Price of cram schools: False hope

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - Satur­day, Septem­ber 15, 2012 Break­ing news at calgaryher­ DIK­SHA MAD­HOK

earn­ings close to $18 mil­lion — and that de­spite a sharp slow­down in In­dia’s eco­nomic growth.

“In the long run, it has to un­der­mine faith in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem as a mer­i­to­cratic sys­tem, where hard work and tal­ent are re­warded,” said Chad Lykins, coau­thor of an Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank re­port on pri­vate coach­ing in Asia. “In­stead, the re­ward goes to the per­son who can go out­side the sys­tem and get exam tricks and tips.”

Crit­ics also ar­gue that the cram schools of­fer false hope to many

With a sprawl­ing five-acre cam­pus, 10,000 students and state-of-the-art LCD pro­jec­tors in its lec­ture rooms, Bansal Classes is big­ger and slicker than most schools in In­dia.

But the in­sti­tu­tion, now a land­mark in Kota, a city in the desert state of Ra­jasthan, is nei­ther a school nor a col­lege. It is the jewel in the crown of In­dia’s pri­vate coach­ing in­dus­try, a $6.4 bil­lion busi­ness that ex­ac­er­bates the so­cial di­vide.

Cram schools have be­come a mag­net for tens of thou­sands of mostly mid­dle-class fam­i­lies in a coun­try where two decades of rapid eco­nomic growth have failed to im­prove a dys­func­tional state ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and a short­age of good uni­ver­si­ties.

Such cram schools coach students for fiercely com­pet­i­tive en­trance tests to a hand­ful of premier tech­ni­cal and med­i­cal col­leges. Their modus operandi is rote learn­ing. At Bansal’s, hun­dreds of teenagers are trained in­ten­sively to solve com­plex mul­ti­ple-choice ques­tions on physics, chem­istry or math­e­mat­ics.

Yash Raj Mishra, a Kota cram stu­dent, lives in a tiny room with no tele­vi­sion or lap­top and spends al­most 16 hours a day at­tend­ing classes, re­vis­ing or tack­ling ques­tion pa­pers.

“Physics is my first and last girl­friend,” said Mishra, lean­ing against a wall plas­tered with notes on Kine­mat­ics.

“I feel bad and frus­trated when my friends score even slightly bet­ter than I do,” added the 17-year-old, who calls his friends only to ask about their aca­demic progress.

Two-year coach­ing pro­grams in Kota cost $3,000-$4,000, in ad­di­tion to which students have to pay for their reg­u­lar schools and spend at least $2,000 a year on ac­com­mo­da­tion. That makes the to­tal ex­pen­di­ture a small for­tune for most in a na­tion where the an­nual per capita in­come is around $1,250.

“A child is a stack of thou­san­dru­pee notes,” said Manoj Chauhan, a math­e­mat­ics tu­tor in his late 20s who could have joined a soft­ware com­pany or multi­na­tional, but chose in­stead to teach in Kota, where many teach­ers’ salaries top $6,000 a month.

Such cram schools com­pound the in­equal­i­ties of an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem plagued by ab­sen­tee teach­ers and high dropout rates, which have left a quar­ter of In­di­ans il­lit­er­ate and lack­ing the skills to match the coun­try’s grow­ing eco­nomic needs.

A global sur­vey by Man­pow­erGroup, one of the world’s largest staffing ser­vice providers, es­ti­mated In­dia’s short­age of skilled labour at 67 per cent — the sec­ond worst in the world.

The skill short­ages threaten to blunt what is seen as one of In­dia’s big­gest eco­nomic ad­van­tages — its de­mo­graphic div­i­dend.

With 60 per cent of In­dia’s 1.2 bil­lion pop­u­la­tion un­der the age of 35, the coun­try has an op­por­tu­nity to reap the kind of de­mo­graphic div­i­dend that brought the dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion of East Asian economies to­ward the end of the 20th cen­tury.

The av­er­age age of an In­dian in 2020 will be 29 com­pared with 37 in China and the United States and 48 in Ja­pan, bring­ing a chance to boost pro­duc­tiv­ity and the sav­ings rate. But In­dia may never re­al­ize its div­i­dend if the bulk of these youths are poorly ed­u­cated, stuck in low-value jobs or un­der­em­ployed.

Ev­ery year more than 50,000 students from across the coun­try en­rol in Kota, many of them un­der parental pres­sure. The riverside town has be­come the cap­i­tal of the multi-bil­lion-dol­lar coach­ing in­dus­try, thanks to the suc­cess of Bansal Classes, which was set up by a for­mer en­gi­neer who held the first classes across the ta­ble in his own din­ing room.

The city of nearly one mil­lion has flour­ished partly be­cause of its bland­ness, with par­ents see­ing the rel­a­tive lack of dis­trac­tions for students a bonus. De­spite hous­ing thou­sands of teenagers, it has hardly any of the shop­ping malls and cinema com­plexes that sprouted across the coun­try as the econ­omy grew.

The goal of at­tend­ing cram schools is crack­ing the tough ex­ams set by top col­leges such as the In­dian In­sti­tutes of Tech­nol­ogy (IITs) or the All In­dia In­sti­tute of Med­i­cal Sciences (AIIMS), whose de­grees can be a ticket to a life­time of fat pay cheques or jobs in the United States.

“There were 50 chil­dren who com­mit­ted sui­cide in Kota last year,” said Vinod Ku­mar Bansal, founder of Bansal Classes. “When a child re­al­izes he can’t make it to IIT, the guilt of spend­ing his fa­ther’s money on coach­ing can lead him to end his life.”

Bansal founded the school in the 1980s, leav­ing his job at a ny­lon-mak­ing firm af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy, and it was his suc­cess that bred Kota’s coach­ing jug­ger­naut.

The cen­tre shot to fame af­ter a string of suc­cesses in get­ting students ad­mit­ted to In­dia’s tough- est col­leges — spawn­ing a host of other in­sti­tu­tions that were in­spired by Bansal’s suc­cess. Its web­site says 16,000 of its students have gained ad­mis­sion to IITs, more than any other cram school.

In 2012, more than 500,000 students took the IIT en­trance exam and less than 10,000 cleared it, mak­ing ad­mis­sion sta­tis­ti­cally harder than get­ting into Amer­ica’s Ivy League col­leges.

To­day Bansal’s school, whose eight storeys are con­nected by wheel­chair ramps, has be­come a thriv­ing busi­ness with an­nual

But the pop­u­lar­ity of In­dia’s cram schools has helped make a bad sit­u­a­tion worse in the state ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. Bet­ter pay tempts schoolteac­hers to moon­light as pri­vate in­struc­tors, ne­glect­ing the poorer students they are meant to be teach­ing.

The poor qual­ity of state teach­ing has re­sulted in a gen­er­a­tion where about two-thirds of 10-year-olds can­not do a sim­ple division prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to Wil­ima Wad­hwa of ASER, a Delhi-based ed­u­ca­tion re­search cen­tre.

Pho­tos: Ah­mad Masood/reuters

The boom in In­dia’s man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor that saw the num­ber of busi­ness schools triple to al­most 4,000 over the last five years has ended be­cause of a slow­ing econ­omy.

In­dia’s seem­ingly un­stop­pable eco­nomic rise and as­pir­ing mid­dle class fu­elled a bub­ble in busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion that is now start­ing to de­flate.

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