Hard lessons

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The last two decades have witnessed a proliferation of coaching centers in the valley and every student seems to be joining them. Are these tuition centers really helping the students, Saimah Khwaja tries to find out.

Everyday Seerat Zahra, a Class 11th student, and her neighbor friend Mahvish Nazir reaches home at 3 in the afternoon from their respective schools.

Both gobble down their food and dash to a ‘coaching centre’ – for private tuition’s. They return home when it is almost dark. Their school day extends almost to 12 hours.

It is not the case with just these two but life is the same for most of the students from various private and government higher secondary schools and colleges. The back-breaking schedule comes at the cost of thin attendance in schools and colleges. After such a hectic day extracurricular activities such as seminars, debates, enhancement of language, writing skills and sports, which are equally important in shaping a student’s career seem distant and unnecessary luxuries.

Though most of the students join these coaching centers some seem to be upset or fed up with them. Beenish Nazir of Amira Kadal Higher Secondary says, “It is more of a trend nowadays to join the coaching centers”. When asked if it was just ‘the trend’, that made students spend their precious time in these tuition centers, another girl listening by, who did not give her name, disagreed. She said, “Teachers don’t show interest in teaching in the schools and seldom do they complete the syllabus…and you have an exam to pass. How can anybody take a risk in a matter as serious as career?”

Is joining these coaching centers just an effort to complete the syllabus on time and pass with reasonable marks? Dr. Humaira Ansari, who teaches sociology at Amar Singh College disagrees, “People from upper class provide best of education to their children by sending them to expensive schools and coaching classes. In this case a student from the middle class who has had not much exposure tries to compete with them thereby exploring all methods of obtaining education such as coaching centers and home tuitions.  Once this sort of action is initiated in a society, it becomes a norm. This trend is consequently passed on to the next generation who accept it blindly.”

However, students find a lot of pressure on their time and are unable to cope as after a 12 hour ‘school day’, they have to copy notes and revise what they read during the day, making school attendance a casualty.

“Attendance is of no importance here. Our teacher asks the class representative to take the attendance,” Beenish says adding, “Conventionally minimum required attendance should be 75 percent but if a student here attends classes for 15 days in a month that is really an achievement.”

Tanveer Ahmed, a Gandhi College lecturer concurs. “Attendance is shamefully low. Most of the college authorities are lenient about attendance and students take undue advantage of it.”

Seerat who was studying in New Delhi joined Green Valley School three years back, she says she joined a coaching center for fear of being the odd one out. “Coming back to Srinagar and going to school here was altogether a new experience for me. When I joined here in 9th class, I hardly had any idea of the mammoth coaching centers all around. Earlier schooling was not just about academics but in Srinagar it’s just academics especially after 9th grade. Although my school is very supportive, I joined the tuitions for I thought I would be an odd one out. It is like going with the herd. Now I realize that I can do quite well in my boards next year even without coaching where I spend maximum time of the day.”

The coaching centers mushroomed with the start of insurgency in early 1990’s. Then frequent strikes and curfews made schools shut down for days at a stretch. Coaching centers came up as an alternative. Housed in interior localities, these remained open even when the city shut down.

But today when the times have changed, these coaching centers stayed and flourished. Seerat’s mother, Nuzhat Nisar wants ‘over all development’ for her ward but is clueless how to get for her child. “Education should be much more than academics. Schools in the valley charge no less than schools in metropolises but what our children are getting in return is not worth it.”
“Coaching centres are there all over the country to supplement a student with what has been already taught in the school,” acknowledges Yasir Hussein Mir of Islamiya College, “But in the valley coaching center has become school in itself.”

As the coaching classes don’t come cheap, many parents take great ‘pride’ in talking about the number of coaching classes their child goes to, the amount of time spend there, the awkward timings they leave home at, so on and so forth.

Dr Humaira Ansari explains the acceptance of the extreme tuition culture in the valley. “When a system is institutionalized in a society, it will function even if it is wrong. Every system that exists in a society functions smoothly because it has been collectively accepted therefore to reject or eradicate it, we need a collective ‘No’ otherwise it will not change. It is human psyche.”

For Dr Humaira the more disturbing spin off of the coaching center culture is the lack of reading habits among the youth, which, according to her, is responsible for Kashmiri students not faring well in competitive examinations. “They do not want to read and refer to different books but find an easy way out – copy the notes and forget! This is one of the major reasons why students from Kashmir don’t fare well in the competitive examinations like KAS and IAS. Students still refer to old traditional notes which blocks their scope of learning and innovation,” she says.

But there are genuine concerns according to other students. Mahvish, Ist year BBA student of Nawa Kadal college says “I thought after 12th class I would not need private tuitions anymore as everything would be taught at the college itself but I was wrong. Teachers are not at all qualified. I have to take tuitions and extra coaching to understand the subject. I have to pay both at college as well as at coaching centers.”

Almost all the teachers who teach at these coaching centers are lecturers in different government higher secondary schools and colleges, who either stay on leave quite often or teach in an uninteresting manner at schools and colleges.

But there are others who like the good old days, when teachers taught in the classes and coaching centers were non-existant. Tanveer Ahmed says “It would be an insult to my profession if my student joins any coaching classes. I do not think there is any need of coaching classes at all if a teacher is honest to his job.” Besides lack of dedication and honesty among teachers he flays the education ministry for “not taking any stringent step against incompetent and unprofessional teachers’ who “push these youngsters to take up coaching classes”.

Tanveer adds, “When a doctor turns out to be a quack, there is hue and cry from all the quarters but teachers and lecturers are let scot free despite the harm they are doing to the society!”

Rashid Ahmed is worried that his daughter has to rush from school to a coaching center where, he says, the tutor teaches a topic or two and an hour passes and the students rush to next coaching centre and then next. “This is how the day wears on for them, everyday,” he rues.

Ashiq Hussain has been teaching Zoology for 15 years, he says that the use of these coaching centers is limited as in the end students have to learn by rote. He says that such a way of learning was stifling creativity and scholarship among the students.
However, until a drastic overhaul of the education system the students will rush from one coaching center to another and the schools would continue to lose their importance and the coaching centers will continue to proliferate, Hussain adds.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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