Have tuitions become a necessary evil in our academic world? Do these centres deliver on what they promise? Why do students seek private coaching?

Shanti, 60, in South Chennai, woke up with a start. It was dark but the bicycles were clashing outside and she heard a couple of car doors slamming. She has had to forgo sleep since the house across was turned into a tuition centre. The “batches” start at 5 a.m. and go on till 8 p.m. on weekdays and all day during weekends. Why do the students need tuitions at all, she asks angrily, wondering where she should take her complaint about the noise.

“The only way I could score maximum was with the help of a private tutor who came home to teach me Kannada,” says Dr. Umanath Nayak, Consultant Head and Neck Oncologist, Apollo Health City, Hyderabad. He chose to study Sanskrit in school in order to score high, but it was taught and was answered in Kannada. When it came to deciding for his son, he took a considered stand, unswayed by the surrounding tuition mania. If a child is doing fairly well academically, sending him to private tuition for better grades is like punishing him for not scoring as well as his peers, he reckons. May be he has other interests, maybe he feels topping is no guarantee for a great future, maybe he is just plain lazy!

Negative impact

Unless the teen is seriously lacking in grades or wants to be proficient in a subject not taught in the curriculum, don’t send him for tuitions, is Dr. Umanath’s advice. “Subjecting him to the mortification of extra tuition — which may be rewarding in terms of better grades, may have an overall negative impact on his psyche in the long term,” he warns. But what do you tell financial consultant Meena who gets a tutor to come home because “her son will not do his home work otherwise?” And students who say that a combination of classroom and tuitions helps them get better clued-in on subjects, three to four hours of private tuition is needed to get doubts clarified, concretise everything they learn in school.

Bina George, Center Director, Growing Stars, an online tutoring company, sees private tuition as helping children realise their potential. Students need it to supplement knowledge and to compensate skill gaps, she said. She doesn’t believe it reflects badly on school teaching because “children need more practice and additional help for better academic performance.” With computer penetration and video technology, online tutoring is bound to get widespread, since there’s no commuting and it is as effective as home tutoring. “Growing Stars has been in the field of one-on-one online tutoring for 10 years,” she said.

Unregulated

But for now, the system hinges on irony. A student looking for personal attention ends up in a tutoring class that is no less crowded. With no regulation, the strength could go up to a hundred. Many coaching institutions hesitate to include “average” students. Like a shadow, private tuitions go on in tandem from KG to overseas degrees. We have education tourism to mass teaching shops: in Kota for IIT-JEE, in Namakkal and surrounding cities for everything from singing to medical/law/UPSC/MBA. And is there a difference in the teaching methods except drill work?

In a comprehensive analysis, Dr. V.K. Maheshwari, Former Principal, KLDAV(PG) College, Roorkee, terms private tuition as a venture built on profit motive where “quality of education is sacrificed… and charges levied in excess of expenditure on services provided.” Private coaching institutions exploit the prevailing demand for education, he says. Their success comes from the government’s “inability to provide education to everyone who desires it, provide education of quality perceived to be worthwhile.” These centres promise students the limited seats in credible higher institutions and social support for them is pledged by parents willing to meet the high cost. “Is there a mechanism to identify and discourage the mushrooming of such institutions?” asks Dr. Maheshwari.

He short-lists reasons for the burgeoning of tuition centres:

Cut-throat competition born out of parental ambitions to see children in medicine, engineering, civil services, management and accountancy. High school ranks count, so what do parents and children do?

Slow-learners/academically-weak students/those without motivation find no support in packed classrooms and teachers face the Damocles’ sword of “completing portions” hanging above their head.

Brilliant students need further work.

Many parents are unable to help children with home work at specialised levels.

Added to these, are the lengthy curriculum, scarcity of efficient teachers, communication gap between teachers and students, disturbed academic schedules, co-curricular activities that takes the students away from classrooms, tuitions that are seen as a status symbol, preference of some subjects over others, faulty school administration in allotting classes and faulty government policies. Private coaching seems the only solution, Dr. Maheshwari says.

Teaching is bad in general and, coaching ensures passing the exams. Private tutors keep students busy during off hours and, tame unruly ones. If such centres are bad, why haven’t the authorities taken effective steps? Compared to a lot of schools, aren’t coaching institutes better in terms of teaching, dedication of instructors, student-teacher relationship and norms of conducting mock tests? In the current academic environment, private tuitions are a practical necessity. These were the views of high school students about private coaching/tuition centres in Kolkata, recently. Though there seems to be varied reasons for students to seek private tutoring, the predominant one is the need (or craze) to score better.

Extra education?

Oh yes, there are problems. Top-ranking schools provide reference books, Internet and other necessary equipment for developing academic skills. So, why tuitions? The availability of a tutor after school breeds inattentiveness. It is nothing but a need to show off one’s opulence. Sometimes the lessons in school and tuition centres don’t progress simultaneously. Students fail to get the expected marks in school’s surprise tests, and as a result, internal marks plummet. Three to eight hours in a tutorial class is not an answer to poor performance in school. Students just learn the answers, not how to think and correct themselves! Money spent in private tuitions can be saved for higher studies.

Historically, students from remote districts who came to Kolkata for higher studies supported themselves by giving tuitions.

In today’s scenario, “extra education” reaches only those who can pay large sums for it. Some teachers do not give attention to the pupils in class and lure them for private tuitions. Tuition institutes are earning more money than the institutes to which they send their “specially-trained pupils.” The system exhausts the students instead of educating them. We have no choice but to support tuitions until our education system is cleansed.

“Tuition is a personal choice,” says Naveen Mahesh, Director, HLC International, a progressive school in Chennai. “Tuition with the school teacher or with someone who is in consultation with the school teacher can really work wonders.” He doesn’t think highly of tuition centres. “The reason one goes to tuition is personalised attention that works best one-on-one, something alien to 'tuition centres'.”