IITK Survey: The Kota Juggernaut

Vox Populi had conducted a survey to take a glimpse into Kota’s coaching culture which was answered by 212 students of IIT Kanpur who had previously studied at a coaching institute in Kota. In this report, Vox presents to you some interesting findings from the survey.

Kota, a small city in Rajasthan, once known for its industries, makes national news every year for sending thousands of students from different parts of the country to top engineering and medical colleges.

Kota and, in general, the coaching industry has taken deep roots in our education ecosystem which has been troubling the government for long now. To tackle the problem, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) is coming up with a mobile app and portal containing free lectures from IIT faculty on various subjects and previous years’ question papers. MHRD has taken some steps in the past too which failed to make any difference to the rise of coaching industry in Kota. What is attracting students from all over India to the coaching institutes in Kota?

Almost two-thirds of survey respondents came to Kota to escape the conventional schooling system – which they considered either inadequate or a deterrent to the primary goal of “cracking” JEE. Saim Dawood Wani, a student of the freshmen batch (Y16), opines, “Only a meagre number of students in Kota come from large cities and towns. Many of the children who go there after matriculation (or before that) have had little exposure to ‘quality education’, a rare commodity in our school system. As a result, they end up developing a high regard for Kota ‘style of coaching’.” The proven track record of Kota students in competitive exams also plays a significant role with 22.6% citing success stories of relatives and acquaintances as their reason for moving to Kota. Surprisingly, advertisements of mass selections seem to be only a minor factor(6.1%) compared to others, and so does parental pressure(1.9%).

It has long been argued that poor quality of education in Indian schools pushes students to leave their homes and join coaching institutions in Kota. Survey findings support the claim as 94% of the students stated that coaching institute teachers are better than school teachers

This leads us to another question, that is how IITK professors fare when compared to Kota faculty? Three-fourths of the respondents believe that the faculty in Kota’s coaching institutions are better at teaching. Well, professors may be renowned stalwarts in research but then, teaching is a different art.

Let us now take a sneak peek into the life of students at Kota. The survey shows that a majority (66%) of students joined Kota’s coaching institutes in class 11.

When did you join coaching classes for JEE ?

The students who joined Kota’s coaching institution after completing 12th standard stood at 17.9%. 11% of students entered this competitive environment even before they had enrolled in 11th standard. 28.1% of students from Kota joined coaching before 11th standard which was found to be around 4 times the percentage of such students from other cities (7.8%).

Type of Schooling in Kota

The concept of dummy schools is an open secret today and is also validated by the survey. Only 28.3% coaching students in Kota were regular to school. 28.3% may also look more than expected but after taking out the students who went to Kota after completing 12th (84% of whom were regular school-goers during 12th), the figure comes down to 16.6%, clearly showing that conventional schooling, unfortunately, has taken the backseat.

Kota’s coaching culture, once considered as a breeding ground for academic excellence has faced a lot of criticism in the recent past due to the high level of stress on students which has led to increased suicide rates and the damage it has supposedly done to conventional methods of schooling and education.

A majority (59%) opined that stress felt by the students in Kota is more than what an average IITK student feels, while the house was pretty much tied to whether stress is more in IITK or is equal in both places. Only 20.3% students felt that IITK is more stressful for students than Kota. Thus, for the majority, IITK does seem to be a more relaxed environment. Mayank Sharma, a student of the freshman batch(Y16), tells us, “The stress levels are almost equal. In Kota, academics is the sole contributing factor to stress, coupled with financial difficulties for some families. Over here, apart from academics, we also have to take time out for extracurriculars and other engagements.

Talking about suicides in Kota, 20% of students who answered the survey, personally knew someone who had committed suicide in Kota. On being probed about the reasons behind suicides, parental pressure was cited as a major reason by an overwhelming 66.5% respondents. This pretty much echoes the sentiments of the District Collector of Kota in his open letter to parents. The estimated success rate in Kota maybe 10% against the national average of 3%,  but still it is a very small number, which parents need to understand rather than harboring false hopes of assured “success” once they admit their wards to coaching institutions.

What according to you is the ‘major’ reason behind the suicides committed by students in Kota ?

In the words of Mr. R.K. Verma, owner of Resonance Eduventures – one of the top five institutes in Kota, the problem starts in schools, Bachchon ko schools mein phaltu mein, phokat mein numbers de dete hain…(In Indian schools, children get good grades without much effort). One lakh kids got 10 CGPA all over India in last year’s 10th boards. Parents will then tell you ‘ki mera bacha toh bahut intelligent hai (my child is very intelligent)’. But it’s another thing altogether to crack IIT. So when the kids come to Kota, those who got 90 percent in 10th board get 20 percent in our tests. Bachche se sehen nahin hota hai. (The children are not able to bear this.)”

Lack of stress handling ability was also voted by over 50% students. Another factor appears to be general loneliness which, in fact, can be deadly because the student lacks the required emotional support. Drugs, narcotics, broken relationships are other contributing factors. It is also important to note that singling out one particular reason would be a bit unfair and usually 2-3 factors may add up to force the students to take such drastic steps but seeing how much the ‘Parental pressure and expectations’ factor leads the other factors, it calls for deep introspection from the side of Indian parents.

Saim Dawood Wani narrates his first-hand experience. “The main reason, I think, is not being able to meet up to others’ expectations (or for that matter your own expectations). There was this boy in our hostel who was taking a gap year (he had an AIR around 8000 in the last JEE Adv) and was enrolled in Allen Career Institute. He would keep whining about not being able to study up to his expectations. He spent the entire year brooding about a failed relationship and his ‘supposedly bad’ performance in JEE Adv. Towards the end of the course, with JEE around the corner, he grew increasingly disheartened, having realized he had wasted an entire year doing nothing. On more than an occasion, he had told us that he was contemplating suicide. Concerned, we had him meet Allen’s Student Counsellor. I still wonder what the counselor did to him because he almost choked himself to death that night with a bed sheet. Fortunately, the disaster was averted and his parents flew in the next day. On advice from a psychiatrist in PGIMER Chandigarh, he spent the next few months leading up to JEE on hill stations in north India. He secured an AIR in 2100’s in JEE this year and is studying Mechanical Engineering in IIT Roorkee.”

The burnout of the students has been another major allegation against Kota’s coaching culture. Interestingly, exactly half of the students reported signs of being worn out by the stress they had faced at Kota and a certain disillusionment regarding academics. Mayank Sharma says, “I feel like I am worn out after having studied there day in and out. It’s just that my brain finds true solace after going through those two years.” The other half, however, were either toughened by their struggle at Kota to the extent that they are prepared to tackle any stress or have realized that this is a new life altogether and put their past life behind them completely.

When asked whether their creativity has been affected by the Kota struggle a majority (80%) of the students feel that their creativity had been affected to some extent during their stay in Kota. This is a major cause of concern. Kota and Hyderabad have often being satirized as being a “factory of IITians”, merely churning out products perfectly tuned for JEE and ill-equipped with life skills.

The perception that the coaching institutions influence the choice of IITs/NITs and the branches to be filled at the time of counseling does not hold much merit according to the responses of the survey. 54.9% students said that their coaching institution had no influence at all on their choices. Even in the students who reported that their choices had been influenced by their coaching teachers, a majority said that they only had a minor influence.

To conclude, most of the IITK students seemed satisfied with their experience in Kota and believe that going to Kota was worth it, although this survey must be taken with a pinch of salt as there is an inherent bias in the respondents that they successfully qualified JEE.

However, one point is clear again, nothing will come of nothing. Most have given equal credit to coaching and their own efforts for their success in “cracking” JEE. However, and rightly so, IITK students are cautious about recommending Kota to future JEE aspirants. They prefer to first gauge the merit of the student concerned and accordingly decide whether he is fit to sustain the ordeal or not.

By  Soumyadeep Datta, Siddhartha Saxena and Karandeep Sharma

Special thanks to Saim Wani (Y16) and Mayank Sharma (Y16)