Being a regular traveller, between my home and National Institute of Technology, Srinagar, I often come across and get a change to interact with different people who have different experiences to share. More often than not I prefer listening to what people have to say rather than propose my own theories on different matters. This day was an unusual one where I chose to spoke as much as I could. A few weeks back, I was sitting in a bus plying from Hazratbal to Lal Chowk when a young student sat by my side. I closed my eyes and rested my head against the glass window of the bus. Soon after, I heard a sobbing voice. I felt, it was the student who sat adjacent to me. I slowly opened my eyes, had a look at him, and found him crying, with a flood of tears cascading down his, by now, reddish face. I didn't know how to react or what to say. Somehow, I managed to ask: "Are you alright?" He didn't say anything. I decided to leave him alone but then as the sobbing continued and grew in intensity, I asked him again if everything was alright? He looked at me, and I could see his eyes reddened because of crying and probable wiping off of tears. He uttered a few words which I couldn't understand much because of the way his voice chocked and faded into a whisper because of intense outburst of emotions. I had it in my mind that the students had to appear in some competitive examination on that day so I suspected that he too might have had his test day. So I enquired if he didn't do well in the exams to which he nodded positively and added that he had worked hard for the test but couldn't do well. I could feel his pain, and expressed sympathy, and then tried my best to pacify him with examples of how people have failed and risen stronger. However, he was too much worried about how his parents would react, and how his life would be thereafter. He felt it was the end of his happy life. I had to convince him hard that there would be much better waiting for him, and finally he wiped his tears and stopped crying. Soon after, the person who accompanied him, probably his father, signaled to him to get down from the bus; they had reached their destination. This incident left me in deep shock not because the student was highly disappointed and weeping but because of the way he felt that it was the end of his happy life! I couldn't stop thinking about it for the rest of the journey and wanted to get answers on what made him say that; is there anything wrong with our system, especially our educational system, that a single failure is treated as the end of our journey?
In the contemporary world a great thrust is being laid on the importance of education and the detrimental consequences of its absence from our society, rightly so. There are many kinds and varieties of institutional settings present in our system which impart education. The traditional way of education has been through parenting, complemented and supplemented by schooling and now there is a growing trend of private tuition in addition to formal schooling. Before we can draw any parallels and declare one way better than the other, it becomes imperative to ask ourselves: What does education mean? How does it transform an individual? What effect does it have on our society? In short, what purpose is it intended to serve?
Quoting Mahatma Gandhi here to answer the questions asked, he said, "By education, I mean an all-round drawing of the best in child and man in body, mind and spirit". Thus he insists on 'drawing out the best' rather than drawing towards what society perceives to be the best for a child, which in the current scenario seems to be medicine and engineering, at least in India. When a student learns in the school he, in addition to getting formal education, gets to interact with the fellow students, gets to play games, gets to express himself or herself in a creative manner; at school there are opportunities for plays, debates, technical competitions, art related competitions and so on. A school, thus, provides ample openings and opportunities for a student to realize his interests, his true potential, and what he can be best at rather than what we perceive to be best for him irrespective of his uniqueness and talent-orientation. Schooling thus improves the character of the educated.
The recent trend has been to reinforce the learning of students by way of private coaching. Initially, it started to address needs of the weaker students who needed little more individual attention than could be provided at school. But is it turning out the way it was intended?
Private coaching sector is growing at an alarming rate. According to the National Sample Survey Organization, around 7.1 crore Indian children attend some form of private coaching and the percentage of a family's budget spent on such tuitions is around 10 to 11 per cent. The private coaching industry is ever growing. With the nature of the private coaching shifting from centers of learning to centers of minting money, the private coaching system can have severe economic and social implications. Becoming difficult for the poor to allocate some of their hard earned money for their children's private coaching, the private coaching has become a luxury which only rich can afford and thus broadening the divide between rich and poor.
The children who attend both mainstream and supplementary private classes are placed under considerable pressure. The idea that is being propagated by these coaching cartels, and unfortunately bought by majority of us, is that the only way of being successful and happy in life is to crack the competitive exams pertaining to medicine and engineering. This is the basic premise on which these centers thrive. However, low acceptance rates in such exams leave the unsuccessful students dejected and guilt-ridden. So much so that around more than 50 students have committed suicide, in the past few years, succumbing to the necessity of qualifying these exams, in Kota only the coaching hub of India. Those who then choose alternate courses of study are considered as less intelligent, and they often start their educational careers with an untrue belief that they are failures and not choosers. Failure can stigmatize a child and thus the creativity is killed before it booms. Even when the success is obtained it is at too great a cost.
The worst implication of the uncontrolled growth of private coaching sector is the way schools, most important centers of learning, are getting neglected. With most of the students going to coaching classes, they feel that the schools are not so important even when, most of the times, it is the same teachers who teach the students in school, train them in coaching classes also. The teachers allegedly also share the same feeling, and neglect their students in school, thinking that even if they take the school classes lightly, they can teach the students in their coaching classes. Students now skip schools more often than before. This results in degradation of the quality of education in schools, and that too at an additional cost which parents have to bear. This degradation is similar to the degradation faced by public health sector because of the private practice of doctors in our society. In addition to the economic aspect, a child loses his childhood in meddling from one coaching class to other, before and after school hours! When children are away from home most of the time, family bonds of affection are inevitably weakened resulting in various other social problems.
Though the role of private coaching in training students cannot be totally ignored out, we need to understand that majority of these centers are more oriented towards spoon-feeding on how to crack competitive exams rather than draw out the best from a child. And, sadly, it is not just the competitive examination coaching that they offer but they are trying to draw roots as parallel-schools without having characteristics of a school. So unless the civil society comes up with suggestions on how to deal with this issue and regulate these centers, and subsequent implementation of proper and thoroughly debated legislation by the law-makers, the day wouldn't be far when 'we assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock-exchange market.'
The author is a faculty at NIT Srinagar in the department of Chemical Engineering