GUEST COLUMN : Coaching dilemma: Necessity or manufactured need?

VC Onkar Singh Onkar Singh

Large creative advertisements of coaching institutes with high-impact tag lines in newspapers every day have succeeded in building a perception that coaching is inevitable to succeed. The flooding of such advertisements also gives a cue to the size of these coaching institutes growing like an industry. Such institutes flourish on the aspirations and dreams of youth and are said to be worth many thousands of crores of rupees together.

With the rate of increase in the number of youth outnumbering the rate of increase of secured job opportunities, the competition is becoming stiffer day by day. The desperation to land up in a stable career with a secured job in the country having huge socio-economic diversity is a harsh reality and cannot be pushed aside by the availability of temporary jobs from the upsurge in the gig economy. Eventually, there is a huge rush to grab opportunities and the formidable selection process for fetching the right candidates necessitates the test/interview stages which calls for special tutoring to succeed in the selection process stages through coaching.

The potential behind the coaching is evinced by many individuals who successfully get into the coveted civil services through UPSC resign and start coaching. The trend of career bureaucrats leaving jobs and starting coaching reveals its revenue potential, least hassles and reasonable independence in operation as compared to any other enterprise.

Undoubtedly, coaching is on the upswing due to the growing young population, but its survival depends upon the aspirants joining them and the abilities of coaching to help them succeed. Nevertheless, this could be challenged by the examination conducting bodies if they change the pattern of examinations frequently, making the exam patterns unpredictable.

The positive side of the massive campaign by coaching is enhancing awareness, informing about the competitive examinations and sustaining hope of success by reaching out to the masses. There is a sizeable population which gets enthused with the success stories brought to the fore by coaching. At times, these inspire the aspirants to keep trying till the goal is reached. Even the elderly members of society get informed from publicity material of coaching institutes and push the youngsters in their families to dream and endeavour accordingly.

In fact, it is a necessity of society due to which coaching thrives. Due to the constant attempt of examining bodies to add complexities to the examination question papers, the candidates have to look for coaching because of their insufficient knowledge and understanding of subjects, inadequate hands-on problem solving, lessening involvement in real-life challenges, etc. Besides, it is also the limited opportunities, fear of failure, declining risk-taking abilities, uncertainties in life, despair and huge numbers of aspirants that are forcing the students to seek external assistance from tutors. The environment concerning competitive examinations is aggravated by coaching through their ubiquitous presence and the psychological pressure created about coaching being indispensable.

Apart from some of the obvious reasons, it is worthwhile to reason out deeply as to whether it is a prerequisite due to learning gaps or is a need manufactured by the beneficiaries like coaching institutions. For all those who join coaching, the content delivered therein appears to be supplementary to their knowledge and a focused one to crack particular examination(s). The complexities involved in problem-solving and practising it are also taken care of for excelling in particular exams. This ultimately stipulates the exam conducting bodies to raise the bar of questions further or change the examination pattern. As a result, the complexities get added year after year, just with the intent of elimination. It is always possible that these tutored ones – those who undertake coaching and succeed, may not have soundness of knowledge commensurate with their performance in examination(s) and suitability for the purpose. There are primarily two types of competitive examinations. One is for fetching jobs which are merely for filtering the required ones amongst the applicants from diverse fields, while the others are for pursuing higher education/professional education to secure a career. The former may need special assistance genuinely due to the diversity of the contents while the latter is solely meant to assess the domain-specific knowledge in which formal education has a great role to play.

Largely, the inability of education providers to generate confidence in the students to succeed in competitive examinations and the performance pressure pull the majority to be part of regular course-based coaching like those of JEE, NEET, CLAT, etc to supplement their learnings. Over a period of time, the coaching for such classes is systematically percolating down and the students are tempted to join even in junior classes and continue their regular class progression along with it through fictitious schools. With the students from coaching institutes demonstrating good performance, the next-generation aspirants also fall in the queue and the coaching institutes thrive continuously. Similarly, in the case of coaching institutes tutoring candidates for getting employment, the aspirants develop a perception of their inevitability. The profits accrued by coaching enable them for aggressive publicity activities and thus may even create artificial demand through advertising and aggressive marketing to infuse their relevance in the minds of the public in general and aspirants in particular.

The coaching institutions disturb the level playing field between those who take them and those who do not take them. Another important aspect is the cost involved which acts as a deterrent for many and creates a divide. Also, the consistent testing patterns encourage coaches to plan their study packages accordingly. Ideally, the assessment in all competitive examinations must be free from any external influence and all aspirants must be assessed based on their instinct. However, the same is not happening presently because some get coached while some remain deprived of it. The coaching institutes are also competing with each other to maximise their enrolments. Besides, the proliferation of coaching is financially burdening the aspirants and influencing the quality of selections.

The frequent disruption and creativity in the exam pattern for assessing latent competency can help in breaking the monopoly of coaching institutions and must be attempted. Concerted efforts are required for qualitative enrichment of the formal education system to prevent its subjugation by coaching institutes. Overall reform in the examination process is ineluctable to overcome the predominance of fast-expanding coaching institutions and circumvent the challenges faced by the contenders who cannot afford them. Academics and examining bodies ought to contemplate the precarious situation and create a level playing field that is free from the financial strength of seekers and their families.  

(The author is the vice chancellor of Veer Madho Singh Bhandari Uttarakhand Technical University. Views expressed are personal)

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