Donít let coaching centres exploit students

Pushpa Girimaji
Pushpa Girimaji

THE angry protests by students in Bihar during the second week of February over the poor quality of education imparted by coaching centres in the state is a pointer to the unbridled growth of such centres in not just Bihar but in other parts of the country, too. In the absence of any attempt by the government to reign in these coaching centres, students often become victims of unfair trade practices by institutes that collect steep fees, but fail to deliver what is promised.

Thanks to the agitation by students, the Bihar Government has now promised to bring in a law to regulate the quality of education provided by these institutes. While that is welcome, what is needed is a comprehensive model Central law that could be adopted and enforced by all the states in the country. The law should not only formulate stringent standards for the quality of education imparted by coaching centres, but also ensure that students are not exploited through highly one-sided and unfair terms and conditions. If one were to look at some of the complaints against coaching centres filed before consumer courts, what becomes apparent is that many of these institutes bind the students to terms and conditions that take away their right of redress.

For example, many of them ask the students to sign on agreements that prevent them from asking for a refund even if the quality of education is abysmally poor. And in the absence of a law to protect consumers from unfair terms in contracts or agreements, students often find it difficult to get a refund after having signed such binding agreements. Similarly, some of the institutions ask the students at the beginning of the session to respond to a feedback form and subsequently use it to argue that the student was fully satisfied with the quality of education.

Many of them also make false and misleading claims about their capabilities, successes of students who enrolled with them and the qualifications of the teaching staff, thereby luring unsuspecting boys and girls. The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission, in fact, had on many an occasion hauled up such institutions for issuing misleading advertisements. This watchdog of consumer interest is no more there to protect people from unfair trade practices.

So the government needs to ensure, through a law, that students do not become victims of unfair practices and binding agreements that violate their right of redress. I must also mention here, a private memberís Bill introduced by Member of Parliament Mohan Singh in the Lok Sabha in 2005. Titled "The Pre-examination Coaching Centres Regulatory Authority Bill, 2005", the Bill sought the constitution of a regulatory authority by the Central Government with its headquarters in Delhi and offices in every state and union territory.

The job of the regulator included conferring recognition to pre-examination centres imparting coaching for various competitive examinations, prescribing fees to be charged by them, fixing the minimum number of classroom lectures for various courses offered at the coaching centres and laying down minimum qualification for the teachers employed in the coaching centres.

It also recommended penalties against such coaching institutes that violated the provisions of the law. Unfortunately, private membersí Bills do not get passed to become laws. The government usually requests the member to either withdraw the Bill, or if he or she refuses, then gets enough number of MPs to ensure defeat of the legislation. However, they do serve an important purpose: they bring the issue to the notice of the government, and in many cases, that may eventually result in the government itself bringing a similar Bill. In this case, it did not succeed in achieving this purpose.

But now that the students of Bihar have brought the issue to the centrestage, hopefully, the Central Government will act and so also the state governments. In fact, students and parents in other parts of the country, too, should use this occasion to demand (but peacefully) a regulation to protect their interests and ensure standardisation in the quality of education imparted by coaching centres. Till this is done, do choose the coaching centre with care and read the terms and conditions carefully before signing up. If you disagree with any of them or think that they are unfair, point it out in writing.