During the mid-90s the need for a targeted programme for students falling under the reserved category was felt by the IITs. The huge number of reserved seats going vacant was quoted as the primary reason. The IIT council then wrote to the government for permission to start year-long preparatory courses in the institutes and the programme came into action. This year IIT Kanpur will be hosting students from two fellow IITs for the Preparatory School programme.
The programme was initiated for the SC/ST category students, but was later extended to the Person with Disability (PwD) category students in the year 2009. In the present scenario, about 30-40 students from the SC/ST/PwD category are selected from the otherwise non-qualified students. They are then tutored on intermediate level concepts in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. A course on English Language, the official medium of instruction at IITs, is also covered. The objective of this course is to prepare these students for the regular B.Tech. and Dual Degree courses. Upon successful completion of the programme, the students are eligible for admission in the regular B.Tech. / Dual Degree programmes.
Thus far, this programme seems to be very noble initiative. But, it has its own set issues.
Over the years a gap has been observed between the students from the Preparatory Course and the regular B Tech/Dual degree students. Though bridging this gap was the very reason for the initiation of these courses, whether or not the IITs have been able to achieve the goal is something that needs to be thought upon. An IITK student in his sophomore year, who had been through a preparatory course says, “There is a huge gap between the Prep course and the first year’s curriculum at IIT Kanpur. The curriculum of the prep courses is not very rigorous and one can easily pass the courses by simply memorizing the solution to assignment problems. But this hampers one’s ‘preparation’ for the regular course, since certain parts of the subject remain underprepared.” This lack of preparation at times translates in their performance in the regular courses in the IITs. “Had the examination been more rigorous and thorough, testing our thinking capabilities, the screening would have been better. If you’re not up to the mark for competing with the regular batch, your survival here is going to be really tough”, he adds.
A common trend seen in Prep Course students is lack of understanding of Maths. This not only affects their performance in future Mathematics courses but also in courses in Physics, Chemistry and other Departmental courses that pre-require +2 mathematics. Their poor laboratory background furthers their difficulties. Much of this is because of the lack of vigour in the way these courses are covered, and more importantly perceived.
A final year IITK student, who had also undergone a Prep course recalls, “We were told by our Prep Course seniors there that this course is going to be a cakewalk. They gave us fundae on how to get the minimum passing percentage. This left us with loads of free time which most of the students wasted by watching movies and playing games rather than spending time on building basic concepts that would help us in future”. He feels that if a student shows some sincerity in his or her prep course, rather than thinking about merely passing it, the course is good enough to prepare oneself to survive and even do great in the regular programme.
Prof. AK Lal, ho would be the instructor of Mathematics at the Prep course says, “I would base the course entirely on NCERT books. The exams would be application based, much like JEE syllabus. This would bring these students on equal footing with the regular students.” Talking about issues with the system he says, “One of the major issues he faces in his Preparatory Course is the language barrier. Although the English Language course would prepare the students for their regular programme, but for the preparatory course itself it is very tough to find a language of instruction understood by everyone.” He further adds, “The regular programme students have an academic support system in the form of Tutorials and also the Counselling Service, people who can sit along with the students and explain problems to them in languages they understand, something which the Prep course lacks.”
Another major issue that pops up is managing the lifestyle of these students. Since these students have an entirely different curriculum, it’s hard for them to mix with the campus junta. This seclusion leads to various issues. As a result, the Counselling Service this year decided to give them accomodation along with the regular Y18 batch in Hall 13 and GHT. The students now stay in groups of 3-4 in wings where Y18 have been accommodated and are also allocated SGs for emotional support. Bharat Jindal, UG Assistant Coordinator, Counselling Service, believes, “This could be a better way to avoid their complete seclusion, which was possible if they were given a separate wing, a system some of the other IITs follow.”
The success of Preparatory Course, like any other programme is subject to the efforts put in by both the students and the instructors. Students in this programme come with a hope of securing a seat in IITs and have a better future, but after being admitted in the regular programmes, they end up getting caught in the ruthless paradigm of competitive courses and relative grading fighting for mere survival. The only success stories that exist here are of students who were sincere in their prep course and who viewed it as a learning opportunity rather than a one year formality before getting into IITs. The system, at this points, needs to understand the specifics of their life and make sure the purpose of these courses is realized.