Abstract: The past ten years have seen a drastic rise in students ascribing to the shadow education system in India. An increasing number of students rely on coaching centres as opposed to formal schooling. The common belief among the students is that coaching classes will provide them with the appropriate tools and skills in order to score higher in competitive exams like the JEE and earn a seat at the coveted IITs. This paper will look at the effects that shadow education and the incessant pursuit of seats have on the students enrolling into coaching classes, the non-academic implications of shadow education on the aspirants and the driving forces behind shadow education and why it continues to be successful today. This paper will be an analysis of literature that we have gathered on the effects that shadow education has had on the students and their environment. We shall be using the city of Kota in Rajasthan as a case study of our paper. Dubbed as the “coaching capital of India”, Kota is infamous for its cram schools- which all sell the same dream of the IIT seat. We shall be looking at the implications of the shadow education system on the youth that travel there to study.
Over the years, there has been a significant rise in private supplementary coaching services offered to help students with their examinations. An increase in demand and supply for these services has led to the creation of an alternate form of education that can be compared to the formal education system like a ‘shadow’ of the formal system of education (Sujatha, 2021). This shadow education is steadily rising in the country. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, over seven crore Indian students attend some form of private coaching; accounting for nearly 11 percent of the average household budget (Goyal, 2016). The private coaching industry stands at nearly $40 billion today, more than the GDP of some Indian states like Odisha; making it an interesting area of study (Goyal, 2016).
Although private tuitions are fairly common amongst students of all ages, its services are particularly subscribed by students in secondary education, owing to the pressure to perform well and score high in public examinations due to intense competition to gain admission into various colleges and universities. The city of Kota in Rajasthan is especially known for its high number of coaching institutes. In fact, one of the main contributors to its economy are the students who enroll themselves for coaching classes in an attempt to crack the Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE) and book a place in one of the coveted Indian Institute of Technology’s (IITs). Enrolling in coaching classes almost seems like a prerequisite today. The $45 million coaching industry in the city can be considered the country’s coaching hub (Goyal, 2016). India’s per capita annual income stands at roughly Rs. 1,35,050 (as of 2019-2020) and a two-year course (including only tuition fees) currently stands at approximately Rs. 1,25,000 per year; forcing most parents to take out loans to fend for their wards coaching (India, 2020). Despite the intense training students are subject to in these institutes, the acceptance rates for the IITs stand as low as 0.005 per cent, so how come families take out loans at steep rates and risk it all to enroll their children into this shadow education system in Kota?
Our paper aims to address the following questions:
- What are the driving forces of the shadow education system in Kota and why do they continue to be successful even today?
Lakhs of students migrate to the city every year to enroll into one of its thousand coaching institutes. Despite the extreme competitive nature of such institutes and numerous horror stories, parents still enroll their students into such academies. Since Kota is one of the bigger hubs for this growing form of shadow education, understanding the factors that contribute to this system’s success in the city can help us better understand the nature of shadow education in the country.
- What are the negative physical and mental implications that the Kota coaching classes have on their students?
The vigorous training offered at these institutes leave overworked and burnt out students with little to no time to partake in any other activity, taking a toll on their physical health. The mounting numbers of suicide cases of students enrolled in the city’s coaching institutes have made international news in recent times, with the Washington Post running an article about the dark sides of these institutes. In 2014, the suicide rate in the city was found to be much higher than the national average of 10.6 suicides per 1, 00,000 people (Mishra & Singh, 2017). Mental health struggles like depression faced by students there are increasingly being documented by social workers. However, there is not enough research undertaken to ascertain the causes behind it and its relationship with personal and situational factors; making it an important area of study.
Clash of Competitions: A Study on Coaching Classes of Kota by Dr. Mishra and Singh focuses on the tendencies for suicidal commitment among students enrolled in coaching classes within the city. The paper also provides valuable suggestions regarding how this problem among the students there can be solved. The authors use a mixed-method sequential explanatory study using questionnaires for the stakeholders involved including students, teachers, and hostel owners (Mishra & Singh, 2017). This study utilized quantitative as well as qualitative data collected from a random sample size of 300 students, 100 teachers, and 20 hostel owners. However, the sample of this study was limited to students pursuing coaching for the IITs, or other engineering and medical courses within the city; and hence is not a representative sample to cover all students in coaching institutes in the city of Kota. The study also does not include stakeholders like parents and government officials which could change the analysis and interpretations.
Jakob Williams Ørberg’s Uncomfortable encounters between elite and “shadow education” in India—Indian Institutes of Technology and the Joint Entrance Examination coaching industry studies the educational structure of coaching institutes frequented by students aspiring to gain admission into the coveted IITs and its effect on the lives of such students (Ørberg, 2018). It examines the policy implications of the shadow education industry on the higher education sector in India while also analyzing how this industry is shaping the IIT education (Ørberg, 2018). Ørberg’s paper however, looks at shadow education and JEE related coaching centers in particular located throughout the country, not focusing on our proposed topic on shadow education in Kota. While it provides us with useful information regarding the impact of the industry on students and policy, its focus remains on the role of this shadow industry in the global knowledge economy.
Depression in Kota Coaching Students in Relation to Motivation-Type and Perceived Ability by Gautam, Singh and Rao addresses the problem of depression among students enrolled in coaching centers across the city. They study the basic personal and situational causes behind this issue like gender and family factors and their relation to determining depression among the students (Gautam, Singh & Rao, 2019). 308 students were used as subjects for this study which was conducted using a developed self perceived ability scale and beck depression inventory (Gautam, Singh & Rao, 2019). The sample of the study however, was not representative of all the students studying in coaching institutes in the city and did not take into account factors like family income, while considering family factors which could impact the findings.
Pubali Ghosh and Mark Bray’s School systems as breeding grounds for shadow education: Factors contributing to private supplementary tutoring in West Bengal, India makes use of existing literature and studies to determine the relationship between schooling and shadow education in order to better understand the factors that aid to the growth of this shadow education industry (Ghosh & Bray, 2020). It also uses qualitative methods to understand the role of the government and private schools in promoting this industry, and provides suggestions for policy change (Ghosh & Bray, 2020). The study, although comprehensive; is limited to schools and coaching institutes in West Bengal only. Despite this, the study highlights important concerns that are relevant to the coaching industry in Kota as well.
While researching, we noticed there were plenty of articles and research papers analyzing the shadow education industry in India and a number of articles in recent years highlighting the problems faced by students enrolled in coaching classes in the city of Kota. However, there was negligible information analyzing shadow education in Kota in particular, and the ones that did; took into consideration only those students aspiring to crack the JEE and get into one of the IITs, omitting students undertaking coaching for medical courses and other fields. The available research also tended to focus on students and teachers, neglecting important stakeholders like parents whose aspirations have a big role to play in the success of this industry. We also found a number of articles that seemed paid and used for promotions. The students tended to generally speak positively about the coaching classes they attended, as if they were asked to promote their institute.
Addressing the Questions
As mentioned earlier in the abstract, this paper shall be looking at multiple academic and non-academic sources such as interviews and suicide notes in an attempt to answer the questions. In order to attain the answer to the first question, we shall be looking closely at the readings and articles in order to ascertain what truly makes the shadow education system thrive in the harsh environment of Kota.
Images such as the one above are constantly and continuously advertised year-round both in Kota and across India. Coaching centres survive and thrive on the rankings of their students in order to build their brand awareness and increase their enrolments for the subsequent years. By advertising a handful of their successes, it more than often gives false hope to both aspirants and in some cases, their parents. This is credentialism at play. According to an article titled “Is Shadow Education Becoming the ‘New’ Formal”, the author goes into detail regarding the way through which coaching centres advertise their classes and the results of said advertisement. They mention the factors that help drive credentialism include: “the selective nature of the elite institutions, the middle-class affordability and stronger emphasis on cultural fit” (Punjabi, 2019).
Punjabi goes on to say that the harder the institutions make it to get into their classes, the higher the demand for said institution. Another way through which institutions persuade students to join is through scholarships. By offering the best and brightest students the opportunity to study for free at their institutes, the coaching centres only bolster their ranking and their bragging rights. Scholarship students are often given preferential treatment and extra academic help as opposed to those who are not. This sort of selection bias is what leads to the high scores and the billboards and advertisements for the marketing department of the centres.
Middle class affordability is the second factor which is primarily dependent on the parents of the aspirant. The author goes on to say how the middle-class sees the coaching centres as a “proactive strategy to gain a positional advantage in the competition for high-status careers”. Multiple parents see these centres as a way through which their children could not attain a societally respectable job as a doctor or as an engineer and in doing so create a market of hundreds of coaching classes which all sell the dream of this future well-being (Punjabi, 2019)
Regarding the cultural fit, the author says “the educational institution from where the credential is acquired has become more important than the educational experience at that institute”. (Punjabi, 2019) This heavily warps the perceptions of institutes such as the IITs and the AIIMs. The author mentions that the overall experience on these campuses is greatly overshadowed by the brand image of being an institute with only the best and brightest, the most competitive and the multi-crore package that comes at the end of it all.
This brings us to answering the second question. Due to the gaps in the available literature, we, as researchers, have made the informed decision to make an attempt at answering the questions with the help of interviews conducted of the students and the suicide notes that were available online. As mentioned earlier, due to the lack of academic sources that discuss this issue, we have resorted to the mainstream media in order to gain information and present it in the form of empirical data. We have gone through interviews of students who go to different education centres in Kota to try and understand the effects that the Kota education system has on the students. Since there is no empirical way of determining what is the most influential aspect of a student’s mental and physical wellbeing, frequency of keywords shall be used to determine the negative implications that the Kota system has on its students. Secondary factors (such as peer and family pressure) shall also be included below.
In the month of December 2018, 3 students took their lives in the span of 5 days. In the year prior, the total deaths were 7. However, in 2018 this number increased by 2.5 times to 19. In a documentary made by The Quint, it goes over the main reasons as to why students decide to make this drastic leap. In the documentary, they look at a number of cases from 2016. Of these cases, the victims often cited:
- Financial Pressure
- Parental Pressure
- Peer Pressure
- Change in surroundings/lifestyle
- Lack of acknowledgment
Many of those who go to Kota are from economically underprivileged backgrounds whose parents’ risk everything on their children getting into the school of their dreams. This often leads to the children feeling overwhelming levels of guilt and stress- especially when they underperform/ do not live up to expectations set for them. In the case of peer pressure, Kota naturally attracts the best and the brightest. The fact that students are surrounded by some of the very best gets into their heads and more often than not causes extreme levels of pressure that some succumb to. Seeing all those surrounding you-especially your peers succeed creates this inferiority complex that forces students to take drastic steps. Although there is the option of going out and living a semi-recreational lifestyle, the fact that those around them are living extremely rigorous and are not taking any days off is another mental toll that the students have to pay. Not everyone who goes to these institutes are from the same background and each person has a different way of studying. This concept discussed in the documentary is not clear to all those who study in such institutes and more than often result in them spiralling into depressive episodes. (Quint, 2016)
One of the interviewees spoke of the repeaters. In their case it is often much worse. They are often subject to more scrutiny than those who write the exam for the first time and the amount of effort that they put themselves through year-round is never acknowledged. Anything they wrote in the paper is what ultimately matters to them and to the rest of society as a whole.
There is a dire need to address these problems arising in the coaching institutes of Kota. Well researched, comprehensive studies on the subject can have a positive policy impact. The problems mentioned earlier in the paper can be overcome through multiple means. Although it is already established in the prominent institutes of Kota, having therapists or psychological experts to tackle the problems that students face is one of the main methods through which the problems could be tackled head on. By incorporating trained professionals to deal with the mental stresses that arise from the environment of a place like Kota it could greatly reduce the struggles faced by the students. In the same vein, by encouraging students to be more open and accepting of the daunting challenges and the pressure that they are exposed to on a daily basis, it would greatly help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and wellbeing in a country that cares not for an individual’s mental status.
Gautam, S., Singh, B., & Rao, R. (2019). Depression in Kota Coaching Students in Relation to Motivation-Type and Perceived Ability. Retrieved 14 March 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bansh-Singh-2/publication/339677537_Depression_in_coaching_Students_in_Relation_to_Motivation-Type_and_Perceived_Ability/links/5e5f85cb299bf1bdb850d7b7/Depression-in-Coaching-Students-in-Relation-to-Motivation-Type-and-Perceived-Ability.pdf
Ghosh, P., & Bray, M. (2020). School systems as breeding grounds for shadow education: Factors contributing to private supplementary tutoring in West Bengal, India. Retrieved 15 March 2021, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ejed.12412
Goyal, Y. (2016). Shadow Education. Retrieved 22 February 2021, from https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/private-coaching-private-tuition-2859563/
India, P. (2020). India’s per-capita income rises 6.8% to Rs 11,254 a month in FY20. Retrieved 14 March 2021, from https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/india-s-per-capita-income-rises-6-8-to-rs-11-254-a-month-in-fy20-120010701269_1.html
Mishra, P., & Singh, B. (2017). Clash of Competitions: A Study on Coaching Classes of Kota. Retrieved 14 March 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bhupendra-Singh-30/publication/320948138_Clash_of_Competitions_A_Study_on_Coaching_Classes_of/links/5a043a29a6fdcc1c2f5b7c83/Clash-of-Competitions-A-Study-on-Coaching-Classes-pdf
Punjabi, S. (2019). Is Shadow Education Becoming the ‘New’ Formal? Effects of Pedagogical Approaches of IIT-JEE Coaching on School Education in the City of Delhi. Sage Publications. https://doi.org/10.1177/0973184919885485
Sujatha, K. (2021). Private tuition in India: trends and issues. Retrieved 22 February 2021, from https://journals.openedition.org/ries/3913#quotation
Ørberg, J. (2018). Uncomfortable encounters between elite and “shadow education” in India—Indian Institutes of Technology and the Joint Entrance Examination coaching industry. Retrieved 15 March 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320693542_Uncomfortable_encounters_between_elite_in_India-Indian_Institutes_of_Technology_and_the_Joint_Entrance_Examination_coaching_industry
The Quint. (2016). The Quint’s Documentary: Why Kota Kills – The Quint. Why Kota Kills. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VeS98YYtWY.
 Credentialism- the pressure to upgrade formal educational prerequisites for entry into and promotion through labour markets (Punjabi, 2019)