Prepping for placement

By Zhang Yihua Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/26 17:38:39

Indian students discuss India’s rigorous test culture and the challenges they face to do well in their college entrance exams

Many students in India study hard and go to coaching institutes in order to succeed in the college entrance examination. Photo: IC

When Angad Chandel, a fifth-year student reading for an integrated bachelor's and master's degree in biotechnology, got accepted to the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, a public engineering institution in India, he felt pleased. Not only is the school noted for its academic achievements, but it has Institute of National Importance status, an accolade that is awarded by the government of India and reserved for an institution that "serves as a pivotal player in developing highly skilled personnel within the specified region of the country/state."

Although three years have passed since he took the entrance exams, the process of preparing is still fresh in his memory.

"There was a lot of hard work to do, and the success rate was 0.1 percent," he said.

Like Chandel, many Indian students have to work assiduously for limited spots in Indian universities. The huge number of candidates, the exams and their high level of difficulty all add to the challenge, especially when seeking placement at a top institution. Rishitosh Jha, an Indian student at Xidian University's School of International Education in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province is one of them.

According to him, the situation in India is similar to the gaokao (college entrance examination) in China where students compete to get into top universities and secure a brighter future themselves.

When Chinese high school graduates finish their college entrance exams in the beginning of June, their Indian counterparts would have also just gotten through their difficult test season as well.

As the middle class grows in India, so does the competition for the limited places in the country's universities. According to a March 24, 2010 New York Times report, high school seniors in India need to pass the national board exams, which are the public exams, at the end of the 10th and 12th grade, to graduate from high school and apply to most programs in Indian universities. However, students who apply to universities that have technical programs must take separate entrance exams.

Tough tests

Avijit Banerjee, an associate professor and head of the Institute of Chinese Language and Culture (Cheena Bhavana) at Visva-Bharati University in India, said that India has four main national board exams, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), Indian School Certificate (ISC) and International Baccalaureate (IB).

The ISC and ICSE encourage students to focus on language, science and art and to choose from diverse subjects for their grade 12 exam.

"The exam results are widely recognized across colleges in India and even abroad," said Banerjee.

He said that CBSE is the most popular board in India with more than 9,000 CBSE affiliated schools in the country. It asks the students to pay attention to the application of science and math-related subjects.

"The main benefits of going to a CBSE affiliated school include the wide recognition of board results across all colleges in India and the ease of finding tutors, books and activities due to the recent revamping of teaching approach and curriculum," he said.

IB, on the other hand, is a nonprofit educational foundation that was established in 1968. It is popular among new schools in India's first-tier cities and focuses on the all-round development of the students, offering innovative learning programs.

Each state also has its own board of education that conducts certificate exams for grade 10 and 12 students, added Banerjee.

He noted that structurally there is a big difference between the college entrance exams in India and the gaokao in China.

According to him, in India, the exams are different for the various branches of learning, whereas the gaokao does not vary according the branch of study.

He added that in India, admission to undergraduate courses generally require students to complete 12 years of schooling and it almost solely depends on the performance on the examination.

Additionally, it often takes three years to get a bachelor's degree in arts, science, social studies and commerce and up to between four and five and a half years to achieve a bachelor's degree in subjects like medicine, architecture and law.

Like their Chinese peers, Indian students suffer from great pressure when preparing for the college entrance examination. Photo: IC

A bear of an exam

Chandel sat the Indian Institutes of Technology Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE), an annual engineering college entrance examination in India that is used as the admission test for the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).

The exam is considered one of the toughest in the world, with hundreds of thousands of students competing for a few thousand places. In 2009, around 400,000 students sat the exam, but less than 9,000 gained admission to IITs, according to statistics from a June 2009 report on Internet news portal. Few students pass the exam, and not every student can sit it.

According to a September 1, 2016 article in the Indian Express, to qualify to sit the exam, students need to have at least a 75 percent average or be among the top 20 percent in the 12th grade exam.

Jha met the same the difficulty on the IIT-JEE exam. "The exam is designed to check how well students have grasped the [knowledge] and how they apply [it] to a given set of problems," he said.

He sat the exam in 2010 but did not succeed. He said he stopped trying after the first attempt because he realized that not everyone could get into an IIT.

"As a general student, you have to compete with the sharpest minds in the country who have the ability to solve mathematical equations and physics faster than 99 percent of the population."

He said that the practice of reserving spots for the tribes of India that live in forests and certain underprivileged castes also adds to the fierce competition.

Years of pressure

Jha said that in India, a child begins to shoulder pressure, including his or her parents' expectations, from infancy.

"[Parents always] say that their son or daughter will become an engineer or a doctor or a scientist [because those jobs are considered] dream jobs where people can make a good amount of money," Jha said.

Noting that children are forced to study from an early age and that he did two speed tests every day during the time leading up to his exams, Jha said that sometimes "the pressure is so big that a lot of students commit suicide."

Sadhvi Konchada, then a senior high school student in India, said in the New York Times article that she would have taken 22 board or college entrance exams by the time she entered college and that she had daily tutorials and studied constantly.

According to the article, testing can fast become an obsession for many middle-class families with high school students, as teachers often display exam results publicly and update parents with information comparing the scores of their kids against those of others. The students also spend a long time preparing for and worrying about exams, the article said.

The high level of difficulty of tests has led to the emergence of a large number of coaching institutes designed to help students prepare for the tests.

Banerjee said that coaching institutes in India have become a popular option for those who want to pursue higher scores. A great number of students register in coaching centers, hoping to gain the much-needed edge to stay ahead of the competition.

He said that coaching institutes in India are set up to provide specialized training in professional fields, such as medicine, engineering, management, media, government services and so on. "[However,] the course fees are not cheap and may cost as high as about 100,000 rupees ($1550.6)," he said.

The exam system has put enormous pressure on students and their families, triggering some people to reflect on the situation.

According to a Times of India article dated April 14, 2011, C.N.R Rao, the head of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (SACPM) said that IIT entrance exams have the reputation of being difficult and purposeful, but they have also had a negative effect on young minds.

"Young people suffer so much to succeed in these entrance exams, and in the process, [they] lose excitement in education itself," he said.

Banerjee believes that the main purpose of education is to educate students and help them appreciate knowledge. However, right now, grades and marks are being overly emphasized.

"The system needs to be one that enables students to truly learn what they are being taught and internalize it and not just mug it up for a few days or months," he said.

"It needs to be more long-term than what the situation is at present. At the same time, it also needs to be practical so that the students' abilities are properly tested."

Li Ying contributed to the story


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