The entire world is currently on lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have adapted to work-from-home (WFH) policies. But what’s the situation in the education sector? More than 91 percent of the world’s students are out of school, due to school closures in at least 188 countries.
The education sector is facing unprecedented challenges and needs to adapt and find solutions to keep children motivated and in their route to learning. How will the education sector and educators deal to overcome these challenges? How will children continue to learn, even as school, by necessity, becomes a digital space? When we know how bad the pandemic has disrupted education. We all know about the digital divide that has been caused due to the pandemic and the need for students to go back to the traditional blackboard form of teaching. Students want lively interaction with their peers as well as their teachers. They feel their growth is getting hampered by being confined within the four walls of the house. School-going children are, naturally, the worst affected education sector stakeholders. For pupils, the lockdown doesn’t just mean reduced cashflow or a professional setback: it represents an interruption to their learning journey. And in the case of dropouts, it was the final straw for at-risk children who struggled to get an education at the best of times.
Every year about this time, India’s coaching industry starts admitting lakhs of students aspiring for entrance to premier institutes. In the wake of coronavirus, numbers are down to half as institutes try to reinvent their classrooms for a post-pandemic world. The lanes of Delhi are filled with the gushing noise of students discussing their coaching class assignments. The entire road used to be buzzing with students throughout the day. Students would be walking in and out of the coaching centers and the private libraries from 8 am till 11 at night. But now, ever since the lockdown and the pandemic hit, the coaching classes lanes have been deserted. No one ever thought the crowded lanes would look this empty and purposeless.
The lanes mentioned above are the lanes of Kingsway Camp to Mukherjee Nagar near Delhi University’s north campus. Home to dozens of private coaching institutions that prepare students for the UPSC and other competitive examinations, the area has remained uncharacteristically quiet for a month and a half now.
It’s a similar scene near south Delhi’s Kalu Sarai area, another major hub of private coaching institutions in the national capital, and replicated in cities and towns across the country. With the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19, coaching institutions have closed, and most students enrolled remain indoors, studying through an online arrangement of content. Competitive exams, originally scheduled around this time of year, have been , offering students extra time to prepare. With ambiguity and fear of contracting the deadly virus students are taking time off from coaching classes and other classes and staying indoors, confined to their home.
In contrast, coaching institutions are increasingly worried. The coronavirus crisis has brought gloom to almost all the sectors of the economy. The private coaching industry in India, which is substantial in size, is also beginning to feel the heat.
April, May, and June are the months when India’s coaching industry gets ready to welcome a new batch through its doors. Every year, lakhs of students walk through them, fuelling the industry’s annual revenues to upwards of Rs 24,000 crore, the estimate in 2015 by a government-appointed committee, and its annual growth to double digits, as aspirations outpace seats.
Many students make their way to India’s coaching capital of Kota, the Rajasthan town whose economy revolves around its coaching institutes. However, a month after most of its 1.5 lakh students left for their homes in other states in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown. This has induced fear in the minds of coaching centers, where the number of institutes is seeing a fall in admissions to half, budgets that are straining to pay for rented spaces, and fear of online competitors crowding them out.
Back in April, the Maharashtra Coaching Classes Association wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray seeking support for over 98,000 members in the form of rent waive-offs, as well as concessions in paying salaries to employees, GST, income tax, and Copyright Act charges.
The story is the same across Kota, Delhi, Mumbai, Nagpur, Raipur, and Indore. All the educational hubs are facing major crises and are demanding certain reliefs from the respective governments.
After the lockdown that began late in March, the coaching institutes moved to online admissions. But, the numbers remain low. Not just as in applicants but their revenue generation remains quite slow. While the new and existing batches where students are attending virtual classes are held on a promise that these will be converted into physical ones soon, ambiguity still prevails.
Those who enroll in coaching classes include school-going school students who are preparing for entrance exams in engineering and medicine, to older ones preparing for the UPSC exams and others. Short of options, students from smaller towns and villages often move to large metropolitan cities, like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Jaipur, to enroll at the larger coaching centers there. Due to the outbreak students have gone back to their hometowns.
The UPSC exam, a crucial stage of the civil services process, has a preliminary exam to screen candidates for the subsequent main exam. Where these coaching classes used to be completely lushed with students by mid-May is comparatively empty. The highest demand remains for the general studies course, there is a good number of students who enroll in optional courses and CSAT too, but this year, every student’s story says otherwise with regards to their future career plans.
Impact of fear and social distancing are the two main concerns that will affect the admission process, even if normalcy returns within this year, both students and parents are scared to experiment with the virus. In the absence of any vaccine, the effects of Covid-19 will remain for nearly two years in the industry. Online-only platforms can accordingly expect to grow fast during this period. But they can never be an alternative to the traditional classroom structure of coaching.