Are coaching classes such a bad thing?

9 May

Since social media is supposed to be such a great place to crowdsource wisdom, I turned to it with a daring question I had in mind.

 Controversial, but I really could not go along with the common view on Coaching Classes. 

So, I asked my Twitter Timeline:





Would it surprise you to know that I think coaching classes are a great concept?

11:47 AM – 13 Apr 13 ·


Not surprisingly, the first response came from a friend, a student and a dedicated education policy analyst.




Krupakar Manukonda @Krupakar_m

Yes, a surprise and I disagree “@Meetasengupta: Would it surprise you to know that I think coaching classes are a great concept?”



Since he used to be a student, I had to pull his leg a bit while indulging in some teachergiri ;) 



meetasengupta @Meetasengupta

@Krupakar_m why am I not surprised that you disagree before asking why? He he!



Now came an interesting one.. Schools that don’t need affiliations.. rather clever.. in a few words he called some schools mere coaching classes, and no more. 



Shubhashish @shubHASHISH

@Meetasengupta Yeah… schools who don’t need affiliations.


This is true, some , nay many schools do operate merely as classes that teach to a test and no more. On the other hand, coaching classes often grow into schools as they expand their scope and scale..this is when they need to officially affiliate with an examination board. Till they seek such affiliation, they can continue to ‘coach. Very insightful comment -laying bare the fact that education, it seems is untrammeled by the need to report to an authority, while assessments need to be linked to a standardising authority. (Of course the RTE act is seeking to redress this in ways it deems fit, despite the many gaps and flaws)


Krupakar Manukonda @Krupakar_m

@Meetasengupta reasons can be (m)any, but I never supported such adhoc boosters


Another interesting perspective.. Krupakar rightly points out that these are boosters – they do improve the achievement grades of the students, but they are ad hoc..not a systemic or sustainable improvement in education levels. Coaching classes are like a vitamin booster shot that do not address the real problems in diet but cover up for deficiencies.


Smita Prakash @smitaprakash

@Meetasengupta i never went to one but I could pursue a career coz I sent kids to coaching classes. 

This is true for many of us..coaching classes were not a part of our growing up, but their value was clear to us. They brought a sense of discipline, a routine, and a rhythm to the drudgery of studying. Parents could then concentrate on value added conversations with their children or on other priorities while the child was working with professionals. Many coaching clasess genuinely add value in ways that schools cannot. They are not always mere cramming factories, some are run by those with a genuine love for the subjects they teach. While these may be in the minority, and money may be the key incentive to run a coaching class, it is often true that students take these classes more seriously than they take classes at school due to tighter ranges, smaller group sizes and the nature of the committment and investment in tuition and coaching classes. This is what parents find that they can depend on as they create more balanced lives for all. 





Gappistan Radio @GappistanRadio

@Krupakar_m @Meetasengupta I think all coaching classes need to be shut down!


Many do have very strong opinions about coaching classes, seeing them as unnecessary, and more than that – damaging to the education system. 



Krupakar Manukonda @Krupakar_m

@GappistanRadio banning is extreme but we can challenge them and design unpredictable exams. @Meetasengupta


Now this was good..the only reason coaching classes exist is that students seek to improve achievement via grades in examinations. These exams are designed in such a manner that it is possible to coach a student to reach that single goal. If examinations were designed better, coaching classes for rote learning would find themselves made redundant (at worst)  or, would have to transform themselves from memorisation shops to centres of enhanced or excellence in learning  (at best) . This can only be good for education. If examinations are designed to test for originality, creativity, analytical ability rather than only  test for information, then clearly the role of coaching classes will have to change. Those that remain rote learning shops will have to shut down – there would be no demand for them as the premium for information as education would go down. Once examinations start rewarding thinking rather than knowing, the incentives will change and the role of coaching colleges will have to change. 



Krupakar Manukonda @Krupakar_m

@GappistanRadio for me, coaching classes are performance enhancement drugs. When eligibility is nothing but affordability. @Meetasengupta


Gappistan Radio @GappistanRadio

@Krupakar_m @Meetasengupta Interesting way to put it, “Performance enhancement drugs”.. I agree..

Yes, coaching classes do improve performance, but are they really drugs or practice sessions? Would one want a cricketer to go to cricket school and not have a customised coach? Would you grudge Sachin Tendulkar sessions with his personal coach and physio team? Could Dravid have become who he was just by going to cricket school with a regimented timetable, set practice sessions where he may or may not get a turn and class sizes of forty or more? Was coaching wrong for them, even as it enhanced their performance. 


There is much to be said in favour of coaching classes if (and IF) one accepts the construct that achievement on a single parameter – marks – means much and needs investment. 



V K Madhavan @vkmadhavan

@Meetasengupta Coaching classes surely cannot be good for stuff that children should routinely be learning in school!


This too speaks to the core of the problem with the system that fails to deliver. If coaching classes are required to fulfill the role of schools, then the double investment of time and money is sheer waste. The resources could have been put to better use. It is terrible when children go to school just for the attendance and certification but then have to trudge to coaching classes to learn what should have been taught at school, spending money that could have funded other things for the family. It changes attitudes at school, in coaching classes and translates to attitudes as work. If schools do not perform as they are supposed to, it is tantamount to stealing from the generation they were supposed to foster. 



SarrajuNarasingaRao @syrinje

@Meetasengupta Coaching for what? Voice? Parenting? Time management? IIT entrance? Tennis?


It is true that coaching is about working towards specific targeted goals in a time bound manner. It is not meant to be a substitute for education, it is a supplement for specific skills that explore and hone the potential of an individual in ways that standardised schooling cannot. In practice, it may not always be used so, but it often is – and adds variety to the repertoire of learning activities that a child can access. Schools may not have the resources or the time to teach a talented dancer ballet or bharat natyam; a talented sportsman squash or swimming, or a talented mathematician advanced math. These talents will need specialised help. Yes, IIT coaching is also a special skill and not every student is able to build on the CBSE syllabus, read on ahead and be able to manipulate what they have learnt without help. The obsessive and stressful nature of the IIT entrance examination, and other such has more to do with scarcity of good institutions and a paucity of accessible seats than with the institution of coaching. 


To him, I replied not with all that I have said above, but with a simple counterpoint. 


meetasengupta @Meetasengupta

@syrinje that’s just it, there is choice!


Coaching classes are about extending the range of things that a child can do. Some rare schools may have the resources and time to offer a very wide range of learning options across the spectrum of art, sports, academics, literature,dance, music, media, debate, philosophy, science, social service etc. Most schools do not and focus on a few. Options not offered by the schools are accessible via coaching classes. It is, say, school plus. Just more focused. 


I don’t think my erudite friend was convinced..


SarrajuNarasingaRao @syrinje

@Meetasengupta Erm. That’s no answer. If it’s coaching to supplement school education or “crack” entrance tests, it’s a terrible idea.


Ah, now he speaks his objection. Yes, if coaching is used to supplement school it is a terrible idea – especially if it is in the same area that the school is already supposed to cover. So, if a child has a terrible or non existent geography teacher, and needs to go to coaching class to understand what was to have been covered at school, that is indeed a shame. That not only highlights the deficiencies of the school in that subject, but also highlights the fact that the student’s functional literacy, self sufficiency, motivation and drive, ability to analyse, research and pull in resources to help them achieve self determined goals is seriously impaired. 


Did I hear laughter somewhere? Yes, that is where you have understood the problem. 


Neither our schools, nor our coaching classes are creating healthy, independent thinking human beings who are able to use their formal education to make complex choices. The system is designed to create replicator robots. Individual teachers who promote excellence are the saving of the system, which on the whole tends to stifle and subdue in the interests of conformity. 


The debate continues to rage on..Our words and our actions reveal the dichotomy. While we may bemoan and berate these coaching classes, we continue to send our children to them, making it a billion dollar (and more) industry. 


There are enough reasons to support the coaching industry if one thinks of the individuals who participate in it.. If I were a great teacher, then what would I choose? Would I chose the autonomy, money and yes – respect that a coaching class would get for me when I demonstrate the value I can add to students. Should ask Shri Bansal, who is seen also on hoardings in Kota, or the brothers who started VidyaMandir classes. Exceptional teachers, getting their due, helping their students achieve their goals. Could that be wrong? If I were a student and I wanted an enhanced learning experience that reached out to me, then what are my options? If I wanted easy entry and exit options of learning experiences, if I wanted focused goal oriented teaching – then what are my options? Coaching classes do have a role to play here too. As a parent, knowing how tough life can be if you miss chances in a hierarchical society even by a sliver, parents would like to support (shall we say push?) their child to over-achieve. A parent who wants ‘success’ for their child – what are the options for helping the child to perform better? A coaching class is about specialist performance enhancement. 


But are coaching classes fair? They do increase schisms in societies where the rich can afford better teaching via these classes and the poor have to do with schools or other local options. But that is true for all education resources, not just coaching classes. 


Do coaching classes have a downside? Of course they do.. else, why would there be so much opposition to it from the intelligentsia? Apart from the socio-economic divide, coaching classes have been known to have a negative impact on school lessons. Students tend to be less engaged in class when they know that their real learning will happen in coaching class, often disrupting school lessons. Teachers too, especially before the law banning them from teaching tuitions after school (do bans work?) often teach better in coaching classes than they do in seemingly thankless routine classrooms. Those who deride coaching classes also dislike the linear goal orientation at the cost of play or social learning which is an essential part of education. The emphasis on a single goal creates what lay observers loosely call ‘functionally autistic’.. not a technical term at all. 


Coaching classes are the symptom of the real malaise – the lack of adequate quality education leading to the extreme race for the few good opportunities. This works its way back into the schooling system where the only skills that count for many are the ability to ace an examination at the cost of all else, often even ethics (as manifest in widespread cheating). Coaching classes are but one scaffold in the Grand National Quest to be, above all, Competitive. 


Darwin, I guess, would be interested in this version of Survival of the Fittest. 


(Personal Note: Apologies for the gap last week, this one is double the length to make up for it :-) And for those who think that having a conversation on twitter and writing it up is easy, I assure you, I have learnt from this one – it is not)



This was published in the Times of India Blogs on May 07, 2013 and is linked here

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