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RIGOROUS PROGRAMME: Kerala has a network of coaching centres across the State.
THRISSUR: If there has been a singular non-governmental initiative that has overhauled the mindset and domestic investment preferences in education sector in the highly literate State of Kerala in the last one-and-a-half decade, it is the fast-growing enterprise of entrance coaching centres.
An offshoot of the ubiquitous private tuition centres and `parallel' colleges that once dotted the State, the entrance coaching centres have become the most-sought-after `finishing schools' that prepare tens of thousands every year for professional education, particularly in the medicine, engineering and management streams.
Kerala now has a wide network of such centres across the State preparing students to compete mainly for the 2,000-odd seats in the over-a-dozen medical colleges in Kerala and 20,000-odd engineering seats that are available in different parts of the country. These coaching centres also equip the students to compete for seats in other disciplines such as veterinary science, ayurveda, nursing and even law.
Thrissur, the central district of Kerala, has emerged as the prime destination of students seeking entry into the professional courses, their chosen destination being the `P.C. Thomas Entrance Coaching Centre,' literally a one-man industry that churns out hundreds of successful professional education seekers year after year.
There are also other major players in the field like T.I.M.E. and Tandem with branches across the State, Zephyr and traditional players such as Our College, Thiruvananthapuram.
It is a big money game. It is also a sphere of rigour. And there has taken place a kind of meltdown in the coaching centre industry with several of those who came into the field in the hope of making quick money vanishing from the radar without a trace after a few years in operation and those who have opted for the hard way remaining in the field. "There must be quality and commitment if you wish to be a player for a long term in this field," says J. B. Mohan, director, Our College, Thiruvananthapuram, one of the early entrants in the field of entrance coaching.
Rise and growth
The coaching centres were the product of an attitudinal metamorphosis among Malayali parents and students, particularly in the 1990s, from treating the preparation for entry to professional courses as a routine activity to one that calls for an intense and rigorous programme.
Experts attribute this to factors such as the rise of the middle-class, which has identified investment in children's education as the safest way to make the future secure for their families, peer pressure on both the parents and students and the typical desire of the parents to fulfil their unfulfilled dreams through their children.
Lack of awareness among parents about the other career options for their offspring and the absence of alternative investment avenues in Kerala also could be fuelling the mad rush for entrance coaching, says noted economist K.K. George.
As many as 17,000 students, mostly from different parts of the State and some from outside, are undergoing coaching at the P.C. Thomas Centre and the presence of such a huge number of migrant students has almost reshaped the economic structure of Thrissur and brought good times to traders, hotels and transport and entertainment industries.
Billboards announcing availability of paying-guest accommodation for students are now a common sight in front of even some of the old houses in the city. For many of these households where mostly aged people live, it is not only a means to some extra income, but a source of security. But the process has not been without its negative fallout such as pressure on the limited infrastructure of the city.
What the coaching centres essentially strive to do is to enhance the students' capacity to answer the entrance examination questions by repeatedly making them answer the questions of previous years and model question papers.
In general, there is a model examination almost every working day at the entrance coaching centres and a student normally writes 230 examinations a year before the D-day. This intense examination-based preparation has been found to be effective in scoring marks in the State entrance examinations that test memory of the students.
It is the format of the entrance examination that makes the coaching centres relevant to a vast majority of students. The multiple-choice questions that are of an objective type make the task easy for the centres. A crash course in such a centre can result in a marginal increase in the score of a candidate. At the top level even such a marginal increase can cause a major difference in the ranks secured by the candidates.
And that makes all the difference in a common entrance test like the one being conducted by the Commissioner for Entrance Examinations, Kerala.
But it may not be as effective in the recently revamped All-India Entrance Examinations where the focus is now on assessing the students' interest and knowledge of the subject and her/his reasoning capacity through a two-tier tests system. Some of the coaching centres have already redesigned their courses to equip the students to face this new type of entrance examination, which is considered to be more scientific. For they know that this will be introduced sooner or later in Kerala as well.
Not for the poor
Entrance coaching is not the for the poor as it involves hefty sums of money and there are many who think that the coaching boom has only accentuated the existing disparities in the field of higher education. A study conducted by the Kochi-based Centre for Socio-Economic and Environmental Studies, covering those who had gained admission for courses in the medicine stream in 2001, has revealed that admission to medical courses in Kerala is largely restricted to the elite and students from more than 90 per cent of the households are unable to meet the high cost of attending these courses. According to the study, students from rural areas and Government schools and first generation students whose parental education is low also find it difficult to get admission to medical courses, leaving little scope for social occupational mobility.
But Prof. P.C. Thomas, the `Guru' in the field of entrance coaching today, says that no student is denied his services for want of money. "Among the 17,000-odd students who study under me, about a 1,000 enjoy varying levels of fee concessions," he says. Dr. Mohan of Our College says that his institution also offers scholarships to talented youngsters to pursue their ambition for a professional career.
Prof. Thomas is also at pains to explain the initiatives taken by him to address the fear that the entrance coaching centres foster an unhealthy competition among students. "I tell them to compete with each other to become the top in serving others," he says. But here again the spell of competitive spirit in the society is too predominant to be attenuated by such isolated voluntarism, argue critics. Prof. Thomas, however, feels there would be a drastic reduction in the tendency of parents to dump children with no interest and competence in the relevant subject areas at the coaching centres when the new two-tier system of entrance examination takes effect because it is is bound to weed out a large section undeserving students at the qualifying stage itself.
With inputs from J. Ajith
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