Karnataka: Hard times

EducationWorld June 2021 | Education News
Reshma Ravishanker (Bengaluru)

FINAL ATMA

Dwindling student admissions in the wake of the 13-months closure of education institutions nationwide to check the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic have sounded a death knell for the state’s estimated 10,000 brick-and-mortar private tutorial centres offering supplementary tutorials, aka coaching, to secondary students preparing for school-leaving board exams and professional education entrance tests. While established national tutorial chains such as Byjus, Aakash, FIITJEE and TIME have successfully switched to online mentoring, smaller proprietorial tutorial centres have not been able to make this switch effectively. With parents succumbing to the intensive advertising of heavyweight tutorial chains promising seamless online classes, many neighbourhood tutorial centres have slumped into bankruptcy.

Usually in April-May, before the start of the academic year in June, private tutorial centres in the state — especially its admin capital Bengaluru — are abuzz with parents and students queuing up for admission. This year, there is an estimated 30-40 percent decline in applications. With the national CBSE and CISCE boards canceling class X and class XII board exams, and professional entrance exams such as NEET, IIT-JEE and CET postponed indefinitely in anticipation of a third wave of the pandemic, parents and students are adopting a wait and watch approach.

Usually in April-May, before the start of the academic year in June, private tutorial centres in the state — especially its admin capital Bengaluru — are abuzz with parents and students queuing up for admission. This year, there is an estimated 30-40 percent decline in applications. With the national CBSE and CISCE boards canceling class X and class XII board exams, and professional entrance exams such as NEET, IIT-JEE and CET postponed indefinitely in anticipation of a third wave of the pandemic, parents and students are adopting a wait and watch approach.

“Since March 2020, private coaching centres in the state have been shut, opening briefly during November-February. With the state in a lockdown since April, a majority of them have reported a heavy decline in student registrations. Over the past year with schools and the government cancelling exams, parents and students have not taken studies seriously. A majority of parents assume that next year will be more of the same and students will be passed without writing board exams. We tried to make a switch to online tutoring. But the response from parents and students is not encouraging. They are reluctant to pay full fees for online classes. We have had to offer fee rebates even though we have invested substantially in digital infrastructure and teacher training to provide online education,” says Rajeev Ranjan, founder of Brilliant Academy, a private tutorials chain in Bengaluru.

Moreover with intermittent state government-mandated lockdowns of business and industry resulting in job losses and/or falling household incomes, parents are unwilling to pay private school tuition and supplementary tuition fees in addition. According to Harish Kumar S, a teacher at Aspire Tutorials, Bengaluru which coaches students for junior college (class XI-XII) exams and the state CET (Common Entrance Test), middle and lower middle class parents have suffered significant jobs and income loss during the pandemic.

“Pre-pandemic, we had 45 students per batch. Now it is around 10- 15. Even for the few admissions, we have managed, parents are asking for fee discounts. Many small businesses have remained shut for most of the year and labour in private companies have not been paid for months. With parents not paying full fees and banks reluctant to lend, we can’t afford to invest sufficiently in online education,” says Kumar.

The consequence of decades of failure to invest in high-quality teacher training institutions — the majority of the country’s 17,503 teacher training colleges are shoddy, ill-equipped and under-supervised institutions providing distance learning programmes —resulted in mushrooming of a large number of for-profit tutorials/coaching centres.

India’s private tutorials sector, aka coaching centres, employ tens of thousands of tutors and teachers and chalk up an aggregate revenue of $40 billion (Rs.296,000 crore) per year. A 2015 study conducted by the National Sample Survey Office indicates that three out of five school students in India attend after-school coaching centres or take home-based supplementary tuition. The pandemic-triggered 13-months shutdown of all education institutions has severely impacted this industry and thrown it out of gear.

Since coaching centres are not legally required to register with the state’s education ministry, they don’t qualify for government aid. For instance, though there are an estimated 10,000 private coaching centres in Karnataka and 500 in Bengaluru, only 28 are registered with the education ministry. “This means that government does not recognise them and they are not eligible for any financial support. Private tutoring and coaching centres have sprung up in huge numbers in urban and semi-urban areas. With most schools not having good teachers and unable to provide individual attention to ensure good learning outcomes, parents routinely sign up children for supplementary tutoring-coaching,” says Prof. A.S. Seetharamu, former professor at the Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru and currently education advisor to the Karnataka government.

In effect, because of chronic under-investment in public education and teacher training, for-profit coaching centres large and small have emerged as informal parallel primary-secondary schools and colleges. Now with the pandemic having forced the prolonged closure of schools and cancellation of highly competitive board and college entrance exams, India’s estimated 65,000 coaching schools have lost their sheen and only the fittest with staying power and technology will survive. 

Also Read:
Bengaluru parents prefer homeschooling over online classes for children

Dwindling admissions threaten survival of Bengaluru’s private tutorials

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