For years, Namakkal used to be the district in Tamil Nadu that produced the State toppers in the board exams. Then NEET came and changed it all.
From around 2013 onwards, Namakkal emerged as a coaching hub, and has grown steadily since. Today it boasts around 15 coaching centres, eight of which are well-known across Tamil Nadu. The erstwhile industrial town, famous for its temples and poultry farming, has been economically rejuvenated by the upsurge in NEET/JEE coaching institutes, and looks set to become the Kota of South India.
However, there has been a strange downside. The managing trustee of a distinguished private school in Namakkal told Frontline, “After NEET was introduced, many students began shifting focus away from the board exams because those marks weren’t counted anymore. That’s when our place in the State rankings took a hit.”
Schools in Namakkal and neighbouring districts such as Krishnagiri, Karur, and Dharmapuri then began to offer the “integrated” option to science students: study the syllabus for the board examination and prepare for NEET or JEE simultaneously.
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E. Soniyadevi, who studied in the integrated class and passed out in 2022, told Frontline that the integrated system in classes XI and XII was harmful. “I studied in a Dharmapuri school that had tied up with a coaching institute. Six of us opted for the integrated class. By the end of class XII, I was the only one left because the pressure from both sides—schools telling us to focus on board exams and the coaches telling us to prioritise competitive exams—was extremely difficult.” Soniyadevi said her mental health was affected. She pointed to the lack of support from both teachers and coaches, and the guilt she felt whenever she studied for one exam over the other.
Meanwhile, the introduction of NEET has seen students, including those still in school and those who have passed class XII, gravitate towards Namakkal. Green Park School alone has close to a lakh students, so in the next four to five years it could become as big as Kota. The centres are expensive. A six-month crash course costs around Rs.25,000, and a year-long programme ranges from Rs.50,000 to Rs.1 lakh. Many centres also offer boarding facilities.
- For years, Namakkal used to be the district in Tamil Nadu that produced the State toppers in the board exams. Then NEET came and changed it all.
- The erstwhile industrial town, famous for its temples and poultry farming, has been economically rejuvenated by the upsurge in NEET/JEE coaching institutes, and looks set to become the Kota of South India.
- Sathiesh S.S., managing director of Feathers coaching centre, spoke about how Namakkal can avoid Kota’s mistakes. The solutions included improving motivation, teacher-pupil relations, mental well-being, and counselling for students, he said.
Can Namakkal avoid the pitfalls of the Kota system? Karthick Shivakumar, a Namakkal resident, enrolled at a centre in Kota for classes XI and XII hoping to get a high NEET score but could not succeed. He returned to Namakkal, joined another centre, and is now an MBBS student at Madurai Medical College.
Shivakumar spoke to Frontline about the differences between Kota and Namakkal. He said, “Owing to the high number of students, which runs into lakhs, there is no scope for a teacher-student relationship or individual attention of any kind in Kota.” He also spoke of moving far from family and friends. “The first six months at Kota were very difficult,” he said. “I used to become depressed whenever I scored less in a test and couldn’t speak to anyone about it.”
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Feathers is a coaching centre in Namakkal that was started in 2015. Around 200 students are enrolled in its main campus, which focusses on students who have completed school but have taken a gap year to prepare for NEET or JEE. Frontline spoke to Sathiesh S.S., managing director of the centre, about how Namakkal can avoid Kota’s mistakes. Sathiesh said the solutions included improving motivation, teacher-pupil relations, mental well-being, and counselling for students. “That is missing in coaching institutes at Kota, and even if they wish to include such steps, they cannot because the student count is too high,” he said.
He also noted that students live in private accommodation as there are no boarding facilities. “From what I have heard from students who studied there, living on their own with no one to talk to or answer to, becoming involved in personal relationships, and dealing with those failures too become a factor that damages their mental health.”
Are more regional coaching hubs the solution? Sathiesh disagreed: “There needs to be a revolutionary shift at the school level whereby teachers—at government schools and private schools, irrespective of the affiliated board—need to be better equipped to train students to crack competitive exams. I don’t think more coaching centres are the answer. The need for them arose only because students, after finishing school, found they lacked the foundation for either NEET or JEE.”