Kota confident of bouncing back as the coaching capital

Although the lockdown has dealt a severe blow to the coaching institutes in the Rajasthan town, both students and the institutes believe online classes are no substitute

Photo courtesy- social media
Photo courtesy- social media

Prakash Bhandari

The coronavirus crisis has left Kota, once an industrial city but now better known as India’s coaching capital, reeling. Students have left for home and so have many of the teachers. Hostels, catering services and transporters have taken a hit, and coaching institutes, which till March this year were ‘coaching’ as many as 170,000 students, face an uncertain future.

While not all of those students made it to the Indian Institutes of technology. But with a high success rate and Kota managing to get several of its students in the top 10 in entrance tests, the lure of Kota grew over the years.

V K Bansal, an engineer by training, launched science tutorials 25 years ago when he became physically handicapped and lost his job. He is credited with turning the city into an education hub with a dozen ‘cram schools’ making Kota the byword for those seeking admission in engineering and medical schools. But the two-month lockdown has crippled the city.

“My son Shobit was studying in Kota, but because of the lockdown he is learning online and the institute where he was studying is providing online teaching. He is happy but complains of slow Internet speed that often disrupts his classes,” says Niraj Saxena in Jaipur.

Shobhit also misses the classroom and complains that he can no longer discuss problems with fellow students. Group study and discussions were important, he says, and would like to return to Kota.

So, is the city’s future as coaching capital safe? Is it just a temporary setback and by the year-end will it bounce back to its bustling self? Or will parents discourage their wards from travelling to Kota? Will online teaching be able to replace the direct, face-to-face teaching and personal attention that the students received? The coaching circuit is bracing for fewer students, which would affect everyone in Kota, they say.

“We took a month’s advance from students for rooms that we rented out. After the lockdown, the students adjusted the advance before leaving for their respective homes. There is no surety they would return even after the unlocking as parents would not like to put their lives at risk. Besides us who run hostels, the tiffin services and various breakfast and snacks joints are also suffering huge losses. It’s a big number and the losses are also big” says NirmalaJethwani, a hostel owner.

“If online teaching is accepted, the students would get online teaching and fewer students would opt for classroom studies that would spell disaster for the city that thrives on hostels and food and provides employment to at least 35,000 people in the city,” says Meera Gupta, whose hostel had provided board and lodging to 85 students.

The admissions began in February and the process of admission is still on and over a lakh of students have already deposited their annual fees ranging from Rs 80,000 to Rs one lakh, sources confided.

Some sections are optimistic. “The classroom cannot be replaced. Here students interact and the atmosphere is competitive, they vie with each other to excel and the classroom provides acompetitive edge,” says Mukesh Sharma of resonance, a leading institute.

“During the lockdown, my institute also provided online studies, but we found that students are keen on offline and take online courses only as an additional tool. But Kota coaching hubs have built their reputation for excellence on offline teaching, which is its forte. I am sure students who had to leave Kota would return in large numbers” he added.

Shailendra Maheshwari, Director of Career Point, one of the foremost institutes, pointed out that 15 lakh students appear for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for admission into IIT and 10 lakh students appear for NEET that provides admission into AIIMS and other medical colleges every year.

“Kota attracts less than one per cent students and the number is about 1.60 lakh.Others who do not come to Kota are also getting admission, but Kota gets the highest number of successes for both JEE and NEET. The attraction of Kota will therefore remain as a centre for excellence” added Maheshwari.

Manoj Sharma, MD of Resonance is also confident of the future. “Students would still rely on classrooms. Kota will not lose its identity and there is no threat from online teaching,” he said. Nitin Vijay of Motion Education concurs.

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