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IIT wake-up bell for backbencher Bengal

Calcutta, July 15: Bengal is sending fewer students to the country’s elite institutes of technology and management — the IITs and IIMs — than many other regions.

Recent data show that the IIT Kharagpur zone, which includes Bengal, trails the Bombay, Madras and Delhi zones in terms of the percentage of candidates who make it to the IITs. The story is no different for the IIMs, where even the number of applicants for the eligibility test has dropped.

The trend does not bode well for chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s ambition to make Calcutta the knowledge industry capital, particularly as some of the reasons for the dipping IIT-IIM numbers lie in the way the school syllabus is devised.

This year, the top-500 list of the IIT joint entrance examination (JEE) has only 10 candidates from Bengal. But even this small number is an improvement over last year when there were only two.

Among the seven IITs, the Bombay zone leads the list of successful candidates with 30.57 per cent whereas the Kharagpur zone (made up of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand) is way behind with a figure of 11.33 per cent (see table) in this year’s JEE.

The strike rate — the number of successful candidates per hundred writing the exam — is also far lower at 2.99 per cent than in the Bombay, Madras and Delhi zones.

Amit Kumar Ghosh, chairman, JEE, IIT Kharagpur, said: “(Even) the number of applications from this zone is low compared with the zones that have produced a larger number of successful candidates.”

One of the reasons for the lower number of applications is that a large number of students from Bengal migrate to other parts of the country.

“It would be unfair to say that the reason for fewer applicants is just a lack of interest in the IITs. Many go to Kota (in Rajasthan) and other states that have a higher rate of success,” said Debdeep Banerjee, who heads Fiitjee, an institute that trains students for the entrance test.

Sankarsan Bandyopadhyay, who ranked 102 last year from Insight, trained at a coaching centre in Kota after completing Class XII in Calcutta. “I wanted to study in an IIT and I knew that I stood a sure chance if I got training from Kota,” said Sankarsan, who is studying computer science in IIT Delhi.

He left Calcutta because the training quality was not up to scratch. “Besides, the success rate of Kota is far higher than Calcutta’s,” he said.

The coaching centres themselves admit that Bengal’s performance has been poor. “The level of awareness about the JEE among students and parents is low compared with other states,” said Banerjee of Fiitjee, which has centres in Delhi, Mumbai and Patna.

Tutors blame the education system as well. Schools and teachers focus on the Class XII exam and seldom encourage students to pursue the IIT test.

Subhayu Chatterjee, a student of Nava Nalanda High School, said his teachers gave him support but the Bengal board – and its syllabus -- had a negative effect on his performance.

“Compared with my friends from the CBSE and ISC boards, I felt we were at a disadvantage. They knew much more than I did. We had to work harder than them to catch up,” said Subhayu, who ranked 242.

Dhrubo Chakraborty, a tutor, said that fewer students from schools run by the Ramakrishna Mission and St Lawrence and South Point, which have nursed IIT aspirants, were now attempting the entrance test.

“There is a certain way of preparing for the IIT test which has nothing to do with the (board) syllabus. One has to synchronise the two preparations. Parents and teachers encourage students to concentrate on the board exam and the WBJEE. As a result, they falter while taking the extra step required for the IIT test,” he said.

The education system is proving to be the deterrent for students taking the Common Aptitude Test (CAT) for the IIMs.

Vidur Kapoor of Erudite, a CAT training centre, said that while the IIMs had made 50 per cent marks in graduation a criterion for taking the test, in Bengal the percentage of students making that level was much less than in other states.

Ashish Bhattacharyya, chairman, admissions, IIM Calcutta, said that of the 176,600 applicants for CAT this year, 11.64 per cent were from the east, much lower than from the other regions. “It is even lower than last year when 13.93 per cent applications came from Calcutta,” he said.

Fewer students from Bengal in the IITs and IIMs mean fewer decision makers of tomorrow from Bengal.

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