Cram-schools aren’t the problem, they are the result
From time to time, either the political class or the media turn their attention to cram-schools such as those in Kota, pointing to either how this gives the well-off who can afford them an unfair advantage or how the intense pressure is causing suicide rates to go up—The Indian Express has a series on the suicides in Kota coaching centres. In fact, when the UPA was in power, it even changed the pattern of entrance examinations to the IITs to limit the influence of what it called the Kota menace. No one who has been to these coaching centres can come back not horrified by the pressure cooker-like conditions in which children who have been sent here to study by their parents live in, or by the standards of what passes for teaching.
That, however, is missing the point. Whether you have or do not have Kota-style cram-schools—and this applies not just to the IIT entrance exams, it applies to the IAS examinations and countless others—if 1.5 million people are going to compete for just 10,000 seats, the pressure is going to be intense; indeed, if you look at the number of seats offered in the more prestigious IITs, the ratio gets far worse. Changing the pattern of the entrance examinations will not help as long as the ratios of success and failure remain what they are today. There is a proposal to have an aptitude test to see who qualifies to appear for the entrance examination—this will be applicable from 2017—but that only brings in an intermediate make-or-break layer of tension; and who’s to say the enterprising coaching industry in Kota won’t figure out a way to start preparing students for the aptitude tests?
The crux of the problem is a publicly-funded—and regulated—school and college system which has simply failed to deliver the goods. When students can’t read basic texts or do simple mathematics while in school, you would think the emphasis would be to fix this, to get better teachers and better pedagogy. Instead, for decades, and getting worse with each passing one, teachers are selected on the basis of their caste, not their ability to teach—and students get a better shot if they belong to a certain caste, not just on the basis of their marks. If this is the state of government-run education, the rules are so stifling for private providers of education, very few institutions of repute come up—not surprisingly then, a large proportion of students who pass out of most schools and colleges either don’t get jobs or are unable to hold them down and get promoted. The quota, not Kota, will be the reason why India will fail to break into the rank of first-world nations.