The Ministry of Higher Education Government of India (GoI) recently issued fresh guidelines to all the States and Union Territories (UTs) to frame a regulatory framework for the functioning of the private coaching centres in the respective states and UTs.
The guidelines have been issued to regulate the coaching centres after the GoI observed a mushroom growth of private coaching centers across the country who are not regulated by any competent authority and are charging exorbitant fees for different courses at their own sweet will.
The government has also observed that the guidelines have been issued amid the rising student suicides, fire incidents, inadequate facilities, and questionable teaching methodologies prevalent in these coaching centers.
In the guidelines, the GoI has set certain provisions for providing registration to the coaching centres and the coaching centres have been asked to publish the qualifications for tutors, student enrollment and they have been barred from publishing "misleading" advertisements.
Apart from other conditions set for granting registration to the private coaching centres, the union Ministry of Higher Education Department has stated that no coaching institute should enrol any students below the age of 16 years in the coaching institute.
This has started a debate as stakeholders and a section of parents question the government decision to bar the students below the age of 16 years from taking any private coaching.
Firstly, if we talk about the guidelines, the J&K has already set guidelines in place for regulation of the private coaching centres. The regulations were framed for the private coaching centres under the government order number 435 -Edu of 2010 in which the government decided to regulate the functioning and performance of the private coaching centres across Jammu and Kashmir.
Over the years, the private coaching centres are governed by the same order in which all the parameters have been set for the registration and functioning of the private coaching centres. No doubt that the guidelines have become irrelevant from the past few years as the government's regulations have taken a back seat and all the private coaching centres are functioning at their own whim and will. There is no mechanism to regulate the fee structure while other parameters set for registration of coaching centres are also violated in the majority of the coaching centres. It has been more than three years that no inspection is being carried out by the competent authorities to check whether these coaching centres are following all the parameters which are prerequisite for their functioning in Jammu and Kashmir. Last year, the Director School Education Kashmir (DSEK) stated that none of the private coaching centres was registered in the Valley as the department has not granted registration to any of the coaching centres particularly the new ones established in the Srinagar city and other districts as well.
Coming to the latest move initiated by the Union Ministry of Education (MoE) for regulation of the private coaching institutes, the coaching centres running across Kashmir have once again come to limelight with regard to their registration and their performances.
Compared to the existing guidelines set for private coaching centres across Jammu and Kashmir, the guidelines issued afresh by the MoE have some additional points which have no mention in the regulations framed by the Jammu and Kashmir government in 2010.
The guidelines issued by the MoE ensure an easy exit policy and fee refund policy while both the conditions have no mention in the existing guidelines. Even though the issue was discussed at several occasions at government level, no such policy was ever adopted by the private coaching centres in Jammu and Kashmir till date. Most of the coaching centres either take the whole amount of fee in advance or in two instalments which leaves no scope for refund or easy exit option for the students.
The guidelines issued by MoE state that the coaching centres should provide easy exit policy, fee refund policies. If the student has paid for the course in full and is leaving the course in the middle of the prescribed period, student will be refunded from out of the fees deposited earlier for the remaining period, on a pro-rata basis within 10 days.
Now coming to the point. Putting a rider on the age of a student for being enrolled for private coaching needs to be reconsidered as the decision should be taken by the parents on the basis of the assessment of their kids. Also, unlike other places, schools in Kashmir are closed every year for around three month-long winter vacations following which the students need to be engaged with private coaching so that they remain in touch with their studies during the vacation period.
In Kashmir every parent is not a teacher who is entitled for winter vacation and can spend time with kids at home during the vacation period. But most of the parents are in other professions and do not spend quality time with kids in winter months.
So, during this period all the kids from lower classes to higher secondary level get themselves admitted in private coaching centres in Kashmir. For some kids, the private coaching is a timely factor and they go for private coaching only during winter months while some of the school children go for private coaching throughout the academic session. Why private coaching is preferred by school children in addition to their schooling in government and private educational institutions is a separate debate but the fact is that the students take private coaching mostly in winter months.
In some cases, it is the parents who take a decision to send their kids for private coaching after doing an assessment of their kids in terms of their learning ability.
So considering all the factors, it is really a good step if the private coaching centres are regulated and the students are provided options for easy exit and other facilities like fees refund. But putting restrictions on admission in coaching centres on the basis of age can wait. Let this factor be taken care of by the parents and the students. But yes, functioning and performance of the coaching centres can be and should be strictly monitored by the competent authorities.