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Dark side of the Kota quota

Akhil Mehta investigates the Good, the Bad ,and the Ugly side of the IIT Coaching Class phenomenon that’s mushroomed in Kota

About 40 years ago, the directors of 5 institutes noticed that the number of people who wanted to study there was starting to exceed the number of people who could be trained. So they devised a system, a system which they named the Joint Entrance Examination.

Cut to Year 1981. A mechanical engineer trained at the Benares Hindu University felt like he had no reason left to live. He had muscular dystrophy and thus had to be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. He had consulted doctors from India and abroad but in vain. It was a very rare variant of the disease which, to his profound grief was supposedly incurable. He was reading a letter wrote to him by a UK doctor with a suggestion to try teaching in order to keep his mind off his disease. A week later, he started. This was V K Bansal.

Cut to the year 2005
Every year, about 5000 students out of about 1.5 lakh applicants are selected through the JEE for admission to B.Tech, B.Tech M.Tech Integrated and M.Sc. Integrated degree programs in the seven IITs, IT-BHU Varanasi, and The Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad. And 1/3rd of these 5000 students get there courtesy Mr. VK Bansal, who set up the coaching scene in Kota, a once sleepy city in Rajasthan.

Of course, each region in India has its own little IIT Factory. Hyderabad has Ramaiah Classes, which apparently has classes at 4 in the morning. Delhi has the much talked about Vidyamandir Classes. Both have better success rates than Bansal’s or for that matter, any other coaching institute in Kota. In JEE 2004, about 74% of Vidyamandir Classes’ and 86% of Ramaiah students got through the JEE. What makes Kota click then?

The answer is a combination of many factors. The first one of the lot is student selectivity. Both these coaching institutes select only a small number of students through their own entrance exam. Every year, about 7-9 thousand students sit for the Ramaiah Classes’ entrance test for selection of about 160 students. Vidyamandir selects about 250 students every year. Bansal’s on the other hand, select about 1700 students to coach every year. There have been cases where students who couldn’t get through the entrance exams for these coaching institutes have got good ranks in the JEE. In fact, these days another level is added to the coaching chain. There are coaching institutes which coach students to get through the entrance test for admission in another coaching institute which in turn, coaches students for the JEE.

The JEE, without an iota of doubt, is a tough exam and thus requires preparation quite different from that for HSC exams, at least in its current pattern. Every now and then, we come across students who have cleared JEE with good ranks without studying specifically for it, but that is the exception rather than the norm. So eventually, it all boils down to the dedicated hard work one puts in, and that’s what makes Kota what it is today. It sells dedication; it sells the conditions a student wants to devote his/her entire time and energy to one task, the IIT-JEE. The town has little to offer in the department of distractions, there are no movie theaters, no bowling alleys, no pool tables, and no video game arcades in the near vicinity of the coaching centers. Every year, about 25,000 students from Kota appear in the JEE, and Kota is a small-ish town. So, chances are that every other guy you meet at the neighborhood “Chai ki dukaan” is preparing for JEE. “I’ve seen complete strangers discussing JEE in public places” Says Nikhil Aggarwal, a student of Resonance Institute, Kota. Also, you get schools with zero per cent attendance funda, which means that you could focus your mind at JEE without having frequent nightmares about your school grades going haywire.

JEE coaching at Kota apart from being successful is big business. Every year, about Rs. 80 crores change hands in coaching fees alone. The city has some teachers who earn as high as Rs. 50 Lakhs per annum. About 500 coaching centers have opened all over the town to milk the students who couldn’t get through the entrance tests of top Kota coaching institutes. The top institutes are so popular that authors of standard books for JEE and even retired professors from IITs have taken to coaching.

But every silver lining, has a dark cloud somewhere in its near vicinity. Kota drives initiative and independent thinking out of your system. You won’t find any Silicon Valley heroes who have started their life at Kota. “Today, the best employers are taking pre-emptive action,” says the Mumbai-based HR head at a foreign bank. “They directly ask you if you went through Kota. They scan your school records to see if you have passed out of a local institute or have a couple of years missing. If you have a Kota taint, you can say goodbye to your chances of bagging that dream job.”

You won’t find HR people publicly admitting this; they don’t want to be accused of discrimination. The Kota bubble will therefore never burst, or will it? Only time can tell.

The latest on the JEE front is that only those with 60% in the 12th Std board exams will be allowed into IIT. Also there will be changes in the test pattern (it will be made easier) and no more than 2 attempts will be allowed. Will this affect the Kota coaching boom? We think that’s unlikely. But let’s wait and watch!

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