Cram schools boom widens India's class divide

Mon Sep 10, 2012 5:46pm EDT
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By Diksha Madhok

KOTA, India (Reuters) - With a sprawling five-acre campus, 10,000 students and state-of-the-art LCD projectors in its lecture rooms, Bansal Classes is bigger and slicker than most schools in India.

But the institution, now a landmark in Kota, a city in the desert state of Rajasthan, is neither a school nor a college. It is the jewel in the crown of India's private coaching industry, a $6.4 billion business that exacerbates the social divide.

Cram schools have become a magnet for tens of thousands of mostly middle class families in a country where two decades of rapid economic growth have failed to improve a dysfunctional state education system and a shortage of good universities.

Such cram schools coach students for fiercely competitive entrance tests to a handful of premier technical and medical colleges. Their modus operandi is rote learning. At Bansal's, hundreds of teenagers are trained intensively to solve complex multiple-choice questions on physics, chemistry or mathematics.

Yash Raj Mishra, a Kota cram student, lives in a tiny room with no television or laptop and spends almost 16 hours a day attending classes, revising or tackling question papers.

"Physics is my first and last girlfriend," said Mishra, leaning against a wall plastered with notes on Kinematics.

"I feel bad and frustrated when my friends score even slightly better than I do," added the 17-year-old, who calls his friends only to ask about their academic progress.

Two-year coaching programs in Kota cost $3,000-$4,000, in addition to which students have to pay for their regular schools and spend at least $2,000 a year on accommodation. That makes the total expenditure a small fortune for most in a nation where the annual per capita income is around $1,250.   Continued...

Students attend class at the Bansal Classes in Kota in India's desert state of Rajasthan August 13, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood