Raking it in from coaching centres

BY B.P. Sanjay| IN Media Practice | 14/06/2007
The media has to share some of the blame for the heightened role commercial coaching has acquired in middle class aspirations.

B.P. Sanjay

In Andhra Pradesh today higher education has fallen captive to the the coaching centre syndrome. The mushroom growth of coaching centres and other  intermediate institutions particularly in this state and elsewhere, has shifted away the focus  from regular teaching that imparts an education,  to training for respective technical and medical entrance examinations. When the AP Chief Minister, Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy recently decided that intermediate exam scores would have 25 % weightage he was reflecting and responding to a broader concern about the  impact of coaching on plain teaching for intermediate courses. The media has to share some of the blame for the heightened  role commercial coaching has acquired in middle class aspirations.

Parental anxiety, considerably buoyed by their social and professional networks, has led to this craze. Despite consistent professional advice and evidence to prove that there are many non engineering and medicine careers possible, parents with children at the higher secondary school level  often lapse into the so called professional courses as their first choice and the hunt begins for coaching centres/tuitions. The days of pre-university colleges are perhaps numbered with more and more branded coaching cum intermediate colleges coming up. Not content with word of mouth communication that is still effective, the colleges have found an important ally in the media.

It all begins with the announcement of results at both class X and XII levels of all boards. An effective joint media campaign comes into force. Class X results are invariably analysed by the media with a heavy institutional orientation including intended or unintended puffery by way of the association of the toppers and their schools, including comments from parents, principals and teachers. You cannot miss the tag lines that they wish to become engineers, doctors and or civil servants.  The matrix is set for class XII results where near publicity like reports are interspersed with front page above the banner and along the fold strip ads of the coaching centres with two to three inside full page advertisements of the coaching centres with photographs of the achievers and their respective scores.

Take the latest results of the IIT-JEE entrance exam for example. The 48-page Hyderabad edition of Deccan Chronicle on its front page had a banner streamer ad for one of the coaching centres followed by a story below that said, ?State storms IIT bags 25 of the top 100 ranks.? Not to be left behind another coaching centre had a fold strip ad claiming its achievements. There were two full-page advertisements of one coaching centre rivaled by its competitor with a similar campaign spread over another two pages. If one makes a rough estimate of corresponding news coverage it would mean at least five full pages of IIT results¿ focus with four and a half pages of paid content by corporate coaching centres. Deccan Chronicle is only one example, this is not to suggest that other dailies are devoid of such coverage and associated advertisement opportunities. The Hindu story about the results from the State was full of references to coaching centres including a two page advertisement from one of the corporate colleges. The TOI had similar treatment and advertisements.

Notwithstanding the defence of the IIT-technical/medical education syndrome and the corresponding aspirations of parents to see their children enrolled in such institutions, a larger question looms.

Obviously, the seats offered are miniscule compared to the aspirants. However, there is a need for this aspirant base to be very large because it is they who cross subsidize the achievers.  How is this aspirant base sustained? All Hyderabad coaching centres have a unique approach. Around the time of class X results marketing teams loaded with application forms fan out to different parts of the city armed with complete information about the prospective students including their names. The offer is simple, if the child gets more than 90% marks in class X  the first year fees is waived and a graded discount is offered to others below 90%. For some parents the visit of the marketing team itself is an occasion to celebrate for they feel that the coaching centre has already recognised their child¿s potential. The first year discount is a strategy that clicks supported amply by media advertising blitz. With additional help from response executives, photographs of achievers and their parents build up a mock climate and the dream chase for the so called professional courses begins.

The saga of a 15  or 16 year old teenager is of one whose 4am-11pm daily grind begins and ends with the completion of all the professional exams from centres dotted all over the country. These much harassed teenagers (whose numbers are larger than the few who make it)  and their parents seek help,  and understandably enough periodicals take over with their annual surveys of best colleges/courses, aided by impact features that perceptibly mask the advertising dimension of the institutions. Regardless of whether print media is losing out advertising revenue to electronic media in other areas, the annual dream chase keeps their coffers brimming with educational advertising. Truly, higher education in India is paying with spin off benefits for the media as well.

Take the recent issue of India Today that features India¿s best colleges with an editorial explaining the methodology. The 114-page issue has at least 20 plus full page ads for institutions with about 30 pages of editorial matter full of tables and photographs. This is their eleventh annual feature and does include a range of educational options in arts, law etc.

On a serious note, academicians, administrators, counselors and of course the media should attempt an enlightened discourse on stress and elite institutions and the fact that there are enough indications from the top industry analysts that a substantial portion of graduates from the innumerable technical institutions are unemployable leading to a demand for yet another layer---finishing schools where the graduates have to be further trained to make them fit the industry expectations. On the medical education front a KV principal aptly said: ?by the time your daughter is in a position to fit into the desired level of proficiency she would have lost interest in life.?


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