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Ghosts of coachings past

  • Published at 05:08 pm January 1st, 2018
Ghosts of coachings past
Of late, several reports have underscored the need to curb the influence of coaching centres on young students in an age when “going for coaching classes” is inextricably intertwined with the lives of young people. Reportedly, the authority has already started a process to crack down on many of the owners of these centres which have, reportedly, accumulated phenomenal wealth. Of course, no stringent action should be directed against anyone just because that person has made a fortune, because then, no one would be encouraged to pursue entrepreneurial impulses. However, an unbiased scrutiny of the culture of coaching with excess dependence on guidebooks plus notebooks is essential because such reliance on an artificially created system diverts the attention of young minds from creative thinking and towards contrived formulas. But we will be wrong to point fingers at the current coaching apparatus because this culture existed way back in the mid and late 80s when coaching practice proliferated with the alluring tagline: “X teacher’s unbeatable suggestion for the final exam.” The suggestion mania of the 80s To trace to the root of the pervasive coaching culture of today, we need to go back in time when a young person’s life revolved around his/her results in the HSC or SSC exams. Back in the 80s, English medium schooling was very limited, with a handful of institutions operating in Dhaka and Chittagong. A young student starting class nine and taking the first step towards SSC, the first big hurdle in academic life, was made to believe that this was one of the two major life moments and an “honourable” result would guarantee social recognition, leading to greater success later in life. Of course, now we know how far from the truth that can be but let’s deal with that some other time. This ferocious intensity imposed by society on young minds to excel created the premise for the first home-based coaching by prominent teachers from leading government schools in Dhaka. The key word of the period was: “Suggestion.” I know, for many of you born after 1990, this may sound a little absurd, therefore, a little elaboration is required: Suggestion meant a set of questions which would be important for a specific year’s SSC or HSC exams.
If the student is not sent to a school teacher for after school coaching, his/her scores become erratic. The implication is clear: You pay for extra classes, you get the special attention
Since the eminent teachers of premier government institutions made the ultimate question papers for SSC and HSC exams, it made sense to be coached by them on selective questions. Mark the word “selective” here. This is the most crucial element since students coached under certain teachers were given specific questions which were inevitably featured in the final exams. Consequently, one got full marks in a tough subject like elective mathematics just by honing his/her skills on, let’s say, 20 to 30 specific questions. The same applied to all other subjects. Someone could get 80 plus marks and a star on geography by memorising 15 odd questions and answers. At the coaching, the vital suggestions were given and regular practice carried out on writing answers, which would turn out to be “common” in the real exam. Home coaching: A precursor to modern centres The practice began with home-based coaching with teachers turning parts of their homes into tutoring sections, spending almost six to seven hours after their official work to teach one batch after the other. In the 80s, almost all school or college going students were seen hurriedly going somewhere in the afternoon, carrying leather cases. It was either for this sir’s coaching or for that madam’s special suggestion class. The popularity of teachers soared when news spread of the teacher whose suggestion was almost totally “common” in the final. As I write, the famous line of the period comes to mind: Question common pore nai (questions were not common). This “common question obsession” sowed the seeds for modern day coaching centres. One day, the batches taught at home became larger with competition from other teachers so tough that many upgraded their service by opening full-scale school-like operations with administration, accounts, human resources, and so on.
If the student is not sent to a school teacher for after school coaching, his/her scores become erratic. The implication is clear: You pay for extra classes, you get the special attention
In time, with evolving social mores, words like “common” and “suggestion” became outmoded, though the practice of coaching diversified and thrived. What was once directed towards the government-approved exams started to involve school tests. This gave wider space for centres as junior teachers could also open special classes and offer coaching to students aspiring for improved grades for year-end exams. We all know the grievance of guardians: If the student is not sent to a school-teacher for after school coaching, his/her scores become erratic. The implication is clear: You pay for extra classes, you get the special attention, with errors overlooked. No question in common The first jolt usually came for students with sparkling results when they faced exams like IELTS, SAT, or TOEFL to apply abroad to study. Growing up in a suggestion, coaching-based academic environment, they stumbled and faltered when the “common” factor seemed lost. The exalted results of school and college became irrelevant as they struggled with analytical problems with their parents often asking silly questions: But how can he/she score so low here when he or she got star marks in English in college? Sorry, no offense meant, it appears that when we decided to be enveloped by the coaching/suggestion culture, we allowed ourselves to be pulled into a world of delusion. Parents, at one point, begin to feel that, with such outstanding results, their wards are super talented, never asking how the system actually made the youngsters incapable of dealing something on their own, using their own skills. A happy balance This is not to say that all coaching centres should be shut down and all teachers vilified. What is required in this very consumerism-driven capitalist society is to strike a happy balance. Bluntly put, when financial position to a large extent is an indicator of social status, a teacher also needs to survive, and live well. Teachers also need to send their children abroad and bear their expenses at revered institutions. Coaching centres may be allowed to stay as long as they help students hone their skills in language, history, and general knowledge. Practically speaking, instead of just feeding students formula-based answers, if centres promote critical thinking, creative thought, and general English proficiency, students will benefit in the long run. Hopefully, the authorities will be able to carve out a middle path. After all, a well-off teacher is a far better sight than a destitute one. Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.