Coaching or choking classes?

The other day I got a very fresh perspective on pressures in studies.  My co-traveller was a young man from Surat.  As I started a conversation about college admissions and coaching classes, (he was an IITian), he warmed up to the subject. “I had never heard of coaching classes till I met a boy from Chandigarh, who ‘enlightened’ me about them,” he chuckled. He himself had been a  +1 class student at that time!

He went on to say that being born in a city comprising predominantly of businessmen and coming from a business family himself, he was completely free of any pressure from his parents and neighbours. “My parents had little idea about the JEE and consequently left me to my own devices.” He gave an amazing piece of statistics too — the year he cleared the IIT-JEE, only 11 students from the state of Gujarat had got selected to the premier institutions and he was the only one from Surat! “I thoroughly enjoyed studying and learning,” he smiled happily. How many of our children can claim that?

In my neighbourhood there is an uneducated cycle-rickshaw wallah who has managed to put one of his daughters through catering college and another through B.Com on his meager earnings. The children only have the ambition of doing well and earning money to pay back their father’s debts, no pressure to perform or perish. The parents only talk of their daughters and how well they are studying. The last I heard was that the daughter who had done the catering course had been sent to Dubai!

By inference, students from the other states and social backgrounds fare very badly — pressures from the family, peers and the coaching classes, not to speak of pressure from themselves to excel. Little wonder then that the children go to pieces and sometimes require even psychiatric counselling to counter depression and other psychological disorders. In extreme cases the kids commit suicide. Result times always make me nervous – to read about some such case.

Parents these days have to constantly walk a tightrope even while keeping a steadying grip on their children. Take the coaching classes: Have you seen children living in constant dread of being shunted to a less challenging group in these classes, consequently losing their peace and sleep? Far from instilling confidence in the child to face the formidable entrance exams, they thoroughly demoralize them. Of course some students thrive on competition and relish the prospect of pitting their skills against their classmates, but not all are so endowed.

It is important to let the students who are preparing for these exams know that they are not any less intelligent if they fail to get in. The line dividing those who get in and those who don’t is so thin as to be non-existent. I had once met a retired professor of IIT Delhi, who reiterated this point. “On the given day, the student who manages to retain his or her cool to answer the paper well, is the one to be selected. There is no magic formula,” he said.

My friend told me about her son who had scored 50% in his chemistry test. “The teacher keeps saying that we’d not get admission anywhere every time we get less marks,” he had apparently said. When I was in school, I remember teachers threatening weak students of the prospect of grazing cattle as according to them that was the only occupation they were good for. The boys would grin at that and dismiss the entire thing. I guess kids had very little pressure in those days and were perhaps thicker skinned in the bargain.

But contrast, today’s students who attend coaching classes are by no means weak in studies. They only go to improve their prospects in the various entrance examinations. One then is left wondering about the damage these teachers do to the psyche of the students by telling them they are no good. No wonder then that suicides are increasing at an alarming rate among students who are unable to come up to the expectations. Who can be constantly performing at his or her peak level through the entire two year period, except the very very brilliant few? Worse, these classes come at a very steep price; the price tag seems steeper considering the toll it takes on the students’ confidence. In their zeal to show ‘results’, they don’t care for the feelings of the students.

It is also important for parents not to have unrealistic expectations from their children in terms of getting into professional courses vis-à-vis their performance levels. I once had a neighbour who was down-to-earth in this matter. “My son has got only 55% in the 12th Boards. How can I force him to get into a medical or engineering college? Let him take any course where he can get admission and do well in that!” she said. How I loved that woman! How many parents can be this matter-of-fact? That boy went on to get his MBA and is doing very well for himself.

Another acquaintance allowed her son to take Arts (shudder, shudder! ) as his subject in the +1 classes and saw him get into the prestigious JNU at Delhi. He wanted to try for IAS after completing the course on International Business Studies or some such thing. Just imagine what would have happened had the mother fallen prey to the entrance exam pressure. We might have lost a great civil servant!

It is true that competition has become murderous these days and one has to be constantly on one’s toes to get into the course of one’s choice. But keeping pace with competition, the number of career options is also growing by the day. By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the children, parents and teachers can channel them in that direction so that they can find their niche and excel in them.

That way we can prevent many a square peg in a round hole.

20 comments

  1. Awesome post Zephyr…I guess I hadnt started reading you when you did this one 🙂

    but its true na…about the pressure of the coaching classes…it just makes me so sad…and I know of a brilliant boy who committed sucide in class 12 in December just before his finals because he thought he was not good enough..my heart goes out to his parents..because they never compelled him…it was sheer peer pressure to perform better

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    1. Peer pressure is equally bad. It is really sad to see young people getting depressed, committing suicide and becoming one dimensional people. It is in the hands of educated (not just degree holders) parents to get out of the rat race of competition and help their children.

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  2. sahithya · · Reply

    With reference to mention about the career options… i would have been most grateful if i had a person to tell me about all the career options and the subjects that i would have to take to move forward in that path when i was in class 10th. Career counselling should be made compulsory at that age!!! and..India has the strangest of practices! You brought back some memories of my tuitions in class 10th which appear in my nightmares even now! Imagine the extent to which the pressure and tension affected me sub-consciously! In fact , my mother has also had to make up a few excuses on my behalf when i refused to go for a couple of days .I did do very well in the end.. but i would mostly attribute it to my own efforts than the tuition teachers.
    Funniest part is the fact that in India, school teachers take part time tuitions and start discouraging students who dont attend their tuitions. Once kids realize this, they force their parents and convince them that they need these classes. What a utter waste of time and money, when what can be learnt in school is taught all over again because of some idiots who are a disgrace to such a noble profession. This happens in quite a few places according to my friends from mumbai and ranchi. Literally 80% if my class used to attend the famous tuitions i mentioned about earler. When its as big as a classroom.. what purpose can it really serve! The child will most probably have the same span of attention or maybe lesser in these places!

    Finally, four years of rote learning and lo! you become an engineer. Something is basically wrong about the way our education system works and i have no hopes about it becoming better anytime soon.

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    1. You are so right Sahitya, there is a dire need for career counselling in high school. The point you are making about the pressures and the futility of studying in a class as big as a normal classroom is very valid. Funnily, a generation back the word ‘tuition’ had a stigma attached to it since only below-average students availed of them. the exact opposite is true today when the one who doesn’t take it is considered wanting in some way!

      The students who make it to the engineering colleges are ultimately the ones who have it in them, coaching classes or no, right? We are not talking of those who ‘buy’ seats of course! 🙂

      Let’s hope and pray for a better system of education that frees it from the ‘rote trick!’

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  3. I remember a topic we had to write an essay on: ‘Even if you win the rat race, you’re still just a rat.’

    Its become a necessary evil in these times for the educational world… To truly learn, coaching institutes are required. How? Let me elaborate by my examples:

    Back in Class 10, one of my profs at the coaching insti made a pertinent point: He said, your school teachers will solve one problem from the exercise with you, then tell you to finish all the sums, and sit peacefully reading magazines. I did note this point happening in school for nearly every exercise in the textbook. On the other hand, the insti prof actually helped us solve half the sums, then made us do the other half, before going through the solution himself. We also got more practice problems to carry out. So I guess the insti was helpful, in a way.

    Similar examples emerge during my engineering diploma days. The college profs and lecturers were too busy politicking with their counterparts, making us behave during lectures, or conducting practicals to actually teach us the subjects. Hence whichever subject we found tough, we took up coaching for that. And it was helpful – the subject as taught in the coaching class was more useful during the exams.

    But, coming back to two things that are negative: peer pressure & parental pressure. Peer pressure is not too much during the school & early college period – everyone is nearly in the same boat, especially those who actually do pressure you.

    What is more dangerous is parental pressure. The overt, open pressure is dangerous enough – you’ve well elaborated on that. But more dangerous is the pressure felt by the 55% scoring child of your neighbour. Trust me, even though you feel that the mother is doing the right thing, the child is feeling otherwise. How? Well, I’ve noticed that everyone has some or the other feelings, opinions, and ideas about how the people surrounding them should be. Especially parents about their children. So even if they don’t state their feelings, the kids – hyper sensitive in their way about their parents already – get the real picture soon enough. And that’s when the hypocrisy hits them. That’s even more dangerous. How to address that? I don’t know. But even I’ve suffered through that. It would so turn out that even if I wanted to do something X, and my parents felt about Y, they would not state it, but it would be evident somewhere, and I ended up doing Y. This would continue right upto graduation when I put my foot down and took my own way selecting what I wanted to do after graduation.

    What matters is that parents have to be open about everything they want from their child.
    “I want you to score highest, but even if you don’t, as long as its above 80%, its OK”
    “I dream of you getting into IIT. Oh, you don’t? Well, OK. Please consider engineering before you decide, will you? Thanks”

    Kids and parents have a connection that is strengthened by talking, scolding, enjoying, discussing, and a lot more. But there exists a subconscious connection that neither are aware of, and that rules. What that connection passes on, that is more important than what is said. If you say X and mean Y, your kid will read Y, get confused about the hypocrisy, and that can easily create a barrier between you and your children.

    Regards,
    Grond

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    1. That was a very good comment Grond.I understand and appreciate the need for coaching classes in terms of teaching students the methodology of study and there are any number of them that are doing what they are supposes to do — coach. But it is when they add to the pressure that they need to be taken with caution.

      I perfectly agree about the X and Y factors in choices. Unstated pressure can definitely do more harm as you so rightly put it.

      This particular case of the mediocre students was a happy one. The boy did not have any hang-ups about his average marks nor did his mother push him. Instead she revelled in his other qualities — he was ever ready to help anyone with any kind of physical work, he was a fine athlete, and a wonderful son. That made the difference.

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      1. I remembered this discussion just today morning when the front page news was about coaching classes. I dug up the links for you:
        http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/mumbai/Coaching-classes-are-more-than-just-that/Article1-535439.aspx
        http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/mumbai/Coaching-Education/Article1-535426.aspx

        Somehow, AS long as the classes are well aware of what they are doing, they can continue… But if they’re adding to the rat race, well… one must take a call…

        I also recollect the incident of Vidyalankar classes in Mumbai, a very famous engineering coaching institute based out of Dadar and some other branches in other suburbs.
        They started off as a coaching institute, provided quality coaching, and expanded like there’s no tomorrow. Over time, their bank of lecturers and teaching staff was so good, and the money even better, they bought land, built a institute there, and started their own engineering college! And I believe its one of the best today!

        Just two more pfennigs.

        Regards,
        Grond

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        1. Thanks Grond. i will check out the links you have forwarded. These coaching institutes are big money grossers and have all the potential for becoming universities. I have heard of another one in Chandigarh too, which has become a university. (Chitkara)

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  4. Nice post ZM, U are really picking up social issues.One hilarious post and then one real issue. This is one sexy post…

    I wonder at times why are we here on this planet?. Just to be a part of the rat race???. Making sure we get into 90% list , or lemme say more than 95% list.

    I can still recall each word my dad said to me wen i got 78% in 10th. he gave me examples of the epitomes( his friends brillant daughters) they scored 92.5%. I was happy with my marks, as i had studied less and i still detest to go near cramming text. But man.. these 2 females made my life hell, every now and thn after 10th i used to hear this from my dad. I felt at times like, Have i flunked???, wht is it?. or shall i ask them to kill me coz i cant score more.?. It was a bad phase and i was 2 immature to react accordingly.

    Wen u know ur child is average in studies, why pressurize him to get more and more and more. A child’s development depends on his overall intellectual growth.
    Is it the burden of parental expectation? Is it the oppressive education system? Or, is it the winner-loser syndrome pervading the success-centric new-age society? As cases of students committing suicide pop up with alarming frequency, there are no clear answers yet.

    But it is possible that all three have combined to throw immature minds into a pressure cooker situation.

    Students are simply rote-learning to get maximum marks so that they can get a job. The inability to do so, coupled with parental pressure to out-perform others is ultimately killing their spirit.

    The lack of regular interaction among parents and children is also to be blamed for the present situation. I have even seen that at times parents are forcing their unfulfilled dreams on children. They are using the child as a trophy. I wont even spare media ,its tendency to highlight toppers.Coaching classes with their hoardings on toppers, trust me it creates huge pressure on students to score more so that even they can get their two seconds of glory.

    So though a child would be happy studying media, parents may want him/her to do engineering or become a doctor as society attaches more importance to that. Parents also feel we are giving the best and so expect a lot in return. Hence, the pressure gets created in the child..

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    1. You have it absolutely right when you say that the lack of interaction between parents and children is one of the main causes for pressures, as also parental expectations which they force on their children. I liked your perspective on parental expectations of the other kind — ‘we are giving the best and so expect a lot in return’.

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  5. Education is pretty pressurising these days but then it is a necessary evil to face the competition today, isn’t it?

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    1. You are so right, but things can be made a little easier for the students by the adults concerned, can’t they? A pat on the back is good or bad depending upon which part it is administered, isn’t it?

      Hey, I miss those reminiscences in your comments. 😦 They always brought a smile to my lips 🙂

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      1. Hehe… I know. Actually I was in a hurry to rush into a meeting but couldn’t resist at least getting a foot in the door 😉
        I myself never went for tuition till class 10 (except for Marathi which no one in my family could have possibly taught me sufficiently enough to even pass!). I joined a Maths tuition in Class 10 because our school teacher wanted to bring up her average batch marks so she would concentrate on the middle and lower portion of the students thus sidelining the top few who needed that extra effort to get from, say, a 95 to the perfect score. I therefore took lessons from an ex teacher of our school. She had a small batch and personally attended to students, trying to get everyone to perform a little better.
        Then, in Class XI I decided to appear for IIT JEE and the tuition classes began in earnest. Physics, Chemistry, Maths! It was all a blur as two years whizzed by and I flunked Physics in JEE Mains. That was the last time I went to coaching. Even for my MBA competitive exams I joined a coaching center only to be able to attempt the mock-ups. GRE was also attempted by self-teaching.
        Personally, I hate the fact when I see kids in class 4 and 5 toting bags around in the evening from one class to another. When I was their age, I would be playing around and generally whiling away time. Homework was the only worry and with my mum constantly on both of ours’ backs, that was put out of the way pretty fast. Since I wasn’t really the outdoorsy kinda person, it left me with a lot of time to read books and interact with my grandfather – both experiences that definitely changed me. Today kids don’t read and personally I feel that is such a travesty. I still remember looking forward to receiving books as gifts from my grandfather. And I would watch him read. He had a peculiar habit of reading with a pencil and scale in hand – underlining stuff that he found significant as he went along. It would help him to get back to the stuff later when he picked up the book again. I imitated him, underlining randomly and now while I don’t underline stuff the reading habit stuck.
        Parents have a part to play. If, instead of that Nintendo Wii or PSP, they were to gift their kids books the kid might hate them right now but for certain, would grow up to respect them for what they did.
        And now I’ll end this comment here, before it becomes post length! Probably I will post on this one of these days 🙂

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        1. Thanks Siddharth, for that comment! I must admit that without one of your comments, my posts seem incomplete!!

          The sad thing about kids going for tuition is that parents feel that their grades can improve. Whereas, the only thing that they do in such classes is (at least in the lower classes) to make the kids do the homework! You were lucky to have a teacher mother who knew the strengths of her children and just made you do that part of the work!

          As I told Varsh, Vinni is one student who always told his junior to go in for self study after a disastrous one year of coaching class experience!

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  6. How true…one joins coaching classes with full knowledge of what he/she lacks. The whole intention is to get attention and doubt clearing from learned people on what needs to be done to tackle them. Those people are simply interested in regular payments of their fees and putting up their decorative posters all over displaying their best students. The ones nor featured there are very conveniently forgotten. This is indeed very bad for the students’ already pressurized minds and hearts.
    You put it very aptly, there are many many career choices offered which we probably don’t even know very well about. It is in fact an advantage for the lesser mortals, since the ones shining up there have already stagnated their minds with ‘obvious’ ones.

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    1. And oh yes….I’d like it if you put up the awards I gave you too 🙂

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      1. I have! Sorry about the delay varsh. You know the reason, don’t you?

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    2. I like the analogy of ‘ones shining up there’! Right you are. We should encourage the children to look at the wider options of career. For doesn’t it take achievers in all fields to make this world go?

      Vinni had opted out of coaching classes in the +2 class, because he found them counter-productive. For the record, he did very well in his entrance exams!

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  7. nice post. while i agree down right to the last point, i must also point out that the need to be at peak form doesn’t end with the entrance examinations. given the circumstances it is absolutely necessary to be at peak form for years to come. Its been 9 yrs since I went for those papers, 9 yrs on the race is still on. The need to be at one’s best at all times is constant – or perhaps more intense (a fact, I learned after stumbling a couple of times n graduating into a fledgling economy hasn’t helped matters at all.).
    unfortunately, it is a game for the survival of the fittest, unless of course one is content in choosing a career doesn’t tread the beaten path or perhaps a laid back attitude in general.

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    1. Precisely. Since one has to be on a treadmill that keeps getting faster and faster as we enter working lives, it is important to let children have some freedom to enjoy their childhood sans the murderous pressures, don’t you agree?
      While it is not possible to completely shield our children from all the pressures of competition, we can make it easier for them.

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