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Aspirations and new avenues

Published : Sep 23, 2005 00:00 IST


A class in session at the Chanakya IAS Academy.-RAJEEV BHATT

A class in session at the Chanakya IAS Academy.-RAJEEV BHATT

Coaching centres in the national capital thrive on the ever-growing demand for professional education and civil services careers.

TUTORIALS and coaching institutes have in the past few decades established themselves as the most reliable means of obtaining better results in the Civil Services examinations or in the entrance examinations to professional courses. They not only teach the aspirants the "tricks of cracking the exam" but help them clear the tough competitive examinations in the first attempt itself.

In New Delhi, several coaching centres are flourishing, catering to the diverse requirements of a multitude of career aspirants. For every competitive examination that one can imagine, there is a tutorial. Although some educationists maintain that the phenomenal growth of such centres is a sad reflection of the quality of school and college education, students like Shailesh Kumar, a postgraduate in economics from Ranchi in Jharkhand, disagree. Explaining the reason why thousands of students like him throng such centres in New Delhi, he says, "here I learn how to prepare because the key to success is not in amassing knowledge but in interpreting it and expressing it properly within a timeframe".

"There are only two jobs in India worth aspiring for: that of the PM (Prime Minister) and the DM (District Magistrate). I am not interested in the first one, so I'm trying my best for the second one," he says. Shailesh has joined a prestigious coaching institute in the capital to prepare for the Civil Services examinations and is confident of making it in the first attempt itself. Why should a student like him, whose academic performance has been good so far, join a coaching institute paying a hefty fee? "I cannot take chances. There are more than a lakh students appearing for the Civil Services while only about 500 get past the preliminary exam." The same holds true for those aspiring to join the prestigious engineering, medical or management education institutions.

Without doubt career-oriented training occupies the lion's share of the lucrative coaching "market". Among them, those who claim to have produced top-rankers in the entrance examinations to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) take the cake. Institutes offering coaching for the IIT Joint Entrance Examination are in demand. The Times Higher Education Supplement, a London-based publication has ranked the IITs the fourth best engineering education institution in the world after the University of California, Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Stanford University (all in the United States). What makes preparing students for admission to the IITs even more lucrative is the fact that the acceptance rate at the entry level (undergraduate) is only 4 per cent, lower than the most competitive Ivy League colleges where the acceptance rate is over 10 per cent. Another factor that makes entry into the IITs attractive is that IIT graduates are noted the world over for their calibre (even the U.S. Congress, in a resolution in April this year, hailed their contribution) and are quickly absorbed by the job market.

The high costs involved in the training are hardly a deterrent for parents as the choked classrooms at the institutes indicate. "One has to pay a price for success. The quality of education in schools, even the good ones, is so pathetic that students cannot compete to enter any professional college. One is forced to send the children to the tutorials though it means extra cost for the parents and extra burden on the child," said a parent who came to admit his son at Career Launcher. The New Delhi-based institute with branches across India and in West Asia coaches students for engineering, law, management and medical entrance examinations.

According to information put out on the Internet, the institute offers "career-oriented training and preparatory education to over 15,000 students every year across South and West Asia. In addition to training students, we partner with schools, universities and education companies (publishers, e-learning companies and technology solutions providers) across the world, who take advantage of our bouquet of education support services."

With the ever-increasing number of aspirants, coaching institutes are doing good business. But not all of them are driven by profit motive alone. They offer scholarships or fee discounts to deserving students and free coaching to deserving poor students. For instance, Akash Institute, which has acquired a brand name in grooming medical education aspirants, offers free coaching to 25 students studying in government schools in Delhi every year. The institute has achieved astounding results in its over 10 years of existence,

"School education stresses more on theory while the competitive examinations test the student's problem-solving skill and application of theory, which is what we teach at the coaching institute," says a faculty member at Career Launcher.

Faculty members in other coaching institutes agree that the proliferation of such institutes is symptomatic of the failure of the education system. They hold the poor quality of teaching at schools responsible for this. "If there is a central recruitment examination for schoolteachers then may be the quality of school education might improve. Mere degrees in education do not equip a teacher enough," says Shyam Rudra Pathak, an IIT graduate, who teaches physics, chemistry and mathematics to IIT aspirants.

Those in the coaching business agree that the mushrooming of tutorials has necessitated some sort of a regulatory mechanism. "There should be some sort of central monitoring/certifying authority so that gullible parents are not cheated into paying huge sums to undeserving teachers," says Pathak.

The IIT council has taken some initiative to streamline the system. It has recommended to the government that the existing pattern of two-layer examination (screening and mains), be changed to a single examination. It has also suggested that in order to ensure that students do not neglect their board examinations, a cut-off mark of 60 per cent in Class XII should be prescribed for appearing in the IIT JEE. Besides, it has suggested that the JEE include only the Class XII syllabus of the Central Board of Secondary Education. This, it hopes, would lessen the students' burden and help them concentrate better on their school final exams. The government is expected to take a decision on these recommendations soon.

"We have received the suggestions and the Ministry will take a decision soon," said a senior official in the Human Resource Development Ministry. She admitted that the basic idea behind these recommendations was to control the proliferation of coaching institutes.

But it goes without saying that even if such a change is brought about, the institutes imparting quality training will continue to exist as a parallel system of education as long as the number of seats available in professional colleges fall short of the demand.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Sep 23, 2005.)



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