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What's wrong with our educational system?

What's wrong with our educational system?

Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: The Organiser
Date: July 30, 2000

There is something basically wrong with our educational system and it is time that our experts gave some attention to it. The recent clash between the Government of Maharashtra and the head of a coaching institution is symptomatic of what is wrong with this system. It is to this that our attention should be focussed.

Tuition classes were a rarity in India in the thirties and forties. Those who were weak in a subject would go to a tutor and oftener the tutor, would come to the student's home and the fees were manageable. Tutorials were beginning to sprout, but they had not yet become fashionable. More often a student felt a bit ashamed to admit that he was getting tuition. It was an admission of intellectual weakness. But why should there be need of private coaching institutions?

Presently tutorial classes have spread all over the country like Udupi restaurants. It is claimed that in Mumbai City alone there are as many as 1,000 coaching classes administering to a wide section of the student population. The fees charged by them are exorbitant. Some coaching schools take students for a fee of Rs 10,000 a year. The "better" ones can charge up to Rs one lakh a year. That would be more than what a middle class clerk would take home as his annual wages.

It is not uncommon at the HSC level for a student to be charged Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 per month per subject. If he has ambitions to join a medical or engineering college and wants to score a minimum of 97.5 per cent, his parents may wish to have him tutored for three months preceding the final examination in three subjects. They would then-have to fork out as much Rs 60,000, which is a king's ransom.

Coaching institutions advertise their wares brazenly. In recent months one such institution must have spent at least a couple of crore rupees on advertisements alone. One can their guess what it rakes in every year by way of income.

It used to be argued in the past that at the rate colleges are admitting students to their classes it has become humanly impossible for a teacher to give individual attention to students. What kind of attention can one possibly give with a class overflowing with more than a hundred students? No student can possibly be attentive in such a crowd and no teacher can possibly succeed in communicating to his listeners, let alone have eye-to-eye contact, with them.

But what is true of college classes is now becoming equally true of coaching classes as well. It is an open secret that several coaching classes admit as many as 50 to 100 students. Coaching has become a business enterprise.

But such is the phoney reputation that coaching classes have attained that students first get enrolled into colleges primarily for getting the necessary licence to appear for university examinations and then start bunking classes to go in for coaching. This make colleges the laughing stock of the educational system.

But why, it may be asked, would students wish to take coaching when colleges themselves should give them the requisite instructions? The simple answer is that colleges provide education in a general sense: coaching classes prepare students to fight in a highly competitive world.

In a society where openings are few, where caste reservations make a mockery of talent, survival depends on getting the highest rankings. It is a cruel, cruel world in which students- their unhappy parents-we the unwilling victims.

When admission to colleges goes strictly by marks'- holistic approach to a students being is strictly forbidden-then what prevails is the law of the jungle and the survival not of the fittest but the richest.

A cynical prescription is to suggest that colleges themselves should turn into coaching classes where students come not to be educated but to be turned into competitive monsters. If that is the very negation of the purpose of education, all that one can say is: so be it.

But there is as yet another prescription that can be tried out in the age of information technology and the internet. And that is to scrap the institution of colleges altogether, and make education d lectures at every level-available in cassettes. Lectures on any subject, be it chemistry, mathematics, history or economics, given by the very best in the educational field, could be made available in cassettes, at a nominal fee so that anyone wishing to get a degree, could stay at home and in his or her own time and inclination listen in to the audio-visual without having to attend a regular class.

This is long distance education at its best.

Examinations can be held not on any fixed date, but whenever a student feels he can confidently appear for it. That would reduce tension, make markings meaningful. Today an examiner is asked sometimes to go through a hundred examination papers a day and one can easily imagine the fatigue and the consequent subjectivity that follows in the matter of giving marks.

If such a system is followed corruption in the system too will gradually get eliminated. The main objection to this system is that it defies uniformity, that there is no way of 'comparing' the competence of students one against the other, which becomes only possible when all students appear for the same examination and the same set of papers at the same time.

There is something to be said for this objection, which has its own validity. But at a time when technology is setting old values on their heads, one has to accept reality and use the information revolution that is on us to our advantage.

The issue on hand is how to find solutions to the educational malaise that is currently affecting us. Instead of cursing the darkness it is more to the point to light a wick. The advantage in attending classes in a college is the opportunity one gets to meet one's peers in a atmosphere of equality. That by itself is an education of which we are so little aware of. But, as I has been said, drastic diseases call for drastic remedies. There is no way of getting rid of coaching classes. But long distance education at reasonable cost can make them irrelevant without an angry shot being fired at them. That may bring our ancient educational institutions to a sad end as centres of learning. But colleges can still continue to exist if they remain content with being centres of learning and not arenas of commercial battle.

The challenges posed by coaching classes must be faced constructively, and not by suits filed in courts of law.

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