Integrated Coaching in Schools – Efficiency or Commerce

2 Mar

Integrated Coaching in Schools – Efficiency or Commerce?

Meeta Sengupta
02 March 2014, 09:35 AM IST

“There will be no after-school class today”

 

As usual, I get much of my information about schools from the people I meet, including mothers at the school gate.

 

“Why?”, I asked.

 

“Haven’t you heard, there was a circular from some government body and they can’t conduct classes for the XYZ competitive examination now”

 

“But the other children are not interested in doing this work and they are only working with the same syllabus and textbook!”

 

“I don’t know. The children were enjoying the classes. But now it is not allowed”

 

This was a few months ago. Another circular was issued this week (by the CBSE) banning “commercial” use of classrooms for IIT-JEE (Will there be one soon saying that school premises cannot be used for summer school? Or community activities that will need some payment to cover costs?)

 

It raises a few questions – First of course – why is a board of examinations talking about school timetabling? Is it not upto the school to set its own timetables? How and when did the right to decide what happens in a classroom get taken away? This has been a slow and steady attrition of school autonomy as has been seen in the admissions cases in Delhi.

 

A school and a teacher must have the right to decide what works best for the students they have taken responsibility for as long as they adhere to the standards set for them. Any micro management of classroom time gives the teacher community leeway to merely read out the textbook and do no more – indeed, they could claim that they have permission to do no more than that. It is also extremely insulting to a highly trained and experienced (many are excellent) cadre to distrust their commitment and engagement with their students.

 

Taking away school autonomy to run their classes and insisting that all classes across the country run to the same script does not allow any attempt at improving student learning outcomes beyond the average (read mediocre). Where is the incentive or even permission to innovate, to improve, to respond, to challenge and to explore? This is the death knell of learning for growth.

 

The latest circular does exactly this by disallowing additional teaching during school time. It effectively bars schools from enhancing standards that have been prescribed at the lowest common denominator across the country. Schools that seek to add value are not allowed to do so.. they must teach only to the prescribed level, the rest is effectively proscribed.

 

A move against commercialising education or a move against any efficiencies in the private sector of education? They do not ban coaching for IIT-JEE (nor should they) – the ban is merely on the efficient use of class time and student effort. Consequently (and does anyone ever think this through?!!!) the life of a student becomes one long haul from school to coaching class and then homework and revision while doing their daily tests and preparation for the coaching class. Any integration of learning that could have eased their lives is now barred.

 

In a perfect world I would whole heartedly support having a system that requires no preparation for examinations. I would even, in principle, support a ban on all exam preparation. Students either know their stuff or they don’t – and any test is a stepping stone to identifying gaps for further work, or for choice in moving towards an area of aptitude or away from one there is clearly no talent. Schools are supposed to prepare students for life, and tests in life rarely come with a timetable.

We are nowhere near that utopia yet, so let us come back to real life.

 

There will always be arguments on both sides. Does coaching give an advantage to students who can afford it? Yes, of course. Is it a fair advantage? I could argue either side. At the end of the day people should be able to spend their money as they choose – there is no getting away from that. But does this circular do away with that advantage? No – it does not touch it. It merely says – reduce efficiencies. The rich who can allocate a car and driver (or adult) to their children will have less tired children who can work while travelling. The middle class and poor who strain to pay fees will have to depend on public transport (as many of us did) and spend more time at bus stops and stations – tired and hungry – and stressed about all the work they need to catch up on after they reach home in the late evening having done a second shift at the coaching class.

 

There is a chance that the schools are not as ‘commercial’ as they fear. There is a chance that they do allow cross subsidisation and a scholarship student joins the class with the others. But this is not a model that is explored or discussed. (Was there any consultation? A process for seeking a solution that works for the people who have to deal with the consequences?) I am not convinced that this is an attempt to get rid of the ills of commercialisation rather than undermine commerce itself. (Schools are not for profit entities – technically – anyway).

 

The real issue here is of standards and quality. A system that truly looks to support growth of its students will try to support more of its students to access better learning rather than cutting back on learning opportunities. Here it is a clear case of asking schools to focus on narrower (and shallower) learning outcomes (else why would an examination board intervene) while not engaging in the more meaningful debate about the range of abilities and avenues for fostering talent via a range of alternate examinations and support structures.

 

These competitions are intense. This is why they take four to six years of preparation to be able to get ahead of millions of others in a situation where there are few hundred or a few thousand credible positions to fill. If there were enough quality avenues would there be this intense need to get into the few good places? Yes of course the government is building more capacity – more IITs and medical schools. This is going to  take a few years. Can this circular proscribing learning for vulnerable and ambitious teenagers be issued after the capacity for a good education for all has been created?

 

 

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/integrated-coaching-in-schools-efficiency-or-commerce

 

 

 

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