“He has lost two marks and with it the chances of getting centum,” remarked a dejected R. Selvi, about her son N.R. Bala Murali's performance in the mathematics examination held on Thursday.

As the class XII Board examinations draw to a close, it is the beginning of a series of competitive examinations that elicit mixed reactions from parents and students. Nearly, 20 engineering entrance examinations are lined up till the end of June and over one lakh students in the State are expected to take them. “Parents do not want to take any chances now. A serious student takes at least six entrance exams to be safe,” says K. Ravi, general manager (class room teaching), Brilliant Tutorials. While the IITs consider the JEE scores for admissions, the AIEEE scores would determine admission to the 30 National Institutes of Technology (NIT) and nearly 31 other colleges.

Many deemed universities and private colleges also conduct separate entrance tests. VIT, BITS Pilani and a few other institutions say that over seven lakh candidates have registered for the exams with each of them. While JIPMER and BITSAT are online, AIEEE will be online this year for the first one lakh students.

Brand name and fee

Of the 11.5 lakh students who are expected to take the AIEEE across the country in May, 70,000 would be from the Tamil Nadu alone. The number, experts say, is increasing every year.

“The tag of these institutes help students get into the best research organisations and business schools later,” says N. Venkat, a student of Bala Vidya Mandir.

Besides the reputation of these colleges, IITs and NITs have a more affordable fee structure. While government institutes charge Rs.10,000 – Rs.15,000 a semester, private colleges charge around Rs.1 to Rs.1.5 lakh for the same.

With nearly 400 engineering colleges in the State, one might think that students are spoilt for choices. “Not really,” says Gita Prabhu, Managing Director, AIMS Education. “There are barely 100 colleges that are worth the fees and time. Where you do your engineering has certainly become more important that what you do,” she adds.

Balancing act

For students, it is about striking the right balance between school and coaching classes. Quite a number of coaching institutes tie up with schools to train students on the school's premises.

FIIT-JEE, for instance, has tie ups with some schools in the city and offer ‘Integrated programmes,' where the school curriculum and the classes for the IIT-JEE happen simultaneously.

“Students save time as they do not have to shuttle between the school and coaching centre after school hours. All the subject professors are present in one place,” says S. Namasivayam, senior principal, Maharishi Vidya Mandir. An average coaching institute charges almost Rs. 35,000 on coaching classes, excluding the cost of materials, test registration, forms and extra classes for one year.

Parents such as Mala Gurunathan feel it is peer pressure that drives many to joining coaching institutes.

“My son discontinued before he could complete six months as he found it difficult to manage school and coaching classes. Therefore, it is best not to have much expectation on the child and let him give his best,” adds Ms. Gurunathan.

Parents like her see the fees paid to coaching institutes as something similar to school fees, and therefore as something necessary.

But, if one is aiming for an engineering seat in Tamil Nadu many teachers are of the opinion that concentrating on school syllabus is more than enough. As V. Lazarus, vice-principal, C.S.I. Ewart Matriculation Higher Secondary School, says, “For the past two to three years we are noticing that the students who are topping our school exams are those who haven't gone for any outside coaching.” But those aiming for national level exams, she says, must start the preparation earlier.

Focus on fundamentals

While tutorial classes coach students to crack entrances, professors in engineering colleges say the students are not getting trained enough to sustain in professional courses.

With as many as 13 lakh students vying for less than 40,000 seats in IITs and NITs, the average success rate of coaching classes does not go beyond 8 -10 per cent, say experts.

“The whole of first year of engineering goes in bringing the students who come with the influence of coaching classes on a same platform, by teaching them basics in the most fundamental way. Methods of testing and training vary in engineering, many high-scoring children in these entrance exams find it difficult to cope with the transition,” says N. Harish Kumar, associate professor (Physics), IIT- Madras.

Many students join coaching classes to brush up their aptitude and logical skills. “Getting into the IITs is not mandatory, I want my son to get used to the competition and competitive exams so that he can handle aptitude tests better at a later stage too,” says Aruna S. Ganesh, mother of a student.

(With inputs from Vasudha Venugopal, Liffy Thomas and Lavanya M.)

Keywords: BITS PilaniAIEEE

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