Viru Sahastrabudhhe, or Virus, the popular character from the movie 3 Idiots used the example of the cuckoo bird usurping the crow’s nest to explain how students would need to crush competition to go ahead in life. It holds true when you have merely 11,000 seats across the 22 IITs with 12 lakh applicants every year.
‘Compete or die’ is the mantra that is followed when it comes to competitive examinations like engineering or medical. More so in the case of engineering, because among the 22 odd Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the students only wish to go to the top 4-5 based on the location and placement history.
When you want a majority of your students to get through to the IITs, a feat that only Super30 has managed year after year, you try to get only the best ones.
Ads splashed across newspapers state that PACE IIT and Medical, which is a coaching institute for competitive examinations, will hold a scholarship/entrance examination called ‘Ace of Pace’. This will be a test for entry into their engineering coaching institutes across multiple cities in the country.
A few miles away from Mumbai, Paresh Tutorials is preparing students for the entrance examinations of top engineering coaching institutes for Mumbai and Kota. This centre that opened two years ago, operates during the summers and monsoons to only help students get into the top coaching schools. They, independently, do not offer any engineering coaching.
Cut to four years ago. It was April 2013. This was the first year that the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) the test for admissions into the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) saw a big shift in the examination pattern. Under the advice of the then human resource development minister Kapil Sibal, a new structure was launched where the marks of the Class XII board examinations were to be considered. Further, All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) was scrapped and JEE Mains were introduced with 40 percent weightage for Class XII marks.
This was hailed as a futuristic move aiming to strike at the root of the issue, the private coaching institutes. These changes, he had said, would shift the focus to regular school curriculum and thwart the growth of coaching. Unfortunately, the coaching schools quickly responded by changing their curriculum to include Class XII syllabus as well.
Four years later, in 2017, the size of the engineering coaching industry has grown to almost Rs 1.2 lakh crore, according to various estimates. And students are going nowhere.
Aakash Chaudhry, Director, Aakash Educational Services (popularly called Aakash Institute) said that their enrollments are growing by almost 15 to 20 percent every year. “We entertain students from as early as class 8 or 9. Scholarships are also offered to students through the Talent Test that we conduct every year,” he said.
These scholarships, which are essentially fee waivers for the coaching provided at the institute, are dependent on how a student performs at the test.
The JEE examination has been split into two parts, JEE Main and JEE Advanced. Those who secure a rank among the top 2.2 lakh students are eligible for the JEE Advanced examination which is the entry criteria for getting admission into the IITs. For the final admission into the IITs based on JEE Advanced, a student must be among the top 20 percentile in their respective boards, a cut-off for which is released by the authorities every year.
Kota in Rajasthan is considered to be the hub for the IIT coaching industry in India. Thousands of engineering aspirants join hundreds of coaching institutes and integrated institutes that offer both — coaching for engineering entrance as well as regular curriculum for Class XII. Despite the extreme conditions and peer pressure in the city that has also lead to a spate of suicides by students, it is still the top destination every year, even as numbers are coming down.
Chaudhry, for instance, said that their centre in Kota experienced a lower traffic than previous years. A few other officials from popular Kota institutes said that while the thrust on coaching has not come down, there has been a 5-10 percent dip in the students coming to Kota, since parents want them to study at their place of residence itself.
In Mumbai, it is a different story. Integrated colleges that had both regular junior college (Class XI and XII) in the morning and coaching classes in the evening have been facing trouble. A case has been filed at the Bombay High Court on this matter and a final decision is pending.
Chhaya Shastri, Non-Independent, Non-Executive Director at MT Educare and a mentor at their entrance examination coaching arm Lakshya Institute said that traditionally India has been a hub for mentoring and coaching.
“Yes, there is a rise in the enrollments. Because formal schools are unable to cater to the IIT exams. It involves analytical ability and it is not possible to be imparted at routine hours of the school. But the days of unorganised players is diffusing,” she said.
Apart from regular coaching, Lakshya Institute also offers a revision tool called Robomate to help students revise the portions at home. Shastri said that apart from hand-holding and monitoring the student, they also have invested heavily in training and development for the teachers.
For students, this is where they spend the whole day. Cracking one of the toughest examinations of the country is no mean feat. Sarvesh Mehtani, the JEE Advanced Topper said that Lakshya was like home during JEE preparations. I went home only to sleep. There were either lectures or something important happening all the time. Discussions and doubt solving were always going on and I did not want to miss it. The teachers themselves forced us to take a break with a little fun activity. We played cricket or went to a movie. Motivation happened naturally since everybody was into preparation mode,” he added.
Until 2012, a student scoring 60 per cent in his/her Class XII board was eligible for a seat in the IITs. There are 32 Boards in India with different patterns of examination and evaluation.
Taking a cue from offline coaching, online institutes have also flourished. Rajshekhar Ratrey, VP Educational Content, Toppr.com said that their user base has grown over 3 times in last 16 months.
Ratrey said that the average age of students enrolling for programmes is 15.5 years and the fee is charged for subscription based on the duration. Further, scholarships in the form of fee waiver are given on a case-to-case basis for deserving and meritorious students.