The Business of IIT Education
July 07, 2010 05:08 PM |
It’s time to push the ‘coaching-class’ industry out of existence
"It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot, irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it."
- J Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
Our education system has been a source of endless debate. We point to a few successful Indians who came out of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and proclaim that our IITs are the best in the world. However, based on personal experience, I can vouch that our education system is in bad shape. Those who hope to get into the hallowed portals of the IITs (a couple of them figure among the top 100 engineering colleges in the world) go through living hell. Around six lakh youngsters take the entrance test. Of these, around 12,000 can get in. This covers all seats, including those in the new additional colleges, caste-based seats, etc. Of course, if you want the course of your choice, you have to finish within the top few hundred! Heartbreak for 99% of the aspirants, as they end up in some lowly college; many cough up huge capitation fees for 'merit' seats!
The educational qualification needed to get into these colleges is passing the 12th standard. So, is it not logical to presume that, in any entrance test for these colleges, the questions should be based on what is taught up to the 12th standard? Instead, students are bombarded with literature, advertisements and hoardings from educational coaching factories which specialise in imparting the skills required to crack the entrance examinations. In fact, cities like Kota (in Rajasthan) have perfected it to a high level. A couple of coaching classes also run schools.
From standard 11 or earlier, aspiring engineers join the factory. School hours are truncated to ensure time availability for the IIT entrance exam coaching. Given that most of the students admitted to these coaching classes (most of them have 'entrance' tests!) have cleared an intellectual hurdle, they do well in the 11th and 12th standard without too much effort. Of course, the 11th standard examination is an 'internal' exam, so it is even easier.
But if one cannot afford to join a 'coaching class' for the IIT entrance exam, getting a seat in one of these institutes is only a remote possibility. What's more, the coaching fees far exceed the fees for the entire engineering course at any of the IITs! These 'factories' do not come cheap. The cost can be anywhere from fifty thousand rupees to a couple of lakhs for a two-year coaching stint. Long hours, stress from peers as well as from others is an integral part of life. Every year, these classes boast of how many students from their 'factory' cleared the entrance tests with high ranks. Many students do not join full-time, but participate in some event or mock competition organised by these classes.
The key to the success of these classes is their faculty. Since they charge high fees, they tend to poach on experienced hands from the IITs at salaries that are multiples of what IITs pay them. In the process, the IITs lose good-quality staff.
Of course, many of the coaching classes have managed to make impressive PowerPoint presentations of their 'business' and raise money at fancy pricing from (ad)venture capitalists. What they present is scalability of their business which, in real life, is not possible. Many classes run because of the individuals manning them. Hence, it is not possible to replicate them on a commercial scale.
Against this backdrop, I like what Kapil Sibal is doing. Hopefully, he is bringing sanctity into the system and doing away with the coaching classes. By giving weightage to the 12th standard exams, he is rightfully pushing the coaching-class industry out of existence. A combination of 12th standard marks combined with an aptitude test focused on basic science/mathematics should suffice as 'entrance' exams for engineering colleges. If Mr Sibal also focuses on improving the infrastructure and the teaching staff emoluments at the IITs, there is no reason for the existence of coaching classes.
Yet, it is debatable whether this will improve the quality of output produced by the IITs. I think it will not make it any worse. In any case, most IIT graduates seem to be taking up an MBA course and not doing anything that their IIT degree equipped them to do. If one looks at the global engineering scene, countries like China, Taiwan, Singapore and Korea are far ahead of us. And the best of the Indian students tend to land up in the USA.
The immediate fallout I can visualise is on the coaching-classes business, which seems headed down. I only hope that Mr Sibal does not leave deliberate room for their ilk to survive. In any case, with the advent of electronic teaching methods, the business of mass education cannot remain profitable for long. Dealing with government schools (which are the customers for many businesses) is neither easy nor straight. Also, accounting profits need not translate into surplus cash flow, looking at the way the education business companies keep raising money.