint when it comes to good teachers. The faculty-to-student ratio at IITs has dwindled drastically in the past few years, resulting in the IITs going all out to somehow find teachers, thus compromising the quality of education that sets the IITs apart. Of course, the huge paychecks offered by coaching classes to lure all the good teachers don’t really help. But who can blame them? We can safely assume that a student would find better teachers at the looked-down-upon coaching classes than at worshipped-like-temples IITs. Blaming coaching classes for poor quality of students would be like blaming the doctor for a patient’s death.
Who do we blame then? Though the IITs were established as Higher Technical Institutions on the lines of American universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they have failed to fulfill their envisioned purpose due to lack of resources and failure to adapt to the changing times, amongst various other reasons. So ultimately, the employer (read Murthy) whines, the employee (read Bhagat) protests, and the spectator posts Good Night Tweets. And we are back to square one.
Instead of debating on whether the quality of IITians has actually waned, and discussing whether coaching classes might have caused it, we must realise that there is no dearth of talent and aptitude in the nation, and rethink the mission of such premier institutes as IITs, and revamp their functioning in accordance with the same. Maybe the world might again seem a simple and happy place. And Rajdeep Sardesai might leave us alone.
-An apparently-poor-quality IITian