Legitimising a parallel system of education

The coaching classes have been mushrooming across the country due to our faulty education system that emphasises more on exams; less on learning and holistic development, giving undue importance to marks. Perhaps, the coaching classes are necessary for those who are not enrolled in formal educational institutions and who wish to supplement their knowledge and acquire additional qualifications through distant and other modes of learning, to enhance their social status and job opportunities.

The RTE Act 2009 bans the teachers working in government or private schools from taking private tuition. And the Rule 22(2) (e) of Maharashtra Employees of Private Schools (MEPS) (Conditions of Service) Rules 1981 says “a teacher shall not conduct or be employed in any private coaching classes”. This provision is diluted by the Rule 23(1) (b) which states that “a teacher shall not do private tuition for more than two hours a day or teach more than five pupils…” and the sub rule (c) adds “a teacher shall not associate himself directly or indirectly with any coaching class to prepare pupils for the internal, external examination of secondary schools or any other examining body”. If the number of pupils taking private tuition exceeds five, “it shall be deemed to be a coaching class”. In other words, the difference between a home tuition and a coaching class is five students and more than five.

This ambiguity gave scope for teachers to manipulate the number of students taking home tuition. Nevertheless, the letter and spirit of the MEPS Rules is to discourage the students depending on coaching classes and the teachers teaching there. The Education Department makes it mandatory for the teachers to give an undertaking that they will not directly or indirectly associate with any coaching class.

However, it is surprising the State Government now proposes to bring legislation exclusively for the coaching classes — a willingness to legitimise a parallel system of education. A 14-member expert committee appointed by the government has submitted a draft — Maharashtra Private Tuition (Regulation) Bill in April last — which the government intends to introduce in the next Assembly session. It seeks to regularise more than 50,000 coaching centres in the State.

The Bill provides for two types of tuition classes — home tuition and private tuition centres. Home tuition is limited to five students and more than that constituting a coaching class. The people conducting home tuition and coaching classes are required to obtain license, renewed every five years. The coaching classes are mandated to provide, inter alia, the infrastructure like desks, separate toilets for girls and boys and parking space. They should share 1% of their profits with the State. The owners of the classes will decide the fees to be charged. Any violation of these norms will invite punitive action — a jail term of two years or a fine up to Rs 5 lakh or both. A Coaching Classes Council shall be set up to act as a regulatory authority.

The Bill also intends to outlaw all forms of “integrated coaching” — an unethical and illegal practice of junior colleges tying up with coaching classes to allow the students to attend classes only at the coaching classes and manipulate the attendance records to show the students were present in the colleges. This is a downright cheating. In fact, some parents even have the temerity to tell Principals not to conduct any lectures clashing with the teaching proramme of coaching classes of their wards. It is a racket — a scam allegedly worth Rs 500 core. The Maharashtra Class Owners Association had challenged the practice in Bombay high court last year, providing a list of some 43 colleges in the city of Mumbai where the “integrated teaching” is allowed. The Court has directed the State Government to stop the practice immediately. Having failed to crackdown on the erring institutions, the government has now issued a GR on June 15 making it mandatory for all science junior colleges to install biometric attendance machines in their premises to mark students’ attendance. But how could the Commerce stream be excluded, when the number of students seeking admission at FYJC Commerce is three times that of FYJC Science in Mumbai and mass absenteeism in the city colleges is the order?

Presently, the coaching classes register under the Shops and Establishments Act. They have now the option to register under the GST, if the annual turnover is more than Rs 20 lakh. Then what is the rationale in bringing a law exclusively for the coaching classes? If the Bill becomes a law, it will lead to a license raj and promote corruption among petty officials of the government. It is recognition that students need the parallel system in addition to schools and colleges. It is also an open admission that the government has failed to curb the menace of coaching classes and prevent the teachers teaching in them. Then why waste so much public money on schools and colleges?

The government has surrendered to the coaching classes lobby. The proposed legislation will give impetus to coaching classes and promote commercial interests of big coaching centres. The students belonging to poor and marginalised section will be a casualty, fleeced by schools and colleges and coaching institutes. It is a misconceived and short sighted approach. It is an admission that coaching classes are a must for students, in addition to schools and colleges, reinforcing the popular myth. The government does not have the wherewithal to check unethical and illegal practices adapted by educational institutions.

Any education without ethics is empty. The present education system does not infuse in students hope for a good life. It is not developing in them a sense of reciprocation, empathy, and gratitude and of being honest and truthful in pursuing their goals. Instead of inculcating the right values through education, why is the government trying to promote a parallel system of education with all its deadly consequences?

G Ramachandram is a professor of Political Science and a retired principal. He has published his magnum opus ‘The Trial by Fire: Memoirs of a College Principal’.

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