Once ruled by the Hara kings, the historic city of Kota — known for its stone industry and the famous Doria saris — was transformed into the industrial hub of Rajasthan after independence and of recent vintage, has emerged as the coaching capital of the country. It has three universities set up by the government and when the Centre wanted to start an Indian Institute of Technology in Rajasthan, Kota staked a claim to play host on the strength of its being the centre that produces the highest number of IITans. Kota’s coaching institutes attract about 1,50,000 students from across the country each year that churn out more than 10,000 IITans and over 5,000 students in the All India Pre-Medical Test.
Kota is expanding the market through backward integration by catching them younger. Katariya’s 11-year-old son is enrolled in one of the more popular coaching centres, Career Point, which has opened residential hostels so that students can get started on rigorous competitive coaching from class six onwards without having to deal with the distractions of living at home.
“I want him to go to the moon and if he scores well in his exams, I will send my younger son, too, for coaching,” said Katariya, who works in the diamond industry in Surat, about 800 km away from Kota.
He’s certain that the Rs 1.2 lakh spent annually on the residential course is well worth it. “I keep all his certificates in a personal bag and display them only to a select audience,” said the proud father. Catering to spiralling demand from aspirational parents, coaching centres in Kota have started enrolling children — almost all boys — from the age of 11. This isn’t about the kind of well-rounded education that a residential school might seek to provide but is focused purely on preparing children for entrance exams over six years. The centres teach from the school curriculum and introduce the basics of topics such as arithmetic progression that come up in the various exams for admission to the IITs and other engineering schools, aside from medicine, management studies and the civil service exams.
“IIT for many is the final destination but there are milestones before that. Students need to benchmark themselves on a national scale and the grounding in science and math has to start earlier than post board examinations,” said Nilesh Gupta, general manager of coaching centre Resonance Eduventures. The institute began enrolling class 6 students last year and the first batch of 80 has 20 students from outside Kota. There are about 2,000 students in classes six to 10 this year at Resonance Eduventures and at least 25% of them are from elsewhere. Such a development was expected, said sociologist GK Karanth.
“Families who are first-generation graduates or just short of it have urban and global dreams for their children. There may not be enough motivation at home, and for the goals to be realised the children have to start early,” he said. Families in Gujarat, Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra sending 11-year-old children to Kota for combined coaching and schooling is an outcome of government regulation, according to those who run the centres.
Two years ago, the government drafted a rule stipulating that a student needed to be in the top 20 percentile of school-leaving examinations to win admission to a professional course, apart from clearing the entrance test. This was done to ensure that students didn’t ignore classroom studies as they prepared for the JEE, an all-India test for the IITs, the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and other engineering courses.
“Nowhere in the world does one see coaching for an entrance examination to a university have such high stakes in a student’s admission,” said Narayanan Ramaswamy, partner and head, education practice, KPMG India. “Over a period of time, coaching institutes have become a key part of the education system. They have the highest growth, attract private equity investments and are almost an aspiration for K12 schools — all this for an entrance examination.” The reason for such a mushrooming of cram schools is the absence of enough tertiary educational institutions of quality, Ramaswamy said, while pointing out the dangers of such a system.
“This trend is dangerous as it defeats the purpose of learning and encourages rote learning,” he said. That concern finds echoes in the oft-repeated complaint of Indian IT companies that new recruits don’t have a strong enough foundation in the humanities. Most often this is because the Indian school system pays only cursory attention to the need for an all-round education, which includes grounding in liberal arts, analytical thinking, public speaking and competitive sports.