Withstanding the test of time


    By Shalini S. Sharma

    For all the efforts of the government to reduce reliance on entrance exams for entry into coveted institutes for medical and engineering education, the test preparatory segment, popularly known as coaching institutes, continues to get strong. The lure of getting entry into cheap, high quality, public-funded higher education institutes is such that parents as well as students are willing to give an arm and a leg for getting coached by experts of test prep schools.

    Latest in news is the Aakash Education Services which is planning to enter the market with an initial public offer (IPO) to raise Rs 1,000 crore. Coaching for medical entrance exams has been the company’s forte ever since it began operations in 1988. Ten years back, in 2007, it entered the engineering entrance exam segment, for Joint Entrance Exams (JEE) of IITs. Early this year the company also set up a hospital in Delhi and has plans of starting four more hospitals. The next logical expansion is slated to be the opening of a medical college.

    With careful planning and steady expansion, the investors will have a lot to gain from the company’s stock since the dependence of students on such institutes is not going to die down soon.

    Another test prep company in news is Super 30 of Bihar which has gained popularity through careful building of image of the man behind the mission – Anand Kumar – as some sort of a crusader who provides free coaching for JEE to select group of students who all go on to crack the coveted exam. While what they project might be true to an extent, the reality is that Kumar is no crusader with a heart of gold and who coaches just a handful of students for free. In fact, he runs a fledgling coaching business where hundreds of students throng his “institute”, navigating pot-holed by-lanes and who do pay a hefty fee for that. The lore of free coaching and Kumar’s altruism is nothing but a successful media exercise. That Kumar has been specially lucky with this image building exercise is apparent from the fact that a Hindi film is now going to be made on his life and his role is going to be assayed by a star of the like of Hritik Roshan. Well, as a story it might sound fantastic, but there should be a disclaimer that it bears no resemblance to reality or real life.

    Latest trends in test prep

    It is a well-recognized and well accepted fact that coaching institutes, or any institute for that matter, run on the strength of good teachers. Coaching institutes lure good teachers with salaries running into crores and they work virtually round the clock. This model is successful in metros and cities such as Kota and Raipur which have become hubs of exam preparation industry. However, there is a challenge in taking such institutes to hinterland as good teachers are not willing to move base there.

    Technology is helping fill that gap in a big way now and scores of entrepreneurs are coming up with solutions in education which are using technology in a big way. Mobile applications, massive open online courses, web-based classrooms, flipped classrooms, projector-driven all-in-one solutions are now becoming popular as enterprises are focusing more and more on personalised learning.

    Most of the edtech companies are focusing on the test prep segment as that is the easiest to crack through digital solutions and is also the driver of revenues for most companies with diversified products. This segment is also easiest to scale up as most entrance exams are now shifting to digital mode. Some start-ups who have recently entered the fray in this Rs 37,800 crore market, as per Crisil estimates, are Embibe, Unacademy, Meritnation, Examify and Prepathon.


     (The writer is a freelance journalist)