Updated: November 28, 2015 3:31:30 am
Police worry about the spike in suicides, students complain about the relentless academic grind and experts warn of the lurking menace of depression and drugs. And yet, everyone agrees that the big question is this: despite this high cost, why are more and more students drawn to the coaching factories of Kota every year?
The reason, they say, is a combination of factors that makes this education hub a mandatory stopover for those chasing a seat in top-notch engineering and medical courses. From a rigorous preparation format and better faculty to an unwavering focus on core subjects, all attributes that many find missing in the conventional education system available back home.
The Indian Express spoke to students and coaching institute officials in Kota, and faculty from schools in Delhi and IITs to understand what keeps Kota ticking, year after year.
Officials at Kota hardsell the coaching hub as a bridge that covers the gulf between conventional schooling and the “rigorous” entrance tests, with focus on “application-based understanding” facilitated by IIT and AIIMS graduates as faculty.
This is done, they claim, by focusing solely on science subjects, dividing course material into six parts and holding an endless series of revision tests, even on Sundays — one faculty member in Kota described the “physical exercise” classes in schools as a “waste of time”.
And this is why, they claim, that despite the number of suicides by students rising from 13 in 2013 to 24 in 2015 so far, the count of those who enrolled in the over-300 institutes in Kota rose from 1.3 lakh to 1.5 lakh over the same period.
However, faculty at IITs, where many of these students end up, and teachers at CBSE schools warn that the lure of Kota is a “vicious cycle” that thrives on a lack of regulation and flaws in the primary schooling system. School teachers say the solution is to provide specialised coaching as an option in CBSE schools for those who are keen to crack the entrance tests, with more weightage given at entrance tests for Class 12 marks.
‘We give what schools don’t’
Pramod Maheshwari, director of Career Point in Kota, which has over 12,000 medical and engineering aspirants, says it is the “wide gap” in the education system that has made coaching centres like his even more relevant in today’s time.
“In the board exams if you solve the papers of the last 10 years, you will get through, but the competitive exams test your scientific aptitude and concept application, something that is completely lacking in schools,” said Maheshwari, who is a physics teacher and IIT graduate.
Pramod Bansal, CEO of Bansal Classes, which has about 7,000 students, agrees. “If a CBSE school teacher is teaching Newton’s Law of Motion, he can only teach the concepts till say the level that will be asked in the board exams. But at our institute, there is a specially trained faculty that will tell you everything about the subject. The focus here is on the concepts,” he said.
Shobha Sharma, principal of Kendriya Vidyalaya in Delhi’s Pragati Vihar, admits that it is tough for CBSE teachers in her school to compete with faculty at these coaching centres. “Even if some of our teachers organise extra classes for weaker students, the children fail to turn up and prefer going to the coaching centres,” she said.
Manya Batra, 18, a medical aspirant from Rewari in Haryana came to Kota after completing her Class 12 to “get the edge”. At the government school where she studied back home, “the focus was just on the CBSE syllabus”. “When I came here, I realised how much harder I need to work,” she said.
‘Where are the regulations?’
At the IITs, where many of these students finally end up, faculty members feel that a lack of regulation and flaws in primary schooling are responsible for the rising number of coaching centres.
A professor at IIT Kanpur, who did not wish to be named, calls it a “vicious cycle”. “Coaching centres with all their financial power take away the best teachers by offering them big pay packages, leaving schools with poor quality of teachers. Left with average teachers, students are forced to shell out large sums of money to coaching institutes to get a shot at cracking the entrances, and the cycle goes on,” he said.
Prof Pradipta Banerji, the director of IIT Roorkee, argues that the entrance exams cannot be blamed because they “need to set a very hard paper” for what is essentially an “elimination test”. “In the early days, 75,000 students appeared for the IIT exam and 1,200 got selected, most of them came from urban areas where the schools were very good and there was no need for coaching. But now over 14 lakh students appear for the exam and just 10,000 are selected. They come from both rural and urban backgrounds,” he said.
Banerji feels that the reason for the increasing number of coaching centres can be attributed to the fact that “for too long, aspirations of people have not been looked into”. “Now people think that if you get into IIT everything will be sorted. Because of the social and cultural disadvantages, sometimes good candidates are sidelined. I don’t want coaching classes to flourish, they are not cheap, but then it is not in our hands,” he said.
‘How govt boosts our business’
While the demand for regulation was echoed by most, Maheshwari highlighted the government’s role in Kota’s rise. “Every couple of years, the government has a discussion on changing the format of the examination to reduce the need for coaching institutes. By changing the format, the government unsettles students, who then flock to our centres, giving our businesses a boost,” said Maheshwari.
Coaching, the IIT Kanpur professor said, is a symptom of this flawed primary education system. Instead of altering the exam format, the professor called for regulation in the coaching centres. “We know that these centres are there and growing, so they must be asked to include sports, extra-curricular activities in their routine. They must have counselors and should focus on the overall growth of students,” he said.
So how can schools pitch in to bridge the gap? Lata Vaidyanathan, director, TERI Prakriti School and former principal, Modern School Barakhamba Road, says that “schools should make the efforts because what is taught in Class 12 is inadequate for IITs”.
“Schools should have advanced courses for those students who wish to appear for the entrances. This will also put an end to malpractices like dummy schools,” she said. To bring students back into the conventional system, Vaidyanathan feels more weightage needs to be given to CBSE marks in the entrance tests.
Back in Kota, on a weekend evening, hundreds of engineering and medical aspirants queue up outside the Radha Krishna temple in Talwandi area, scribbling down pleas for divine help to crack what are widely considered some of the country’s toughest academic exams. One note read: “Please mujhe AIIMS entrance exam clear kara dena bhagwan, mere mummy papa ke liye ye bahut zaroori hai (Please help me clear the AIIMS entrance test, God, it is very important for my parents).”
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