Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, November 17, 2005


The Coaching Conundrum

By Tausif Salim

Just a few weeks back, we brought out an article revealing 'varsity blues', which the readers embraced with mixed responses. Now we have decided to dig down further, into the breeding grounds of university applicants, the coaching centres…

This week we take the coaching centres under our microscope, bisect and dissect them. To have a better idea of what we do, read on.

Think about the number of exams we have to take in the two years of high-schooling. From the sadistic SATs to the irritable IELTS; add to that the admission tests and the regular exams. With the students biting their nails and pulling out their hair, the coaching centres enter the scene in the form of saviours, promising the nerd nirvana.

The promises
These are actual promises made by such institutions, quoted from various newspaper Ads. We have been kind enough not to disclose any names.
“Attend our seminar and instantly start speaking fluently in English.”
“IELTS 8.5”
“100 percent guarantee of grade A”
“Get admitted to IBA, BUET, NSU, etc.”

Enticing, aren't they? What's more these promises also come with a fool-proof 100 percent guarantee. To prove their point, they even print the photos of their ex-students, all baring teeth in Colgate smiles. Their words of appreciation (sometimes in their own handwriting) are printed along side the photo, making the whole thing all the more believable.

There was a report in 'Prothom Alo' about two such institutions that have used the photo of the same student in their respective ads. What was even more 'fishy' was that the letters of appreciation in the two newspapers were in completely different handwritings. I'll let the readers figure out what actually went on there.

The language and the designing of these ads are marketing masterpieces. Just have a look through the newspaper if you want to know what I mean. They compare getting admission to IBA with scoring goals and climbing the Everest and what not. Some seem to have a 'limited period' 25 percent discount all through the year.

The real story
Talking about discounts, the sky-high fees are in dire need of big discounts. For example, a SAT preparation will cost you somewhere in the range of 10,000-12,000 Tk, whereas to take the exam you only pay some 4000 odd. Similar things apply to most other courses. Moreover, the students have to pay the whole package fee at the beginning so there is not much choice but to stay for the entire period.

Most of these institutions have rolling classes; which means anyone can get in anytime provided they have the cash ready. Once enrolled, you will be stuffed in an undersized classroom like farm chickens (not a word exaggerated!). I personally have had the experience of sitting in a classroom a little bigger than a bathroom with an obscene number of people. Two of my friends were sitting on the window-sill because of a 'temporary' chair crisis. In places with bigger spaces, classes seem more like 'jonoshobhas', where the teacher speaks through a microphone. Amongst the sea of students, trying to get individual attention is same as being painted as a 'slow-learning moron'. "I went to a very well-known teacher for Economics.” says Tania, who has had a similar experience. “He had around 50-60 people per batch. There was a serious shortage of seats, so we often had to arrive at the venue half an hour ahead to book sitting space.

There is problem with teaching staff as well. Although most such institutions advertise key figures from the academic scenario, most of them actually play very little role. What we frequently see is the better teachers paying occasional visits while the bulk of the classes are conducted by students and amateurs. This is worsened by the lack of teaching materials.

The story of Samah, is a nice example of what is going on in most places: She recollects the time she went to a certain coaching centre for Biology. Two teachers from her school teamed up to offer tuition in their respective subjects. It was an improvement from the run-of-the-mill tuition places in that they had leased a school building for their classes, which were held in the evening, after the normal school hours. "The classrooms had been designed for 3rd and 4th graders. There was hardly enough space to contain the 30-some batches of O and A level students. We were compelled to sit in kiddy chairs that were uncomfortable to say the least. While the teachers themselves were pretty thorough and competent, it was still insufficient for us, because we were Science students, and there were no facilities for practicals.

The worst scenarios were when there'd be power cuts during the summer classes. With the heat, the stuffiness and the mosquitoes, we felt like POW's"

The lessons served for the standardised tests are pretty much formulaic; suited more to the crowd than to any individual. One of my cousins had a score of 1250 in the SAT, and so she decided to take a course in one such place before taking the exam again. After 2 months of 'rigorous' training, she took the exam. This time the result was a much better effort: another 1250.

Does that mean that all coaching centres are worthless? Perhaps not. But the effects are certainly minute and not even half the worth of the money spent. The standardised tests are designed to test the students' ability; one that gradually develops over the years and not hatched overnight. So anyone who promises to teach English in one month, or to get you into your dream university, and anyone who believes in that sort of promises… there aren't any decent words for you. As for the students, instead of filling the pockets of these people, you would be much better off preparing for the exams on your own. It won't make a lot of difference in terms of your results.

Lastly I would like to wrap this up with a true story for the readers. A seminar promising instant English speaking ability was covered by the national TV news sometime back. At the end of the seminar, the journalist approached a guy who had just come out.

: “So how was the seminar? Do you feel confident to speak in English now?”
: “Yes. I am 100% confidence.” the guy replied, grinning broadly.
Understandably, the questioner had an even bigger smile forming across his face.

(Everything mentioned here is factual. The writer or RS does not assume responsibility for negative or any other outcomes.)


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