Thursday, February 26, 2009

What the heck are "Tuitions?"

No, they are not related to college fees or fees one pays to a private school to educate someone. If you are in India, the context in which the word "tuition" is used is probably much different. It usually refers to private tutoring. And it is big business in India, just like the juukuu in Japan. And Indian parents are just as obsessed with keeping their kids busy with their studies as their Japanese counterparts. The difference is that there are a lot more of them in India than in Japan. These nations are not alone - there are similar concepts in almost every developed or developing nation in Asia.

So, why is this phenomenon so prevalent in India (and Asia in general)? I think it has to do with the university admissions system. You see, in most Asian countries, universities were built at enormous cost with government help, but they can only educate a small percentage of the population. Although this is changing rapidly with new public and private universities coming on line, the best ones still have limited enrollment. And admission into the best schools almost guarantees that the student has a good career and a good life. So, parents try to get their kids into the best elementary and secondary schools, and supplement with "tuitions" on top of that. That brings me to Mr. Vagh Prakash Shenoy, the owner and principal of a small tutoring school in Karnataka, India.

Mr. Shenoy is a unique individual, to say the least. Thirty years ago, he graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from a prestigious engineering college. If he had followed the traditional path, he probably would be holding a high position in a multinational company by now. But he had a different idea. He figured that if so many students are trying to get into so few slots in universities, then there must always be a demand for tutoring to help them succeed, especially in the "difficult" subjects such as Math, Physics and Chemistry. His idea was dead on. His school started small, grew quickly to 200 students in 1975. Then he decided to focus on only the "serious" students. Today his school has about 60 students, all 11th and 12th graders (they call them "junior college" students), and all of them getting tutored in Math, Physics and Chemistry. They pay the equivalent of about $200 per year, a tidy sum for a middle class family. They come in like clockwork, after their regular school hours. They spend two hours per day minimum in his school. Mr. Shenoy employs four part time lecturers from a nearby college - all highly qualified to teach their subjects (which means at least a masters' degree). Mr. Shenoy himself teaches only mathematics - "that is my passion" he said with a smile.

Just down the road is another school, called Expert Pre-University College. It is a new generation of college prep schools, which will probably be the shape of things to come. I did not get a chance to visit, but I could get enough information from a relative who is a student. Their method is even more radical than the tuitions offered by Mr. Shenoy. They offer a 2 year syllabus that contains not only the regular state mandated 11th and 12th grade curricula, but also includes coaching for one or more of the university entrance exams. The school is year round - the kids get only three holidays. As is the fashion these days, they only offer science tracks - don't bother with business, or liberal arts, thank you. Classes start at 7 am and end at 7 pm, with few "breaks" in between, complete with yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation. Sounds pretty tough, and one may wonder if there are any takers for such a demanding regimen. I learned that just the opposite is true. They have a waiting list, and they now have their own exams for entrance.

More info at:

When one goes back 60 years, when the British left India with just enough educated people to manage their bureaucracy, one often wonders what vision the leaders had at that time for their nation 60 years ahead. I don't know if they could have imagined the strides made by their future generations, but they had the right idea about how to get there. It was to set high expectations for their young ones, and help them achieve those expectations. The results don't have to be luck or chance, or "written" as in Slumdog Millionaire. For every slum kid, there are scores of middle class kids who are competing fiercely to meet their destiny, and in turn shaping the destiny of their nation.

1 comment:

Mudassir said...

Yup u r right ,
Parents think these tuitions do a miracle on their children.i cal it as vitamin T....which has become the most important supplement...and a fashion..