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JEE lessons for exam vernacular cry

- Would-be engineers who took test in regional languages fare poorly

New Delhi, Aug. 18: The results of a recent experiment with the all-India engineering entrance test may come as a damper for the MPs clamouring for the civil services exam to be conducted in all the Indian languages.

Would-be engineers were allowed to take the JEE Main in Marathi and Urdu this year in addition to English, Hindi and Gujarati. The twin findings: not too many chose the new language options, and those who did fared poorly.

Till 2012, candidates could take the All-India Engineering Entrance Examination only in English and Hindi. When the exam was replaced by the JEE Main last year, Gujarati was allowed as an additional option.

This was because Gujarat had junked its own state-level engineering entrance exam and decided to admit students to its tech schools through the JEE Main. Odisha, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand have now followed suit.

Following demands from Maharashtra, Marathi and Urdu — languages allowed in its state-level test along with English and Hindi — were introduced as options this year. Odisha conducted its state-level test only in English.

If more states adopt the JEE Main, candidates may be allowed to take the exam in more regional languages.

Perhaps the students who chose Marathi or Urdu were eyeing seats not in the IITs but in state engineering colleges, so it may seem unfair to judge their performance by their success in qualifying for the JEE Advanced.

Still, the findings gain significance in the context of the recent student agitation against the emphasis on English in the civil services exam, and the demand by MPs to let the candidates take the test in all the Indian languages. The government has pledged an all-party meeting later this month.

But how far do the lessons from the JEE Main experiment apply to the civil services exam? Several points emerged from discussions with educationists and education officials:

A senior official of the Central Board of Secondary Education, which conducts the JEE Main, said the candidates who took the exam in Marathi and Urdu were mostly from poor families and had studied in government schools.

“Their success rate will obviously be low since they do not receive coaching or special care,” he said.

Coaching for the JEE is done in English (and to an extent in Hindi too), mostly in urban centres that charge steep fees. But state governments offer free coaching in regional languages for the civil services exam, although the private coaching institutes in the cities teach largely in English.

Science education in Class XII is best done in English but the civil services exam mainly tests candidates’ knowledge and skills in the humanities, which can be taught well in the Indian languages. So, would-be civil servants may well benefit from writing the exam in an Indian language they are familiar with.

An IIT faculty member said that even students taking the JEE Main in the regional languages can do well too if they are provided adequate study materials and training in these languages.

Satyan Narayanan, CEO of Career Launcher, a coaching institute in Delhi, explained why candidates who took the JEE Main in Gujarati did so much better.

“English-medium teaching is a bit of a calamity in Gujarat; so a large number of bright students from well-off families there study science in the local tongue,” he said.

However, the MPs may be fighting the drift of the times. Janak Pandey, former vice-chancellor of the Central University of Bihar, said parents were increasingly admitting their children to English-medium schools even in rural areas.

The politicians may also take note of the poor progress made by efforts to have engineering taught in the regional languages — a demand made by, among others, Baba Ramdev during an anti-corruption fast in Delhi in 2011.

Then education minister Kapil Sibal had promised to examine the demand and the All India Council of Technical Education had set up a committee under IIT Delhi director R.K. Shevgaonkar.

The committee has met just twice. It had asked every state to clarify up to which class their students are taught in the regional languages. Few states have responded, council sources said.