Traditionally in India, the eligibility criteria for enrolling in a BTech program is that the student must have taken Physics, Chemistry, and Maths (P-C-M) in his High School (class XII).  As entrance exam for a BTech (CS/IT) is clubbed with entrance in other engineering disciplines, PCM also becomes the eligibility criteria for CS/IT. While the need for P-C-M as prerequisite for enrolling in disciplines like Mechanical, Civil, Mechanical can be argued, for CS/IT, while having Maths in XII is clearly desirable, need for Physics and Chemistry as prerequisites is very weak as most computing related courses do not need expertise in these subjects.

We started checking about the prevailing situation in other countries. The situation in US is as follows. For most University programs, including CS, you need to have completed your high-school, which is a 4-year program comprising class VIII to XII. The high school program of different states varies, but a common theme seems to be that they have to do about 2 years of science, 2 to 3 years of Maths, and about as much English, among other subjects. If we take class VIII to XII in CBSE together, we can compare it with US easily. In CBSE, most students do science in class VIII and IX, but after that they need not do science subjects. However, in class XI and XII students can, and often do, choose to do Maths and other non-science subjects like Economics, Commerce, Computers, Biology, Humanities, etc.  Those students who take Maths as one of the subjects for XII will therefore have 4 years of Maths, and at least 2 years of Science in class VIII to XII. By most US Universities’ criteria, that will make them eligible to seek admission in any program, including CS and Engineering. In UK they look at Maths primarily for CS programs. In Germany, they don’t care what you have done in high school, but they message that Maths is important for CS.

From the experience in these countries, as well from the nature of the program and its courses, it seemed clear that at least for CS/IT while Maths should be required, the science the students do in their high school is sufficient.

We also took a poll of students in our program on this topic. The thinking was that they are still fresh from school and can evaluate how much their school science helped in their learning in our BTech (IT) program. So, we took their views on a simple question: “If you had not done Physics and Chemistry in Class XII, but had done Maths with other subjects, how do you think it would have affected your ability to understand the material in the courses you are taught in IIIT-Delhi”.  The results were: About 45% felt that “it would have made it somewhat harder” and about the same number felt that “it would have remained the same”. A smaller fraction (about 10%) felt that “It would have made it somewhat easier”, while a very small fraction felt that “it would have made it considerably harder”.

We did a similar poll of CS faculty members from IIIT-Delhi, IIT Delhi, IIT Kanpur, and IIT Bombay. The vast majority of them felt that the level of difficulty would have remained about the same.

It was clear that there was good support to shift to Maths in Class XII as the eligibility criteria, rather than PCM. But why do it? Why not simply remain with the existing method of sticking to PCM? What will be the advantage of doing this? There are a few advantages. One clear advantage is that it can add diversity in the intake, which is even more beneficial for an IT program, in which we wish to emphasize the application domains more.  Second, this shift will also allow tapping students who have not gone through years of JEE/AIEEE coaching, which, as many have argued, have had an adverse impact on students’ attitude, learning abilities, and breadth. I.e. we can get some fresh, not-spoilt-by-coaching, students.

Finally, there is also a need in India to challenge some of the prevailing notions about education, as some of them seem to be out of tune with times and persist only due to inertia.  If educationists will not challenge thoughts/beliefs that may not be relevant for education anymore or may have been founded on incomplete knowledge and need to be re-evaluated, who will?

After all this background study, and a lot of discussions, IIIT-Delhi finally decided to take the lead and shift to requiring only Maths as a necessary pre-requisite for applying for admission to BTech(IT). Of course, the Institute still will have an aptitude test for selection.