The coaching class industry

Aesha Datta. | Updated on December 23, 2013



Rising aspirations, combined with the falling quality of mainstream education, have meant that examination-oriented tuitions have taken over the lives of most school and college students in India, says Aesha Datta.

It is really not an option anymore; it has almost become mandatory,” says Simi Valecha, Professor at the University of Delhi, about her son, Keshav, taking a ‘coaching class’. “He doesn’t feel confident about many concepts and sometimes I wonder what the teachers do in school.”

A tutor visits her home regularly to help Keshav brush up on Biology. The 17-year-old, currently in the 12th standard in an eminent Delhi school, hopes to get admission into a medical college after a competitive examination.

The Valecha family pays the tutor Rs 1,200 an hour for his trouble. They are no exception, either in seeking additional teaching for their child or in paying the tutor a handsome fee. Millions of families across India have been doing exactly this for years.

Parents want their children to get on the fast track to prosperity and are pulling out all the stops to get them into the very best educational institutions. This aspiration has spawned a shadow industry of ‘coaching classes’ as they are known in common parlance.

All-India Phenomenon

As many as 83 per cent of India’s high school children juggle time around school, extra-curricular activities, and tuitions at these coaching centres, according to a 2012 report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Among the better known ones are Aakash Institute, TIME and FIITJEE. They focus on exams such as the IIM Common Admission Test, Management Aptitude Test, IIT Joint Entrance Examination, as well as international exams such as GMAT, GRE, IELTS and TOEFL.

This shadow education system mimics the mainstream. Though it is not formally recognised as an industry, the coaching sector was estimated to be worth over $6.4 billion in 2008, according to the ADB report.

The coaching industry also generates employment. However, since it is unregulated and unorganised for the most part, it is difficult to estimate exactly how many people are employed in this line of work.

While the quality of teachers is in no way equal, some able but unemployed people find a means of sustenance through the coaching industry.

Growing industry

The ADB study, ‘Shadow Education: Private Supplementary Tutoring and Its Implications for Policy Makers in Asia,’ estimated the sector to be growing at over 15 per cent each year. Add to this the numerous mom-and-pop coaching centres and home tutors, data on which are not available, the size of the industry would be even bigger.

Apart from the high prevalence among high school students, the ADB study noted that 60 per cent of primary school children receive private tutoring. In fact, of the students who were not being tutored at all, the primary reason, according to the study, is lack of resources.

The report notes that in 2007-08, students living in rural India paid Rs 1,456 and those in urban India paid Rs 2,349 each month for private coaching classes. In contrast, the poverty line in the country is Rs 965 for urban citizens and Rs 781 for rural folk.

Exorbitant fees

Tuition fees in urban centres vary by level and location. For example, for regular tuitions supplementing the school curriculum, fees can range between Rs 1,000 and Rs 4,000 a month. However, if a high school student gets home tuitions, the charges can go up to Rs 1,500 an hour per subject.

The fees for structured classroom teaching to crack competitive examinations can range from Rs 1.2 lakh to Rs 2.8 lakh for two years (since students typically start attending these institutes after X standard).

The ADB report also notes that perceptions of inadequacies in mainstream schooling, where teachers often do not show up or complete the curriculum, are a major reason for the growth of private tutoring. The content, the report says, should have been taught in regular classes in school itself.

Since these classes have the single-minded focus of cracking an entrance exam, many believe that students become robot-like, unable to think beyond their syllabus. Addressing a PAN IIT summit in New York, Infosys Technologies Chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy said the quality of students in IITs has deteriorated over the years because of the coaching class culture and its narrow focus. “They somehow get through the joint entrance examination. But their performance in IITs, at jobs, or when they come for higher education in institutes in the US, is not as good as it used to be,” he lamented.

Ultimately this phenomenon, notes the ADB report, “divides the student population into haves and have-nots; it makes teachers less responsible; it makes improvements in schooling arrangements more difficult since the more influential and better-placed families have less at stake in the quality of what is done in the schools”.

Crumbling system

Educationists believe the Indian schooling system, which is unable to keep up with the numbers, is the reason behind the burgeoning coaching industry.

Sneha Agarwal, a middle school teacher in Delhi, says that in large classes with 35-40 students, it is often difficult to give individual attention to students as this could potentially lead to a lag for the entire class.

Indeed, the pressure of finishing the given curriculum within a set number of hours often overwhelms teachers.

Earlier, parents would sit with their children and help them. But these days with both partners working in many families, parents are unable to devote that kind of time.

“In my view, it is an indicator of the failing education system, which is not able to cater to the needs of students. Naturally, they look for alternatives,” says Anand Kumar, founder of the free Super 30 training programme for economically backward students.

A professor in Delhi University told Business Line that shadow education in the real sense of the term can also be seen in the university. Teachers on the university payroll are barred from providing private coaching. However, many do so, charging as much as Rs 5,000 an hour to coach students to crack the Civil Services Examination.

Uncertain results

However, the exorbitant fees charged by institutions and tutors don’t necessarily guarantee a satisfactory experience. Apoorva Shankaran, 23, who works with an advertising company in Mumbai, enrolled for GMAT training at TIME Institute. “I was not satisfied with TIME. The teachers were not trained to offer GMAT coaching. I had to do most of it on my own, which is where Kaplan study material came in handy.”

She adds that students need to research the quality of an institute before joining it. “One-on-one tutoring is better than going for these coaching centres where they don’t really focus on each student’s strengths.” Despite this, students are often left with little choice.

“The most important factor (in the growth of the tuition industry) is the schooling system’s inability to match growing aspirations and requirements. I reiterate that till three decades ago, India still produced engineers and doctors, as well as civil servants. The majority of them came from the Government school system, as big public schools were few and far between,” says Anand Kumar. “Unless the condition of schools and colleges improves, the tuition industry will only grow.”


(With inputs from Navadha Pandey)

Published on December 22, 2013

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