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Dark tales in Andhra Pradesh’s IIT success story

A study on secondary education in the State shows coaching starts too early amid immense pressure on students

As the examination season rolls in, nearly 1.5 crore students in India prepare to sit for the board examinations. They are more fortunate than nearly half their cohorts, who will never get to that stage. Among the happiest students will be those who will get admission to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), and among the States, the largest number will be from Andhra Pradesh (AP). Subsequently, many will earn the kind of money that they, and their families, may not even be aware of.

But underlying these grand successes is an ugly story, which emerged during a study on secondary education I conducted in AP in 2018-19. The State owes its distinction in producing the largest number of IIT entrants to two major chains of ‘corporate schools’, which focus on preparing students for the IIT, and failing that, other engineering colleges. These schools had initially been established for Classes XI and XII, but now cover the whole school cycle. Many are residential schools.

 

Ignoring the children’s learning stages, the schools have distorted the curriculum. A principal of a corporate school revealed that coaching for the IIT examination began as early as Class VI. The school focused on physics, math and chemistry, while the mother tongue and social sciences were sidelined. Further, as the school had to ‘complete’ the syllabus prescribed by the State government along with IIT coaching, the syllabi for Classes XI and XII was taught from Class VI onwards too, with 10% of the syllabus being ‘covered’ each year. During interviews, government officials and teachers said that students in such schools did little or no physical or extracurricular activities, and got little rest.

The pressure on students was enormous. As per the principal, students were divided into three ‘levels’ according to ability, and taught separately. There were fortnightly exams and cumulative exams every month, and students were re-allotted to different levels after the latter. The atmosphere was very competitive. The school hours stretched up to nine hours or more, and there were few holidays. There were several cases of student suicides each year, usually following a demotion in the ‘level’. As per the principal, around 20% students were placed at the top level, and of them 15-20% were likely to get admission to the IITs. In other words, after a high level of stress and sacrificing a well-rounded education, 3-4% of the total students got into IITs. How many would have got admission to the IITs with a proper education too, is a matter of conjecture.

A childhood lost

All the students in such schools lost the chance to be children, explore and grow, develop their special talents, and form their unique identity. But for those who did not get admission to engineering colleges, the loss was manifold. They got little support in the school, as the best teachers were deployed to teach the top-level students. Reportedly, the students in the bottom layer were pejoratively called ‘patrons’ by the management, as their parents paid high fees, while their chances of getting into an engineering college were negligible.

 

Behind this story of lost childhoods, and for many students, lost career opportunities too, lay corporate greed and state failure. Corporate greed was visible in aggressive campaigns to enrol students. Teachers at a government school said private school representatives came to the school in January, made lists of good students, contacted parents, and encouraged students to join. An individual who once worked in a corporate school reported that teachers were given targets to enrol students and collect fees, and their salary was withheld if they did not meet them. Norms regarding minimum infrastructure, such as space, sanitation, play-grounds, fire safety etc. were flouted. The maximum fees a school was allowed to charge was ₹4,000 per year, but corporate schools charged extra as coaching fees and for facilities, adjusting the fees to the paying capacity of the area.

In cahoots with government

Government officials, teacher educators, and even panchayat representatives interviewed were aware that the educational practices of corporate schools were questionable, and that they fooled and exploited students and parents. However, regulating such schools was beyond the capacity of the government system. One, at inter-college, or the Classes XI and XII stage, where corporate schools first began, the number of government educational institutions was inadequate. Two, the manpower available for regulation was deficient. At the district level, the senior-most principal of government inter colleges was designated the Regional Inspection Officer (RIO), and was responsible for regulating private schools, in addition to his existing duties. Moreover, because of a lack of manpower, some RIOs had charge of more than one inter-college. For Classes IX and X, education officials remained busy with government schools, and had little time to inspect private schools.

 

Three, the corporate school management exercised considerable influence at the very top levels of government. They were reported to contribute funds during elections, and some had begun political careers themselves. Officials described several instances of political pressure to prevent action against corporate schools. So much so that representatives of small private schools complained that the government favoured corporate schools and discriminated against them. Not surprisingly, little effort had been made to inform people about the problems with corporate schools.

This nasty tale of state collusion with uncaring profit-makers remains hidden as the faces of successful entrants of IITs stare at us from newspaper advertisements every year.

Rashmi Sharma is Senior Visiting Fellow, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) and a former Indian Administrative Service Officer

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 2:38:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/dark-tales-in-andhra-pradeshs-iit-success-story/article30984793.ece

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