“Fall in love with learning”- Shah Rukh Khan entices the emblematic salwar-clad Indian mother into getting her children admitted to a Byju’s class. The front page of a major East Indian periodical is an advert dedicated to FIITJEE’S legacy of ensuring top IIT ranks – imposing an encompassing importance on enrolment to anxious parents with their morning news flash. ” Your ticket to your dream IIT” – reads one of the many (in)famous institutions in Kota. Kids are seen lugging heavy bags to tuition centres often accompanied by harrowed parents post school hours. Private tuitions have been around the block for quite some time – but is the equation changing?
Education in the Indian social setup was largely meant to be democratized – primary education has been constitutionally enshrined with the inclusion of the Right to Education as a fundamental right. State aides and government institutions including the mid-day meal serve to bring economically disadvantaged people to the forefront of formal education. However, the middle class lies sandwiched between the brunt of taxation and dreams of admission into the upper echelon holds the perception that government schools are inadequate – and rightly so. Government schools have remarkably ineffective infrastructure and improper student- teacher ratio. Lack of governing school boards or authority may lead to arbitrariness of underpaid, overworked teachers. Sanitation has also been reported as predominantly lacking in many government institutions. As gross income increases, families get desperately keen to brave exorbitant grants, undue expenses over ineffective trinkets and most importantly- sky high remunerations to gain entry into these institutions through private or additional help within and beyond the outlines of syllabus. The race for placements in highly sought after educational institutions commences from toddler years – anxious parents can often be seen queuing up in the sweltering heat outside school gates, parroting ‘correct’ responses into their child’s addled ears. An anxiety over later social position is terrifying enough for mindless extraneous exercises in academics at the mere age of 5.
One of the reasons private tuitions are considered an almost indispensable rite of passage includes the aspect of disproportionate student teacher ratio. In most South Asian or South East Asian schools there may be a dearth of qualified teachers and an immense incoming stream of young minds to be nourished that gets lost in the sheer force of numbers. The average strength of a class in India is said to be 63 students. Financial resources allocated for the school sector are often inadequate or are lost to socio-political motivations of administration. Thus children have no alternative but to bill in strenuous private lessons besides their formal schooling for increased addressal of individual needs.
The Indian education system contradicts itself in dispensation of democratization- there is severe discrepancy in quality of education. Multiple factors ranging from low finances to low morale of teaching staff is another reason for acceptable standard of education. The teaching community is inflicted with low salaries vis a vis other occupations of the country and many therefore head into private tutoring for improved income prospects. The previously burnt out teachers invest vigour and enthusiasm in lessons conducted in private spaces out of self preservation and personal gain. Parents are acutely aware of this equation and strive to enroll children in tuitions. In some other cases there have been reports of capricious behaviour from the teachers themselves forcing students into tuitions, pressurising them with low grades and impartial decisions within the classroom.
The brunt of “double tuitions”’ has also been emerging as a concerning arena for students, especially senior students or those appearing for various competitive examinations. Multiple tuition classes become a perceived need when the stakes are higher and students feel compelled to haul through the same lessons from two or more perspectives as the heat of the incessant rat race demands nothing short of the best.
“ These engineers are very smart sir, they didn’t invent a machine which can measure the pressure on the brain. If they had, we would have come to know that this was not a suicide but a Murder”. Thus rings an alarming statement in the socially relevant movie 3 Idiots. It is quite the tragedy that this systemic pressure and anxiety heaped on students vying for the coveted seats at elite IITs is not just a celluloid nightmare but a household reality.
Kota, a seemingly idyllic town in Northern Rajasthan paints an ugly picture of this catastrophe – the city is renowned for its intense institutions prepping students for engineering examinations. According to police reports in 2016, 73 young engineering aspirants have committed suicide. The final sentiments of one of the young hopefuls in their suicide letter was a plea to the government for these pressure cookers operating as coaching centres to be used. A psychiatric hospital reports that calls for help are more frequent in the nights when the grueling schedule and intensive tests drive students to the brink of helplessness and insomnia. A total of at least 2,00,000 is the standard fees for any of these institutions- the bulk of students often from the subaltern. Yet , parents overcome herculean difficulties and put everything on the line, including their children’s yearning for another less lucrative, objective field.
Competitive examinations are a thriving breeding ground for private tuitions- mainly elite coaching centres to flourish. The Joint entrance Examination (JEE) and the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) are two of the country’s most peerless and simultaneously notorious qualifying examinations. With a turnover of 22 lakh and 16.14 lakh registrations in 2021 for JEE and NEET respectively, it is not unnatural to conclude that an entire industry has surfaced centred around these two examinations. Even in an atmosphere of supposedly renewed outlooks, engineering, medical and CSE (Central Service Examinations) are the only true aspirational goals considered worth having by many. Institutions like FIITJEE, Pathfinder, Aakash, Allen and infinite others charge exorbitant tuition ranging upto Rs. 3,00,000 for various capsules or packages of courses. Education as a motive has been exchanged and milked for everything it’s worth at the cost of self confidence, self efficacy, mental health and most assuredly guardian’s hard earned income. These capsule learning packages are available for children as young as 12 years of age and the acute concerns of parents have been viewed as marketable.
A professor from IIT Delhi throws light on the deplorable condition this grind leaves young students in – they are incapable of regular social interaction and desperately need the induction programmes for freshers to reacquaint them with social life and incidents all over the globe. Thus there is complete alienation and the toll it takes on inherently social creatures. This can severely impact probable purposeful relationships in the future and be detrimental to overall quality of life. Bitter students have reported seemingly unbridgeable riffs with their parents- parents have deemed children ungrateful and insensitive towards their uncountable pains and sacrifices. Innumerable movies and books including 3 Idiots, Taare Zameen Par, Five Point Someone and many others capture the growing pains and acute frustrations of dissonant expectations and reality – some that could reach a far less painful conclusion if only approached empathetically and not forced.
Thus, it seems that there is truly no answer to this tedious debate. Quality education comes at a high cost- beyond the economical and trickling into the deeply personal and familial. We can only hope guardians and children refrain from evaluating their true hopes against societal expectations and not let the instruments of capital investment make a market out of education.
-Contributed by Bipasha Bhowmick
Picture Credits: indianexpress.com