When an analysis of this years Joint Engineering Entrance Results found that girls have a very poor representation among IIT entrants,a professor observed that this was very likely due to parents being reluctant to send their daughters to far-off coaching hubs such as Kota in southern Rajasthan.
It was in effect an acknowledgment of how important a role coaching plays in competitive exams today. And that goes beyond IITs,an area where Kota is the specialist. For IAS aspirants,there is Delhi. For provincial civil service examinations,there are for example Lucknow in UP and Pune in Maharashtra,each city drawing students from across its state.
Coaching has become an industry that thrives not just on the crores students pump into centres. They come mostly from outside the cities where they train and their accommodation has given rise to a parallel industry. With so many students in Kota,there has been a sharp rise in the number of caterers and mess halls,laundry and cleaning services,clothes and stationery, says Ashok Maheshwari,general secretary of the Kota Traders Association.
There is a flip side. Coaching might improve a candidates chances of entering an IIT but the directors of many IITs believe the quality of entrants has been affected,with rote learning and mechanical thinking replacing the essential raw intelligence that one traditionally associates with IIT students.
While there is no quantitative study on this,based on our experience we can say that many students who come through coaching tend to get burnt out by the time they get to the IITs, said Prof Gautam Barua,director of IIT Guwahati. There are instances of some students so used to being spoon-fed information that once they are at IITs and are asked to complete assignments on their own,they face difficulties in switching to this regular system. While I would not say that students who come through coaching are not bright several of them are there is also a segment where it is felt that these students have got into IITs at the expense of brighter students.
Few examples can illustrate the growth of coaching centres better than that of the Naqvi brothers of Lucknow. In 1986,Javed and Abis Naqvi started a business in books for engineering and medical entrances,spreading them on the roadside near SKD Coaching Centre. They would earn between Rs 50 and 200 a day. Today,their shop Books and Books has come up on the same road and they claim an annual turnover over Rs 3 crore. They will soon expand to two floors in a commercial complex.
Lucknow today has 1,125 registered centres,the courses as varied as engineering,medical,MBA,civil services,and those for banking and railway jobs. Mahendra Educational Pvt Ltd for banking,railway and other exams started with one centre in 1994,then as Mahendras Institute. Today it has 11 centres in Lucknow and 50 more across the country. Vaids ICS for civil service exams has grown 40 to 50 per cent since 1998,says director P M Tripathi.
Kota,too,had a humble beginning. The man credited with turning it into a hub,V K Bansal,worked with JK Synthetics before he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy,quit and took up teaching. He began teaching maths to a small group in the 1980s and later started Bansal Classes, says his brother Pramod,CEO,Bansal Classes.
By 1996,Bansal Classes was taking in students from across Rajasthan; a student topped the entrance in 2000. Several of Bansals teachers began their own centres,including Career Point and Resonance. Allen Career Institute for pre-medical tests completes the big four in Kota. Now,there are centres in every bylane, says Pramod Maheshwari,director of Career Point.
The towns annual student intake is estimated at 80,000. Over the last decade,centres here claim to have produced close to one-third of all students selected to the IITs.
Students & preferences
Every major hub offers every kind of course,but each specialises in its own kind. Kota is the undisputed IIT training hub. In Kolkata,centres for engineering,medicine and MBA entrances have boomed; the interest in an IAS career is lower. Lucknow thrives on its centres for Provincial Civil Services exams; Pune on those for the Maharashtra equivalent. For IAS,students prefer to train in Delhi,though it also has a large number of other centres.
Students at IAS centres in Delhi guess the non-residents outnumber Delhi residents. By contrast,authorities at the MBA coaching institute TIME estimate only 20 per cent of their students are from outside Delhi. We had more than 15,000 students in 2011-12, says Ulhas Vairagkar,director of TIME Delhi.
Among medical and engineering coaching centres,Aakash Institute in Delhi estimates 40 per cent of its 2,000-3,000 students are from outside. The mix generally consists of 30 per cent from farmers and workers,20 per cent from business families,40 per cent from professional backgrounds and 10 per cent from defence and police, says Antara Bhattacharjee,Aakash communication manager.
In Pune,being an educational hub provides access to a large pool of students. Of the state civil services aspirants,about 70 or 80 per cent come from outside. The top six such centres have 1,000-odd students each while others can have as few as 200-400. Many are from middle class backgrounds,the majority from families that depend on agriculture.
In Lucknow,Praveen Singh of Lakhimpur Kheri cites his own example to say many come to the city without knowing what competitive examinations are all about,understand the basics at coaching centres where they do only the foundation courses,and later go to Delhi. Singh,who trained at Vaids five years ago,went to Delhi but could not clear the IAS in two attempts. Having crossed the age limit,he is back at Vaids for the provincial equivalent.
In Kolkata,which has only one government-run IAS centre and one private,the engineering and medical courses centres draw students from places such as Durgapur,Haldia and Siliguri,their backgrounds ranging from middle-class to well-off.
Dipti Gautam of Gorakhpur trained at Aakash in Lucknow,paying Rs 70,000,but could not clear the medical entrance this year. She has enrolled herself again,the fee this time Rs 83,000,and is staying at a hostel where she pays Rs 5,000 a month.
Hundreds of buildings at Jiamau and Narhi serve as hostels. A few centres such as Rubics Rostrum have their own hostels but most have tie-ups with hostel owners. Dhananjay Singh,manager of SKD New Standard that deals with medical and engineering tests,agrees their students are mainly from small towns and rural areas; those from Lucknow tend to opt for crash courses rather than the yearlong programme.
In Kota,most student rooms are sparsely furnished. Sangeeta Goyal,who runs a girls hostel,says the students do little other than study. As a student says,the only activity that Kota promotes is studying.
Some centres are stricter than others in the selection of teachers. And though there seems to be no consistency in selection procedures within a hub,Kota seems the strictest.
Career Points Maheshwari says each aspiring teacher has to give a mock lecture and field questions,followed by an interview and training. Experience is the key,every year of experience for a teacher is worth that much more, says a teacher at a centre. There are teachers in big centres who earn more than Rs 1 crore a year. Many of those who earn about Rs 50 lakh are in the age group 30 to 35. Salaries start from around Rs 25,000 a month and often double every year.
In Pune,teachers for the civil services are expected to have at least cleared the mains,says Vivek Kulkarni of Jnana Prabodhini. This holds for engineering trainers too. In our team of 13 teachers,11 cleared IIT-JEE, said Vaibhav Bakliwal of Bakliwal Tutorials. I studied in an IIT. Some of us have held engineering jobs,but none has ever been in the faculty of an engineering college.
In Lucknow,qualifications are not necessarily the key; many centres are owned by teachers. TriVaAgs R K Verma is an IIT Chennai postgraduate and Anurag Trivedi is an IIT Kanpur graduate. Harish Kumar,who runs Vaids,says they also invite teachers already serving with the government. And there are IAS aspirants who double up as trainers. Vimal Dwivedi,who worked as a chemical engineer for Rs 12,000 a month,joined New Light Coaching Institute for Rs 35,000 before entering the Aakash faculty at a salary he claims has gone up five times.
The salary range varies as widely as Rs 40,000-1,80,000 a month in Aakash in Delhi. Aakash has three to four subjects per subject; TIME says it has a total of 75.
Fees are no less inconsistent than salaries but one common trend is the way they have multiplied. Vaids ICS in Lucknow,which charged Rs 4,000 in 1998 for a years course,charges Rs 80,000 today. A course at Career Launcher for CAT,which cost Rs 5,000 in 1994,is Rs 27,900 today.
IIT coaching fees are generally in the range of Rs 80,000 in major cities; Kotas centres charge around Rs 1 lakh. For MBA training,Rs 30,000 is the usual range at most places.
In Delhi,Vajirao & Ravi and Chanakya IAS Academy charges Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh. Punes civil services training centres charge as low as Rs 30-40,000.
Reported by Apurva in Kota; Ramendra Singh in Lucknow; Atikh Rashid and Pupul Chatterjee in Pune; Aditi Vatsa and Anubhuti Vishnoi in New Delhi; Sulagna Sengupta in Kolkata