Kota, considered as the mecca of entrance exams, especially IIT and medical entrance, is under siege with the rising number of suicides this year. Police put the toll at 14 till now. The Rajasthan government and education and coaching institute officials are meeting soon to discuss way to curb students’ stress. While anti-Kota experts argue that Kota’s cram factories produce groggy, robotic students, who have lost the spirit of enquiry, coaching veterans argue that Kota centres’ attempt to narrow down the gap between school education system and the tough entrance exams, Rajasthan Post finds out more…
Can a meeting of concerned officials crack the cause of the rising number of suicides in the state’s IIT cram factory- Kota and help solve the issue of the irrationally high standards of the JEE entrance exams and its consequent stress on students ?
The Rajasthan government has called a meeting of the Kota district collector Dr Ravi Kumar Surpur and stakeholders in the coaching industry for a meeting in Jaipur on Dec 10 to ponder and find out the best solutions.
Recently as many as three suicides have been reported from Kota, making the government rethink on the enormity of the problem.
Dr Surpur said that guidelines for the coaching institutes and hostels like reducing the stress of students through yoga and watching television have already been laid down by the district administration. But proper implementation and following these guidelines would take some time.
On Dec 10, the state chief secretary, C S Rajan would be meeting education and technical institute officials, counsellors and most importantly coaching institutes’ owners and teachers to discuss the problem.
In October, the Kota district collector had convened an interactive workshop of students, coaching institutes, psychiatrists, hostel owners and other stakeholders, following which, the district administration had issued guidelines to check the number of suicides. Coaching institutes were also asked to submit compliance report within three weeks time.
Kota gets around 1.5 lakh teenagers who enroll in coaching institutes every year with dreams of making it to the prestigious IIT and medical schools throughout India.
Counsellors say the harsh study schedule, high-pressure environment, competitive exams, keeping up with their scores at coaching institutes, the stress of living alone and sometimes untimely love affairs take a toll on many students, pushing some of them to commit suicide.
The police has recorded at least 72 suicide in the past five years, with 14 in the past one year.
Kota has about 40 big coaching centres with a thriving Rs 2,000 crore industry, four times of what each state spends on IITs but only around 25% make it to the premier engineering or medical schools. But Kota institutes boast of high selection rates each year and claims of topper, having studied from one of its many institutes.
But some expert IIT professors say that excessive cramming at these coaching institutes are producing robots, who flip through tonnes and tonnes of practice questions and solve them through set methods. Voicing concern over the lack of spirit of enquiry, they say the present crop of students, manufactured from coaching factories, lack the spirit of innovation and questioning.
Some others say these coaching institutes fail to clear the basic concepts of students as they feel those enrolling themselves must be thorough with their basics. The entrance exams to these coaching institutes and the segregation of classes according to marks obtained in the entrance exams are proof enough that institutes are not here to clear the basic concepts. The level of difficulty start beyond the basic concepts even though the course fees are quite high.
So when the attempt to get in the prestigious institutes is itself mired in many loopholes, so how can one expect students from these coaching centres to be bright and intelligent, question experts.
Some say exam fatigue sets in amongst students as they have to pass through the most difficult and rigorous schedule in their 17 or 18 years of life. So if they clear the entrance exams and get through, some students take it easy in the first year and fall behind.
With an increasing demand to set things in order, the IITs and the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and the companies that hire their graduates have long been complaining and wanting reforms in the current system that they say is producing robots, heavily tutored in cram schools and are not necessarily the most talented.
The human resource development (HRD) ministry is now finding ways to take some of the pressure off candidates and address concerns about the quality of student intake. The main motive is to reduce stress, check coaching dependence without compromising on the standards of the tests.
The JEE is still considered as one of the toughest admission tests with a high level of difficulty, forcing students to resort to intensive coaching modules. But some say the problems of exam pressure and coaching influence on IIT admissions have been there for years now and there are no easy answers.
On a question about the increasing number of suicides in Kota in this year, Naveen Maheshwari of Allen Career Institute said : “Kota gets 1.5 lakh students each year, an adolescent generation, who sometimes get offtrack and find themselves helpless. Students around the nation and even from abroad are under pressure of studies. So stress and pressure is not something which Kota centres have created. These have always been there. Coping alone in a city for the first time also unnerves students. Singling out student suicides of Kota is because of the sheer number here. Also students are under pressure because of the frequent changes in format of the entrance exams, paper leaks, retests, education policy changes and high parental expectations. And also at such an age, love affairs, social media interactions becomes obsessive for some.”
Counsellors say stress is understandable, because of the rigorous routine which starts at 6 am and continues till 8 pm. Also these coaching institutes charge anything between Rs 70,000 and Rs 1.5 lakh every year from students, which plays on students’ mind.
However, officials at Kota coaching institutes argue that despite the high costs, students coming to Kota every year is increasing.
A blog on Resonance Institute’s website, one of the Kota’s top coaching institute, says “the reason for flocking to Kota is a combination of factors that makes this education hub a mandatory stopover for those chasing a seat in top-notch engineering and medical courses. From a rigorous preparation format and better faculty to an unwavering focus on core subjects, all attributes that many find missing in the conventional education system available back home.”
Kota officials hardsell the coaching hub as a bridge that covers the gulf between conventional schooling and the “rigorous” entrance tests, with focus on “application-based understanding” facilitated by IIT and AIIMS graduates as faculty.
Pramod Maheshwari, director of Career Point in Kota and an IIt graduate and which has over 12,000 medical and engineering aspirants, says it is the “wide gap” in the education system that has made coaching centres like his even more relevant in today’s time. “In the board exams if you solve the papers of the last 10 years, you will get through, but the competitive exams test your scientific aptitude and concept application, something that is completely lacking in schools. ”
The blog further quotes Prof Pradipta Banerji, the director of IIT Roorkee, saying “that the entrance exams cannot be blamed because they need to set a very hard paper for what is essentially an “elimination test”.
“In the early days, 75,000 students appeared for the IIT exam and 1,200 got selected, most of them came from urban areas where the schools were very good and there was no need for coaching. But now over 14 lakh students appear for the exam and just 10,000 are selected. They come from both rural and urban backgrounds,” he said.
So can this elimination test, considered as the toughest test of India, be made easier so that our future generation do not become cramming robots but instead inculcate the spirit of inquiry?
Can Kota cram factories, which boasts of highest number of selections for IIT each year, take a backseat and instead help in reforming the road to success for students? Does Kota really care?