Cram schools boom widens India's class divide

Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:25am 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 programmes 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. A boom in India's management education sector that saw the number of business schools triple to almost 4,000 over the last five years has ended as students find expensive courses are no guarantee a well-paid job in a slowing economy. India's seemingly unstoppable economic rise, an aspiring middle class' desire to stand out in a competitive job market, and a lucrative opportunity for investors fuelled a bubble in business education that is now starting to deflate. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood