Coaching remains unregulated, students pay the price

The unregulated growth of these perceived ‘facilitators or trainers’ for students to crack national-level entrance exams such as NEET and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and even state-level engineering entrance exams has become a cause for concern.
Last Updated : 23 June 2024, 01:22 IST

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Bengaluru: I used to be anxious during the second half of the week preparing for my weekly Sunday tests. And in the first half, I would start to feel sad about the marks I got,” says Nimisha*, a student who took up coaching in Kota, Rajasthan in 2022.

She took a gap year after Class 12 and enrolled in a crash course ahead of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (Undergraduate) (NEET-UG). The course covered two years’ syllabus in eight months. The classes, conducted from 6.30 am to 3 pm, along with post-class assignments, took a toll on her sleep and mental health. Ultimately, she could not get the desired rankings. 

After two attempts, Nimisha gave up trying for a medical seat and took up a BSc botany course. Now, she is happy and doing well academically.

While Nimisha decided to pursue a course of her choice after two years, many students who enroll in coaching centres after paying unreasonable fees sink into the depths of despair, owing to mounting pressure to succeed and the inability to cope with it. 

Though Kota continues to be the coaching hub of the country, coaching centres have spread far and wide in the past few decades — spanning metros, tier 2 and tier 3 cities. The unregulated growth of these perceived ‘facilitators or trainers’ for students to crack national-level entrance exams such as NEET and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and even state-level engineering entrance exams has become a cause for concern. 

In the highly commercialised higher education industry, engineering and medical seats at private colleges come at a premium price. As a result, parents and students strive to get merit seats. With increased competition and fewer seats, the coaching industry continues to thrive without any regulation. 

In January, the Union government issued guidelines to ease the pressure on students. However, very little seems to have changed on the ground. Stories of students in Kota dying by suicide or running away continue to hit the headlines. The situation may not be as bad in other places, but student stress levels are visibly increasing. 

Archaic laws have allowed the hydra-headed coaching industry to remain unregulated. Arbitrary fee structures, initiating students as young as 12 years in focused coaching, integrated coaching, segregated coaching and enormous burden on students remain major problems.

“The top scorers in the coaching entrance tests are given exclusive coaching, while the rest are put in different batches,” says Preetham*, a student who took up IIT/JEE coaching in Bengaluru, pointing to the practice of segregated coaching for ‘high-performing’ students.

Ahana, a student from Kharagpur in West Bengal, says material and mock tests are the biggest advantages in coaching centres. “However, their focus is generally on a few very focused students who will definitely get into IIT or crack NEET. They are not particularly encouraging towards students who do not score well or are not motivated enough,” she adds.

Sarthak Aryan, a student in Faridabad, New Delhi, went to coaching at a premier institute. He scored an all-India NEET ranking of 553, with a score of 710, this year. “There were two batches for scholarship students and others. However, there was not much difference between how they were treated. Students from the other batch also scored well,” he told DH. 

Priya Sharma from Patna, who gave up her journalism career to help her son with JEE coaching in Kota, feels the guidelines have not brought any changes. The batches in the institutes are still large. 

“After the results of the first two to three monthly tests, students who score well are picked up and given special teachers, mentors, extra (resource) material. No institute can claim that it does not have a ‘star batch’. It is difficult to get an audience with mentors in most institutes,” she says.

Another problem is that of “dummy colleges,” which rely on “integrated coaching”. Preetham says the coaching institute he went to had tie-ups with local colleges. Students had to attend laboratories and language classes in the college, while the coaching institute took care of the core subjects. The students would get the required attendance and write board exams through the college.

This is also a pan-India trend. DH’s casual enquiries at branches of two coaching centres and a college in Bengaluru confirmed tie-ups with local colleges for labs and language classes. One of them termed it a “college assistance programme”. 

In this arrangement, students miss out on the socialising and extracurricular activities. This can affect their confidence and mental well-being.

Union’s non-binding guidelines 

The Union Ministry of Education, with its Guidelines for Regulation of Coaching Centres released in January 2024, aimed to address such practices and the resulting burden students face.

“The guidelines were brought in because we were staring at a gap in policy measures, while private coaching institutes were mushrooming. They made false promises and charged exorbitant fees, and there was no accountability. Another factor was the increasing number of suicides among students,” a senior official from the ministry told DH. 

The guidelines mandate that websites are set up for the registration of every coaching centre. It bans misleading advertisements, promises of ranks or marks and the enrolment of students under 16 years old. It also specifies infrastructure requirements and advocates transparency in fee structure and reimbursement if a student quits midway. 

“Coaching classes for those students who are also studying in institutions/schools shall not be conducted during their institution/school hours so that their regular attendance in such institutions/schools remains unaffected and also to avoid dummy schools,” it says. It also advocates for mental health and wellness programmes for students.

However, these guidelines are not legally binding, as they are not attached to an Act. As education is a concurrent subject, the central and state governments need to amend their laws and make new rules that are binding.

The Rajasthan government has issued a single-line directive to coaching centres in Kota to follow the guidelines. Nitesh Sharma, the head of public relations at Allen Career Institute in Kota, confirms this, and adds: “We have asked about the legal validity of these guidelines. We have written letters to the state government,” he adds. There is a lack of clarity on the competent authority with whom coaching centres can register without a state law. There is no dedicated web portal yet in Rajasthan to register coaching institutes. 

There is also a lack of clarity on the implementation date of the guidelines.

In Karnataka, only 12 coaching centres were registered by March 2024, while the actual number of centres operating is much higher.

Burden on average students

Even after many cases of suicides and missing students, aspirants and parents are still flocking to Kota from various states.

Nitesh Sharma feels the media highlights only the suicides, while the efforts of institutes to provide mental health counselling go unnoticed. “Even before the guidelines, we had dedicated emotional well-being centres where we had mentors. These mentors have a batch of 40 to 50 students under them. They keep track of them on WhatsApp and personally. They address issues related to relationships, studies, homesickness, loneliness and other problems that might plague the student,” he adds. 

“We send many students back with their parents if they are not able to cope. And we do all of this keeping the district administration informed,” he explains.

Early coaching 

Another grey area is having separate batches for students interested in IIT/JEE or NEET in schools. This sometimes starts as early as Class 7. The  portions for the year are taught in the class, while the advanced study material from higher classes is tweaked according to what students choose — more mathematics and computers or more biology. 

The children continue in the same school until Class 12, which will have sharper focus and practice for IIT/JEE and NEET tests. 

The Karnataka Tutorial Institutions (Registration and Regulation) Rules, 2001, do not cover this type of coaching. The Union government guidelines specify that no coaching centre can “enrol students below 16 years of age or the student enrolment should be only after secondary school examination.” 

However, they are silent on embedded coaching offered in techno-schools. Coaching institutes in Bengaluru offer four-year tuition for interested students, conducted after school. 

“Parents want children to get used to competitive exams. We are only helping them with content and getting them used to the system. Coaching for students under 16 is not an everyday thing, but maybe thrice a week,” says Ashish Arora, Chief Academic Officer, Narayana Institute, Jaipur.

Everyone wants the child to do engineering or medical courses, says B B Kaveri, Commissioner for Public Instruction. “Private and government schools have no career guidance cells to help children decide what they want to do. The challenge for us is how to build the capacity of parents and ensure children’s right to choices,” she says.

“Schools need rules, but the mindset of parents needs to change as well. All stakeholders' sentiments must be considered while framing rules. This is something even we have to start thinking about; it is a grey area,” she adds. 

Need for regulation

Prof G Haragopal, an educationist from Hyderabad, observes that the demand for coaching has risen also due to parental pressure and expectations for their children to get into premier institutions, or go abroad. 

He adds that the rapid growth of coaching centres over the past two decades has caused intense competition among the institutes. To stay ahead of the competition, these centres engage in faculty poaching, which involves hefty paychecks, and pass the burden to the students through unregulated fees.

Integrated colleges, despite the government advisory not to mix regular classes with entrance exam coaching, are offering this combination regularly. “Parents get taken in because they feel their child is safe and does not have to commute from one place to another,” says Ali Khwaja, an education counsellor.

“This is inevitable,” says Keerthan Kumar, the CEO of the Bengaluru-based Soundarya Group of Institutions. “Preparing students for competitive exams in two years is challenging. Colleges must improve students’ grasping capacity and concentration, etc,” he adds. 

“There are more than 4,000 PU colleges in Karnataka. Some institutes can offer quality education, while some cannot due to infrastructure and budgetary constraints. Such colleges end up tying up with coaching institutes,” says Keerthan, also president of the North Bengaluru Pre-University Colleges Association.

The existing rules do not cover all types of coaching today, says Keerthan. “The state government must bring everyone under the ambit of a regulating body,” he adds. 

(*Names have been changed on request)

(With inputs from Rakhee Roytalukdar in Jaipur and Amrita Madhukalya in New Delhi)

Published 23 June 2024, 01:22 IST

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