On January 18, 2024, the Ministry of Education issued crucial guidelines regarding the registration of coaching institutions, the age of enrolled students, qualifications of teaching staff, promises and assurances made to students and parents by these institutions, updating information on websites, concerns about the mental health of students, stress-free educational environments, fee regulations, inclusive policies, basic infrastructure, and safety standards. The most significant prohibition introduced is the enrollment ban for students under 16 years of age. Now, students can only join coaching institutes after completing secondary education.
According to the new guidelines, teachers in coaching institutions must have at least a bachelor’s degree. It is strictly forbidden to appoint individuals with moral turpitude (engaging in actions contrary to social welfare) for teaching positions. Misleading claims, false assurances, and attractive advertisements about coaching quality, facilities, results, rankings, and guaranteed high scores have been regulated. It has been stated in the outgoing guidelines that coaching institutions must have a website providing updated information on teacher qualifications, curriculum duration, hostel facilities, and fee-related matters.
Emphasising the need to prioritise students’ mental health, a counselling system has been established, providing information in the context of psychologists and counsellors and training teachers on mental health issues and concerns. Ensuring fee regulations and proper tuition fee arrangements, it has been specified that students should be eligible for proportional refunds if they drop out of a course prematurely. Regarding basic infrastructure standards, it has been stated that each classroom must ensure a minimum of one square meter per student, and coaching institution buildings should adhere to fire safety codes, building safety codes, and other relevant safety standards. Moreover, while penalties have been provided for violations of the registration and guidelines issued, all State Governments are also tasked with monitoring the activities of coaching institutions and ensuring compliance with registration eligibility.
While all these guidelines are welcome, extensive deliberation and discussion among students, teachers, and parents are expected and necessary for their effective implementation. It is well known that the number of coaching institutions which showcase success and sell dreams has skyrocketed. Like prominent cities known for coaching, coaching institutions have now sprouted up in almost every small and big town, even in lanes and neighbourhoods, resembling mushrooms. Coaching is evolving from a regular business to an organised industry these days.
Online coaching and its reach have now extended to the confines of our homes. It is alarming that various celebrities are influencing public opinion and indirectly impacting the significance, utility, and quality of online classes through different advertising mediums. It’s a matter of grave concern that even while making decisions or forming opinions on serious and crucial matters like education, we often fail to distinguish between advertisement and reality! Statistics from various surveys also indicate a growing trend towards coaching. According to the Infinium Global Research Report, 2023, the annual business of the coaching industry in India is approximately 58,000 crores, and it is estimated to reach nearly 1,34,000 crores in the next five years. According to the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations report of 2019, there are 85 million students taking various types of coaching in the country. In 2023-24, Kota alone saw nearly 2.05 lakh students coming for coaching. The National Sample Survey Office’s 2020 survey indicates that about 25 per cent of our Class 11 and 12 students are enrolled in coaching classes for various subjects.
There was a time when coaching was considered necessary only for weak students, but these days, coaching is not just a trend; it’s becoming a ‘status symbol’. Students who don’t take coaching nowadays are considered weak, average, or lacking in talent. Success in exams with higher scores or competitive exams is considered the sole criterion of a student’s ability, while their social skills, sensitivity, responsibility, creativity, morality, and values are completely overlooked. If a student cannot overcome the challenge of exams like JEE, NEET, CLAT, CAT, or UPSC, but is morally, socially, culturally, behaviourally, and practically well-rounded and prosperous, shouldn’t these qualities be considered the standard and criterion of their competence? Shouldn’t their communication skills, leadership abilities, team spirit, adaptability to new, unfamiliar, and challenging situations, dedication, service, cooperation, their nature, awareness, and commitment to society, nation, their healthy lifestyle, cleanliness, simplicity, and sociability, etc., hold any meaning, significance, and value? Shouldn’t these values be the main focus or centre of education rather than comparing success in exams or competitive tests? Why has success in scoring marks or competitive exams been equated with education? Is it ever possible for all candidates sitting for competitive exams and various courses to be selected, given the significant imbalance in the number of available-designated seats? Certainly, despite good preparation, some will miss out, some will lag behind. In such a scenario, the question arises: why, even after seven and a half decades of independence, has education – as a pathway to career or livelihood – not presented a comprehensive picture or a broad basis for living a happy, meaningful, and content life? Who is responsible for such a direction and situation in education? Why have coaching systems flourished and proliferated alongside schools? It’s also important to ask whether merely issuing guidelines will control the arbitrariness or regulation of coaching institutions. Will the expected awareness and the lack of proper, standard, and quality school education drive parents towards coaching institutions? Isn’t it true that today coaching is considered necessary even for regular competitive exams? If we deeply consider the policies and standards of the education sector, we’ll find that the rampant majority of problems, irregularities, and corruption in the education field stem from this flourishing culture of coaching.
Success, which was once considered the reward of consistent effort, is now sought by everyone through shortcuts or quick fixes. Many fail to understand that there is no predetermined formula or specific methodology for the success of students, whether it pertains to their personal development or academic achievements. It is essential to recognise the individual interests, nature, tendencies, capabilities, and limitations of each student. Each student possesses inherent uniqueness and fundamental talent that needs to be identified. Without investing adequate time in understanding them comprehensively and spending quality time with them, achieving holistic development is not possible. Can coaching institutes, with their limited and narrow goals, professional perspectives, mechanical routines, focus on scores and ranks, and endless series of exams, cater to these requirements? We must always remember that students are not machines for rote learning or products manufactured in predefined moulds. They are human beings with minds, intellect, emotions, and consciousness, and their holistic development requires a conducive, nurturing, healthy, balanced, and diverse environment with creative daily activities. We often forget the simple truth that human development is not possible without discipline, understanding, affection, dedication, empathy, sacrifice, patience, and discernment! Is it not true that becoming humane is the ultimate achievement for a human being? Can we expect coaching institutes to nurture such individuals or uphold such values? In school education, concerns about students’ mental, intellectual, physical, social, creative, and emotional development are taken into account, and accordingly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly curricula and complementary activities are planned and executed. We should also not forget that alongside academics in schools, the process of comprehensive, balanced, and holistic socialisation and personality development of students also takes place. However, the intense competition and pressure for success in coaching environments lead to unnecessary stress, depression, and anxiety among students. The tales of anguish among students attending coaching institutes are extremely distressing and tragic. The pain and neglect experienced by students after missing the mark by a decimal point can permanently cripple them. The alarming trend of suicides among students attending coaching institutes reflects the grim reality of their mental state. In Kota alone, in 2023, 30 students preparing for competitive exams committed suicide. Just last week (January 2024), a student preparing for NEET and an engineering aspirant committed suicide, leaving a poignant message to their parents: “Mom and Dad, I can’t clear JEE, so I am ending my life. I am the worst daughter, sorry Mom and Dad!” According to Kota police, in 2018, 19 students; in 2017, 7 students; in 2016, 18 students; in 2015, 31 students; and in 2014, 45 students committed suicide. Between 2019 and 2022, 53 students attending coaching institutes for competitive exams ended their lives due to pressure and stress.
From these statistics, one can infer the terrifying reality of coaching institutes and the actual mental state of students studying there. The truth is that coaching institutes are merchants of dreams. Through deceptive advertising and aggressive marketing, they lure innocent children and their parents. Often, many parents, without considering their children’s interests, abilities, qualifications, inclinations, and nature, unwittingly impose the burden of their dreams and ambitions on them, resulting in significant distress. The glittering success stories and shining faces of successful candidates promoted by coaching institutes conceal the pain, tears, and dark truths of countless unsuccessful students. By pushing children into the coaching grind at a very young age, their childhood is snatched away. They become isolated and self-centred. The simple joys, natural pleasures, enthusiasm, and happiness disappear from their lives. As they compete with their peers and bear the burden of coaching’s mechanical routine, they lose sight of the universal harmony, cooperation, balance, and beauty prevalent in nature and society, as well as the melody of life pervading all living beings. In fact, as they compete, many times they also start harbouring competitive attitudes towards their home, family, society, and nation. Often, they become harsh and ungrateful towards their loved ones. Is it not a tragedy that instead of fostering collaboration, cooperation, and harmony, we are teaching them to outsmart others since childhood? Why aren’t we understanding that life isn’t just about struggle; it’s also about harmony with adversaries and maintaining a constant practice of cooperation, coordination, and balance? More crucial than pulling others down is to blend and interact with everyone, to embrace someone, to progress with someone, and to foster a spirit of collaboration. What if someone fails to become an engineer, doctor, or a high-ranking officer? It is a historical truth that a moment’s shine or inspiration often becomes the harbinger of revolutionary change or limitless possibilities. We must always bear in mind that life itself is the greatest achievement; the essence of life lies solely in living!