Saturday, April 28, 2001
M A I N   F E A T U R E


TUITION TRADE: Why aren't they Teaching In Schools Anymore?

The last few years have seen the business of private coaching bureaus and tuitions growing at a rapid pace. Indeed, the formal education system has now become peripheral in imparting lessons. It only serves as a licensed examination-taking body. Tutors have taken over the job of training young minds to learn and apply the Three Rs. A flourishing sunrise business, the turnovers of tutorials and coaching centres have leapfrogged to mindboggling levels. An approximate idea of the turnovers in terms of money generated by tutorials can be had from the fact that even the most humble tutor earns an average of Rs 6,000 a month. The larger bureaus that take four to five batches a month, earn many times more. Here the fee levied per student ranges between Rs 18,000 and Rs 25,000 for about eight months of coaching. Each batch has approximately 120-150 students. This works out to about Rs 21, 60,000 for the bureau and this is a very conservative estimate. If one takes the income of each of these private tutors and coaching centres, the figure runs into tens of crores annually, says Aradhika Sekhon

TODAY when we talk of educational institutions, in addition to schools, colleges and universities, we need to take into account coaching centres and tutorials as well.

For every school in the city, there are at least a 100 coaching centres, big and small. Every sector has on an average about 15 to 30 persons taking tuitions. A large number of professional teachers, students of medical colleges and housewives are regularly employed in taking classes for students, before and after school hours.

 


The last few years have seen the business of private coaching bureaus and tuitions growing at a rapid pace. Indeed, the formal education system has now become peripheral in imparting lessons. It only serves as a licensed testing or examination-taking body while the tutors have taken over the job of training the young minds to learn and apply the Three Rs.

A flourishing sunrise business, the turnovers of tutorials and coaching centres have leapfrogged over the years to mindboggling levels. An approximate idea of the turnovers in terms of money generated by tutorials can be had from the fact that even the most humble tutor earns an average of Rs 6,000 a month. The larger bureaus that take four to five batches a month earn many times more. Here the fee levied per student ranges between Rs 18,000 and Rs 25,000 for about eight months of coaching. Each batch has approximately 120-150 students. This works out to about Rs.21, 60,000 for the bureau. Many times, the tutorials have overlapping batches, "boosters" and "droppers", so the given figure is a very conservative estimate. If one takes the income of each of these private tutors and coaching centres, the figure runs into crores of rupees.

The message which emanates from the increasing popularity and lucrativeness of the coaching classes is that children, who are going to regular institutions, attending lectures by trained teachers, studying a syllabus recommended by the ICSE or CBSE, need props and crutches to clear examinations. Could this mean that the study regime provided by scholastic institutions is inadequate, the teachers ineffectual and the syllabus too large and unwieldy for educators and students to handle on their own? If a child takes tuition does it necessarily mean that he is weak in the subject? How has this alternative system of education come to prevail and what are the dynamics that sustain it?

There is some irony in the genesis of coaching classes, some of which are now masquerading as "colleges." They originated in tuitions, which began in the í60s to help weak students who needed extra attention in some subjects. Even up to a couple of decades ago, taking tuitions was a shameful fact not to be revealed to the peer group.

Slowly, acceptability grew with the socio-cultural-economic milieu of the country changing, the growing affluence of double-income families, and the increase in nuclear families. The spiralling competition of professional colleges and mind-numbing nature of board exams created an unexpected new breed of customers for coaching classes. The new customers were those students who wanted to jump from the high 80 per cent to the 90 per cent bracket. Thus, not only did the stigma attached to tuitions get mitigated, it added ironically a "brand value" to a student. .

"The firm rooting of the tutorial business can be ascribed to the change in the meaning and scope of education," says Pammi Sarkaria, Headmistress, YPS, Mohali. "In a world of consumerism and packaged deals, the field of education has been affected as the Ďmarks first, extras laterí attitude prevails. And the students want higher and higher marks to get into a professional or degree college." "Education is seen as a passport to riches, especially for girls, who still have to face many stigmas in jobs outside academics. Parents dont want to leave anything to chance, especially professional parents, who monitor their childís progress closely from KG onwards," says Anant of Advanced English And Communications.

Coaching classes do not even pretend to educate. They are simply in the business of marks. The advertisements that proclaim "587/600 óan unprecedented record," give out the message that everything besides the final tally is irrelevant. Small wonder that toppers today thank their tutorials for their success before they even mention their alma mater.

Professional tuition bureaus and "colleges" have replaced the homespun "masterji", who came home to tutor the child for an hour, where students could even be screened before being accepted. The more elite of these centres have an unimaginably high cut-off point and some even conduct entrance or IQ tests. Most centres have "graded" classes, according to student performances. The more popular of these have lecture halls where the lecturer is provided with a microphone so that he is audible to the large body of students in the class. The work schedule given by these tutorials is gruelling as they pile on heavy doses of work, tests and home assignments on their students. After all, it is on their success that the business of the tutorials depends!

Strangely, schools which should be logically fighting this "factory approach to education", allow this alternative system to flourish, even contributing to itís success. Reports a Class XII student of a leading city school, "When I told my maths sir that I hadnít understood a concept, he told me to take tuitions." Many schools even let off their plus two classes early to facilitate attendance at tuitions, thereby acknowledging the studentsí pressure to perform and their own inadequacy to rise to the challenge.

A study conducted by the Mumbai Universityís Statistics Department in 1999 discovered that of the 494 students interviewed, only one had never enrolled in a coaching class.

Most senior students continue to attend school because it is a mandatory requirement. As Geetu Taneja, a Class XII student, says, "Most of us come to school for the attendance or else we wonít get our roll numbers. Otherwise, we can manage pretty well with tuitions." The advantage accrued by schools is that they can boast of their students having achieved a high percentage, thus adding prestige to the schoolís reputation. Perhaps the reason why schools are content to take the back seat is because they know the value of their "thappa." Thus, both the formal and informal systems add grist to each otherís mills. However, the student, who must fulfil the requirements of both, ends up with a working day that begins at 4 am and goes on till midnight.

The major contributor to the business of the tutor is the parent. The same parents, who are quick to organise morchas and campaigns if a school hikes up itís fee, are equally quick to dish out anything between Rs15,000 and Rs 1 lakh to help their children through competitive exams. The principal of a school tells of a parent who pulled his child out of school, saying, "Madam, the fee of your school is so high that I cannot afford tuitions for my daughter."

Ironically, those very students who struggled to get into reputed colleges, skip classes to be able to lean on their crutchesóthe tutorial.

Does the tutor or the coaching class feel threatened by the new system of dispensing with examinations up to Class X? "No, the system is too well entrenched to be uprooted quite so easily," says a neighbourhood tutor. "Parents have become very pro-achievement, and anyway itís not the clearing of the school exams that they are aiming at, but the professional colleges at the end of it." Says Vandana Sharma, whose son is in Class VII, "Exams or no exams, frankly I just canít handle my sonís maths and since my husband has no time, where does my son go but to the tutor ?" It is a telling statement that she doesnít even consider school education as an alternative.

After over 12 years of school surely the end product should be educated young people, capable of handling examinations that will get them a profession. But, says Shefali of Class XII, "The CBSE exam system is quite different from the CET, IIT, PMT exams we have to take later on. No, of course, school isnít enough. Unless I had attended coaching classes, I wouldnít even know how to go about these exams.....Yes it is important to get good marks in the CBSE exam to get into the best colleges, but for me itís more important to get into a professional college." On the possibility of schools taking over the tutorialsí role, she expresses her doubts. "Unless the entire focus is changed or extra classes given by professionals, I canít see schools taking the place of tutorials".

It appears that this alternative system is here to stay. But surely a fresh look needs be taken at the aims and ends of education by the policy-makers, educationists, parents and the community as a whole. The kind of knowledge being imparted needs be restructured, taking into account the real needs of the students. Empowered heads of institutions could make a lot of difference to the way institutions are run and enhance their quality.

Can the Ďcustomerí be protected?

Bigger institutionalised tuition bureaus issue receipts, roll numbers, fee charts, ID-cards, etc, to the students. In fact, some of them prefer payments to be made directly into banks, thus becoming bona fide tax payers. If these tuition bureaus do not deliver the goods, ie take the requisite and promised number of lectures, they can be taken to the consumer courts.

However, smaller bureaus / private tutors, in addition to misusing private premises for business / institutional purposes, which is illegal, also do not issue any receipts for payments made.

Therefore, if any harassment is perpetrated by them (eg. not taking lessons during exams or other crucial times, being irregular, irresponsible, etc.), there is no redressal for the consumer simply because there are no legal proofs.