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'I want Indian students to win a Nobel'

Last updated on: June 21, 2010 19:58 IST

The founder of Super 30 spells out a few solutions to make the IIT-JEE more accessible to students across rural India.

Anand Kumar, the founder of Super 30, an innovative educational programme aimed at picking 30 potential IIT students from economically backward classes, tells Aditi Phadnis that IIT-JEE is not error-free and hopes that Indian students win the Nobel.

You met Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal recently and suggested some changes in the IIT Joint Entrance Examination (JEE). What changes do you want implemented?

As you know, IIT-JEE is among the most competitive examinations in this field in the world. Yet, it is not error-free. The minister sought my suggestions on holding a seamless exam. I told him that in order to prevent serious instructional errors, which occured in IIT-JEE 2010, and to enhance transparency, there is an urgent need to develop a standard protocol for competitive examinations.

This should be used for all examinations by institutions under the direct administrative control of the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The government could constitute a committee of independent experts to suggest such a protocol. It should be relevant for the single examination system for engineering proposed from 2013. I also think that rural students should get three chances to crack the exam.

Many questions asked in IIT-JEE are of the Olympiad level. Rural students, even if they have sound knowledge of the plus-two level, have difficulty in solving these problems. Questions in English and Hindi should be printed on alternate pages in a single booklet to prevent printing errors, as happened in the Hindi question paper in 2010. Use of a pen should be allowed to mark answers in the optical response sheets (ORS).

Many ORS, when marked with HB pencil, are rejected by the ORS machine, as their impression is faint. The solutions of IIT JEE questions are used by coaching centres for publicity.

So, IITs should publish the answers and their detailed solutions on the very evening the examination is held. Complete details of total marks obtained, with subject-wise marks, should be given.

This should be on the day the results are published, just as is done in AIEEE/AIPMT exams. Many students miss out by a small margin and then fall prey to the wiles of coaching centres.

You have founded Super 30, which is a coaching centre for students from economically deprived families...

Yes, over the last eight years, Super 30 has sent 212 boys from poor families to IITs. Our model is to select 30 talented students from desperately poor families and give them free coaching and free accommodation for about 11 months to help them crack the exam.

The boys stay with me, my mother cooks for them and we do nothing but study for 11 months. I select the boys personally through a rigorous process that gives weight to their family background. I accept no funds from the government or private entities.

When I teach children, I use a multimedia projector. I make two characters. One is Rikki, who is from a rich family, wears a tie, a jacket and nice shoes. The other character is Bholu. He wears a simple shirt and broken chappals. Both are serious students of IIT-JEE. Rikki eats pizzas and burgers, Bholu eats bhutta. Rikki rides a motorbike, Bholu rides a broken cycle.

When I give the children a question to solve, Rikki solves it using traditional methods but Bholu uses as many as five solutions. He generalises problems and proposes similar problems. By doing this, children learn in-depth. They also learn in a few months that even a poor child can make history.

They get a lot of confidence. They are tested regularly. They study 14 hours a day. During this one-year tapasya, they live like sadhus. But the result is happiness. It is not just personal happiness and glory, but something that changes the entire generation's outlook.

And when they go to IIT...

There are two sets of children. Some get lost in the glamour and modernity of IITs, the lure of the corporate reward. But most children return during the holidays. They ask me: Tell us what we can do to make your programme better. Some come and teach when they have the time.

A good teacher teaches not just how to add but also how to give back...

I frequently tell children: I know what you have gone through, but you must remember that no person should be barred from education just because he has no money. That doesn't mean you have to start a school like Super 30, but around you, if there are needy people, you must help.

I ask because children who are very bright tend to become self-centered...

Yes, I agree, but Super 30 attracts a certain kind of boy, one who is always asking, 'How can I be of use?'

Are you planing anything new in Super 30?

We are now trying talent-spotting for those who are poor, bright and in Class X. The reason is, parents do manage to educate their children till Class X, but after that, the children usually drop out. So I want to spot talent at the level of Class X and nurture it.

We are also trying to increase the number of students. It is difficult, but we're trying. In the long term, my dream is to have a school where the poor can send their children to be educated till Class V. I want more Indian boys to attempt the National Olympiad, the International Mathematical Olympiad, and then, aim for a Nobel.

Critics claim that you don't declare the list of students you are teaching in advance and so no one knows if it is a cent per cent result or not...

I don't declare the list because Bihar, like other states, is in the grip of a coaching mafia, which can do anything -- kidnap children, lure them with money -- if it gets to know they may clear IIT JEE. This mafia has tried to get me murdered. The stakes are so high. But things are getting better in Bihar. Law and order has improved and so has the environment for education.

Aditi Phadnis
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