The pandemic has adversely affected the lucrative business of IELTS (an English language proficiency test) centres in Punjab, with the number of the students registering for the same has gone down 10 times in these centres across the state. The owners of such centres are facing a tough time despite starting off the IELTS classes ‘online’ for the past few months.
The IELTS exam is a prerequisite for pursuing higher education abroad. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, around 60,000 students were taking up IELTS exams every month across the state. This number has come down to just around 6,000 students per month.
Students are trained in four spheres — ‘reading’, ‘writing’, ‘speaking’ and ‘listening’. Most of these students are from rural backgrounds and they prefer to physically attend classes where they can get a chance to speak in English with their fellow students, instead of attending an online class. The exam is conducted four times a month every Saturday and students get enrolled for a period of 15 days to 3 months at such centres. While bright students even clear their exams after training for two weeks, others train for three months before sitting for the exam.
There are around 17,500 IELTS centres in Punjab, including over 2,200 in Doaba region only, which is an NRI belt of the state having four districts — Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Nawansahr and Hoshiapur. In Jalandhar alone, there are around 1,550 such centres. The examination fee is Rs 14,000 per student while coaching charges per month vary from Rs 6,000 to Rs 20,000 per month per student. Students can appear any number of times for the IELTS exams. Most take 2-3 chances to clear the exam.
The exams are conducted by the British Council and International Development Programme (IDP) under Cambridge University, which provides certification for IELTS worldwide. “We have started online classes a few months ago, but only 10 per cent of prospective aspirants for this course are coming,” said Lovish Kalia, founder member, and former general secretary of the Association of Consultants for Overseas Studies.
“It is very difficult for us to save our centres due to several recurring expenses and 90 per cent loss in the income since March this year,” he added. When the schedule for the IELTS exam was announced in July, IELTS centres — which have been closed since March 18 on government orders — were not allowed to open.
“This was despite the fact that we are not educational institutes but prepare candidates to attempt tests like IELTS and PTE. Even after opening up of all sectors, shops, shopping malls, entire industry, hotels, restaurants, religious places and restoration of public transport services, our centres have not been allowed to operate, which is a big injustice with our sector,” said Kalia.
“Our organisation has apprised the Punjab government with certain points — One, IELTS centres are not part of any Indian education system like schools and colleges as these are not affiliated with any state or centre board rather registered with the British Council & IDP Australia, the bodies which conduct foreign tests like IELTS.
Second, these are only training centres for short duration courses for candidates who want to go abroad on different types of visas like students’ visa, work permit and permanent residency (PR) in different parts of the world. Third, average duration of training requires 3-4 hours a day in a batch of 12-15 students’ and maintaining social distance is not an issue,” said Kalia on the behalf of his organisation.
“In physical class we are not only learning from our teachers but also from our fellow students during interactions with each other in English as we improve each other and also gain confidence while speaking. But in online classes we are alone, not gaining much in terms of speaking,” said Nikhil, an IELTS aspirant, adding, “During our physical classes, we get the chance to present our assignments in front of everyone and we gain confidence in public speaking.”
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