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Make sure coaching centres operate safely, rejuvenate formal public education to reduce demand for t

There is a visible boom in private coaching centres all across the country. There is also growing concern over suicides by students in Kota and a few other places where students are forcibly motivated to study for long hours under pressure to succeed. In Kota alone, 16 suicides were reported in 2015, 17 in 2016 and 7 in 2018. Despite such deaths and pressure to perform, many parents continue to support these thriving coaching institutions.

Recent deaths of 22 students in a Surat coaching institute opened up a new dimension of student’s physical safety at these coaching institutes, as many of them do not follow safety measures. While Surat and Kota are eye-openers, many cities including the national capital and state capitals have developed coaching hubs that are not safe and secure for the students and the residents.

If the growth of coaching centres is becoming a psychological and physical threat to thousands of students in our country, the Centre and state governments should come up with a regulatory framework for this mushrooming industry. Students are the ultimate sufferers between the pull and pressure of coaching institutes and their parents.

According to the last NSSO figures about 7.1 crore students, almost 26% of total students in India, were taking private tuitions or attending coaching institutes. The most interesting finding of the NSSO analysis was that 89% of the respondents cited their main reason for attending private coaching was to ‘augment basic education’; only 4% cited preparation for entrance and competitive exams. NSSO data further reveals that the amount spent by families on private tuitions and coaching is about 11-12% of their total household expenditure.

If we take these data into consideration, they challenge the existence of schools and colleges in our country, which should be primarily responsible for imparting basic education of good quality. The failure of our core system of basic education has created artificial demand, causing this huge industry to flourish everywhere in the country.

The NSSO data is mirrored on the ground. Many of us are used to seeing schoolteachers and college faculties running private tuition classes at their residences or at the coaching institutes. Sensing the lacuna of teachers not teaching at the institutions from where they draw salaries, many educational entrepreneurs started coaching institutions. In April 2019, Justice SM Subramaniam of Madras high court ruled that school and college teachers taking private tuitions after duty hours is serious misconduct. This ruling should be replicated in all the states to augment the basic education which is the prime responsibility of schools and colleges.

The Kota phenomenon also propelled a new system where students attending coaching classes for two years become ‘ghost students’ of regular schools in their home state and appear for 12th board exams to have their degrees. Such students miss out completely on the holistic learning experience in a regular schooling set-up.

We should, on the one hand, rejuvenate the public education system and on the other, find ways to regulate private coaching institutions. The government should work on a two-track strategy. Strengthening the public institutions and making them more relevant can bring back confidence of parents and students in the school education system. With some extra efforts, schools can also prepare students for entrance exams. Strengthening the public institutions is obviously the best option to reduce the artificial need and it will also be the most sustainable option for the nation.

Alongside, there is definitely a need to bring coaching institutions to a level where they offer psychologically and physically safe and secure spaces to the students. In April 2017, the Supreme Court ruled it is not possible to ‘wipe out’ the coaching institutes but they should be ‘regulated’. Some states including Maharashtra and Odisha have drafted a Bill which might be enacted as a law. Looking at the movement of students across different states, it will be good to have similar regulation across the country.

No developing country can transit to a developed country without strengthening its formal education system. Rejuvenation of government schools and colleges will be a big boost for around 70-80% of India’s students who depend heavily on public institutions. We should not leave our young students with fragile minds in unsafe hands that try to mint money without any accountability.

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