Private coaching: Parallel and Bigger Academia?

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-Abhay Saxena

In a recent survey report by National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), it was revealed that more than 7.1 crore school going students in the country are taking tuitions and private coaching classes, outside and parallel to the mainstream school education. This count translates to around 26% of total number of students in India. The survey report has also thrown light on the expenditure the Indian families incur on private coaching and tuitions. It has shown that 11 to 12% of total household expenditure goes to feed these coaching or tuition classes – irrespective of socio-economic sections of society, thereby meaning that poor families spend as much as the richer ones in this regard.

The report showed that the poorest 20% percent of population has about 17% students opting for private coaching. In richest 20% of population, some 25% of students go for private coaching. These figures are for urban and rural populations combined. If we separate the findings for only “urban” poorest 20% and richest 20% population, these figures become 30% and 38% respectively.

This NSSO report was based on a survey conducted in 2014 on 66000 households, which also stated that more than 89% of respondents cited the inadequacy of basic school education as the main reason to go for private coaching or tuitions. This simply seems to suggest that both, parents and students believe that schools are falling sort of granting quality education and there is a certain need to augment the basic education, which these coaching classes or tuitions are catering to. The respondents also cited the better prospects of a student taking coaching, to crack various competitive examinations for higher education or for jobs.

There looms a big question now. Is school education in its present form, inadequate for a student’s overall growth and their success in competitive exams? Another equally pertinent question is, whether private coaching and tuitions have become absolute pre-requisites to become well equipped academically and for cracking exams? These two questions are intertwined and can be seen as two sides of the same coin.

From various data gathered on people’s opinions about today’s school education system, the following perceived problems showed up:

  • The methodology applied while teaching in schools is flawed in that it only promotes learning by rote without imparting the real or conceptual learning.
  • The classes are large, having numerous students packed in each section, seriously ignoring individual learning capabilities of the students.
  • In order to give a holistic learning, even those subjects are taught which shall be of no use in later stages of life.
  • A lot of homework is given, with hardly any stress on retention and revision of what is taught in classrooms.
  • Teachers, either are ill equipped (generally in private schools) or disinterested (generally in government or aided schools) to teach the real life lessons and skills.
  • Competitive exams, for higher education or job related, test conceptual skills and speedy answering abilities of the candidates. The teachers and their teaching methods fall heavily short of meeting those criteria.
  • The board system has promoted studying for marks only without real learning.

These public views cannot be rejected outright. The parents are paying heavy fees for quality school education for their wards. If whopping 87% of primary school children and up to 95% students in high schools have been receiving private tuitions in metros – this was a finding in a survey conducted by ASSOCHAM – there must be some real or perceived rationale behind going for coaching classes or tuitions. Following is a set of some reasons that people cite for getting their wards enrolled in coaching classes:

  • Coaching classes or private tuitions impart detailed studies and elaborate explanations to the problems, which is something missing in basic school education.
  • The students going for private coaching are generally very serious in learning, due to factors like structured methods and systematic and convenient study material, extra expenditure incurred and highly professional trainers.
  • The exams like JEE, pre medical tests, CA/CS/Law entrance tests, etc, require skills and capabilities far above the average. Only professionally run coaching classes are well equipped to deal with these requirements.
  • The trainers know the ‘tricks of trade’ as regards cracking various competitive exams. They make students well versed in ‘short-cuts’, ‘typical questions being asked in exams’ and speedy answering.
  • Working parents hardly get time to sit with their children at home for their studies. Even if they do have time, they are generally out of synch with present day curriculums and are of hardly any help to their children. Private tuitions and coaching classes come very handy here.
  • In context of today’s extremely competitive scenario where avenues – good jobs, higher education, overseas opportunities – are limited and being fought for by millions of aspirants, the preparation through private coaching has become an absolute necessity.

No wonder, the business of private coaching centers in India has become a multi-billion rupee industry that has grown by more than 35% in past 5-6 years (ASSOCHAM survey). We see big campaigns in all forms of media from industry-players. The best of teachers are seen leaving their jobs in schools to join various coaching centers on handsome salary packages. And even the high-caliber students are signing up for private coaching to score 96-99 per cent marks that best of colleges in India have been demanding of late.

In a recent development, the NDA government has decided to roll back the 40% weightage given to a candidate’s XII Board marks for admissions in National Institutes of Technology (NITs). The formula: 60% weightage to JEE (Mains) score and 40% weightage to XII Board marks was adopted by UPA government in 2012 with a view to reduce the swiftly rising influence of private coaching over schools education. However, it was observed by a panel of experts that the influence of coaching among candidates taking JEE (Mains) has actually gone up by four percentage points, as revealed by the admission data of 31 NITs over last three years. Now it has been decided by the HRD Ministry that by 2017, the NITs will not consider the marks of XII Board for admissions. They will instead follow the pattern of IITs which grant admission to a candidate who qualifies JEE (Advanced), along with having at least 75% in their XII or is in the tip 20 percentile.

According to government sources, both IITs and NITs will now follow the same system and admit students solely on the basis of the entrance examination. The threshold for Board marks will only be a pre-condition for admission. On the issue of rising influence of coaching over basic school education, it is suggested that JEE, which so far has been assessing candidates on advanced or tougher curriculum, not being covered in schools, should have questions based on class XII syllabus prescribed by school boards. Let’s see where we go from here.

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