The 5000 Cr+ IIT JEE Coaching Industry: A Product of the War against it?

posted Aug 8, 2016, 11:01 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Apr 23, 2017, 4:33 AM ]

Noticed this article about JEE candidates reducing a while back.
The data analysis and interpretation (not the data itself) is actually bogus for a number of reasons, but that is not the point here. Think about it. 1.3 million candidates appeared for the first phase of the Joint Entrance Exam.
Even if only the top 10 PCM students from each of the CBSE/CISCE schools combined filled up the form, it would amount to not even 200k students. Double that number to include the relatively better state board schools and you still end up with barely 400k. And that’s being extremely generous because the reasonably good schools are normally the central syllabus ones. Except for those who make it to the IITs, NITs, IIITs, BITs and a few others; the vast majority will end up joining the club of unemployable Indian engineers who in all likelihood, would have been better off with much reviled vocational education at an ITI instead.
Who managed to convince all these million plus people that it is a good idea for them to go through this race which in all likelihood leads to nowhere?
I say 5000 Cr+ instead of 10000 Cr+ because the coaching fee stated in the article sounds a little over the top. Why does such a parallel coaching industry need to thrive in the first place, when there are hardly any good schools? I guess it has something to do with the lack of liberalization in the education sector and the amount of regulations a school has to handle. Also, this wouldn’t be profitable if this coaching actually moved into the schools. If you're a school and you pay a coaching teacher > 2L a month you'll have a scrutiny notice at your doorstep the next day.
Indian educators at most levels are incapable of using their brains which is why neither the syllabus, nor the assessment style evolves over decades. Which is one of the reasons why all sorts of coaching has flourished.
This huge 5000 Crore + Coaching industry for engineering entrance (which now offers 4 year coaching programs to steal the best years from teenagers) is actually the creation of unimaginative academics (like PCM professors and MHRD ministers and bureaucrats) trying to wage a misguided war against them, by making papers all the more lengthy and/or difficult, which in turn has only created more business for these centers. The most creative of their experiments so far, has been to do silly things like experimenting with using unreliable school exam scores, which just created more business for coaching centers who promptly rolled out class 11-12 material as well. FIITJEE now advertises the CBSE and ISC scores of the candidates enrolled there. And apparently there are some differences in the syllabus of the two phases involved with the first round containing everything prescribed the NCERT for Class 11 and 12 (from what I managed to gather). There are extra topics like Communication systems, 3D Geometry, more chemical reactions and what not. Another Golden Goose of an opportunity for coaching center owners to sell material for. And more pointless memorization.
I am not suggesting a reduction in the difficulty level. Those questions actually forced people to think, unlike the school-exams which were almost completely recall based. But why not just rationalize the volume of the syllabus and remove some of the unnecessary parts which require lots of memorization. IMHO this is true mostly for Chemistry (though it could be just me). Is all of this really required.
This kind of a syllabus creates and ideal formula for all sorts of coaching centers to thrive by teaching bizarre chemical reactions and organic mechanisms and tricks which are neither appropriate for the level, nor required in many tech/engg fields. Furthermore, it reduced Science to a bunch of tips and tricks with little time to appreciate practical aspects, which is why India fares rather poorly in the practical sections of the Physics and Chemistry Olympiads as answers by Olympiad participants here suggest. Maybe, the first step of the syllabus setting process, should be for IITs to think of the kind of student they really want to admit in the first place.

Here's a snapshot of the Chemistry syllabus:
Also, I am not really familiar with how exactly the process works now, or how it has evolved over the years but is there really a need to make papers long and tough, when, after so many lakhs of students in coaching centers scoring just 30% or so, places a student in the top 10k (out of 1.5L, who in turn have been pre-screened from over a million students). Surely, it won’t hurt or change anything to make some changes which just shift this curve right-wards. So that those who get in are less burnt out and those who don’t, have relatively less invested in terms of time and energy.
Plus, if one looks at the bunching of scores around the point where people just about make the cut. Given how the scores are bunched around a very low mark, with very little dispersion. Who will be so bold as to assert that the one who scores 30 is really much better than those scoring 27?
This fear of coaching centers is largely unwarranted. Even with so many of them around, even in the CBSE class 12 exam, only about 12.5% of the (passed) candidates actually scored more than 73 in Mathematics(before the board generously bumped them up). The median score in ISC-2016 Mathematics was something like 65. And these are the two boards which have a much higher selection rate than others.

Take a look at how board exam scores at the Grade 12 level are quite low (in a rather elementary exam, even after inflation):

I took a quick look at how the question paper looks now, and though much of it looks like greek to me, I couldn’t help noticing how a candidate has really just 3-5 minutes per question. Is this really a desirable trait, given that no serious research, engineering or creative and analytical thinking can be done under such heavily time-constrained conditions. Such an extreme focus on “speed”, I suspect, makes it all the more necessary for people to require extreme coaching which drills them to simply recall stuff from a huge hash map of past problems.
One more observation was that it seems to be completely based on computer gradable MCQs. Obviously, they are quite difficult as the scoring stats show, but I wonder if MCQs can completely test the ability to prove, visualize, describe and draw. Surely, one can (and possibly, should) have a couple of pages of narrative answers to test for those skills. Or even, just force a student to show his working for a few of the MCQs. That will limit the manual correction work significantly as well, since a script marker just has to go through a page or two, validating the working for questions where the answer has already been corrected. But at the same time it will indicate the student's ability to structure out logic and working appropriately.
Coaching is not necessarily bad, some of the teachers are actually very good and much better than what you’d find in the best of schools. Not all of them are intense slaughter houses like the Andhra ones. In fact the 200 (or 250) hours I spent over a year and a half in one of these taught me a lot more than 200+ days spent in school in the same period. But there are 2 reasons why this is worth a thought.
- lakhs of students, even those without the relevant interest or aptitude, are enrolled in them specially in places like AP, Kota and Delhi. All academic aspects and issues aside, it is really a kind of “academic child abuse”. Not that any of it can entirely go away, as the competition will always remain, but at least there can be some effort made in reducing the amount of syllabus, esp the parts which are quite pointless.
- those who get in. Often, there’s a burn-out. Wouldn’t one rather optimize this channelization of “academic” energy to say, the 3rd or 4th year instead.
- the plight of those who tried but didn’t get in will hopefully be a bit less. And people will see less of need for these horrible torture chambers like the ones in Vizag/Vijayawada where people go through ten hours of coaching a day. Word will go around that 18 months of preparation doesn’t help much more than say, 1 year. Good. Coaching won’t go away. It need not. But even if the intensity reduces by 25% it is a huge gain for everyone involved.
- foreign universities are actively recruiting in India, offering full scholarships. And quality private players are slowly coming into the Indian market. IITs have survived not because of anything really worthwhile they add to their intake (barring some departments which do an exceptional job) but because for a long time, they simply had a monopoly on a large fraction of the good students in the country who did not have much exposure to alternatives. There is little done by the institutes to cater to the academic aspirations of their students. A lot of the flexibility features such as "minors", which are now being advertised; are actually quite hard to benefit from - only a few manage to do so.

This monopoly on bright students will not last too long, as a lot of the best schools, now counsel their students how to take SAT and head for UG abroad; and a lot of smart students from top urban schools will not see any great benefit of going through such a tiresome process specially when you have little control over what course you might end up with. Smart students from rural areas are anyway missed out on, unfortunately, because there is a huge disconnect between their local syllabus and what entrance exams require (but that is a much harder pool to identify and tap into).
The Math Olympiads and Informatics Olympiads (Algorithm design) are great examples of exams which do a great job of testing brilliance, without having too much of a syllabus in terms of volume.
The reality is that for all these hundreds and thousands of people with engineering degrees, India has very little to show by way of engineering or tech excellence. Possibly because there’s too much energy lost in getting into those degree programs than learning anything there. Countries with far less academic rigor in high school, have outclassed us in every way. The least we can do is to make life a bit easier for the kids who go through this soul draining process where there’s a sheer game of numbers in any case, and the die is heavily loaded even against the best.