Advertising, coaching classes and education

In the same edition of the The Times of India that carried the news report on Hafiz Contractor, there was a report on a more interesting case. Titled “Coaching class ad leaves IIT dean red-faced”, the report states:

A newspaper advertisement for an IIT entrance coaching class had the campus in a flutter recently. Reason: The ad carried a photograph of IIT Bombay’s dean for student affairs, Prakash Gopalan, along with a note from him praising the coaching class.
    The ad … carried a handwritten note from Gopalan, … “Based on our experiences with our son, we very strongly recommend (this coaching class) to every parent and student in the process of choosing the best coaching class for JEE at Mumbai.’’
“I did not endorse the coaching class,’’ … “I had sent my son there and had written the note as a feedback. The note was written by me in good faith and in my capacity as a parent. I had not written the note as an IIT dean. I had no idea that it would be published in the newspapers. My permission was not sought for using my feedback in an advertisement,’’ Gopalan told TOI… 
   Praveen Tyagi, MD of the class, said he would not have used Gopalan’s feedback in the advertisement had he known it would have caused him so much trouble. Tyagi, however, felt there was nothing wrong with the ad. “If the dean’s son has studied at my coaching class and he is satisfied with the teaching he received, why should it not be publicised? I have the utmost regard for IIT professors and their feedback means a lot to me. I haven’t used this for personal gains. I just wanted parents to be aware of the calibre of my class. Many ads make false claims, but I was only telling the truth,’’ said Tyagi.

Apart from the issue of permission for using the feedback in an advertisement (a narrow technical issue that depends on how the feedback was given, privacy policies etc), just what is wrong with the advertisement? A conflict of interest between the dean’s roles as a parent and as a dean? How so? As Tyagi says, “I was only telling the truth”. Can the truth create a conflict of interest? Also note, how Tyagi feels it necessary to include the rather comic “I haven’t used this for personal gains” as part of his defence. How is it not personal gain? And what is wrong with personal gain anyway?

Part of the reason for the flutter over the incident is that most of the policy makers want to discourage coaching classes. But the coaching classes are there for a reason. The government-approved syllabus and examinations for the years leading up to undergraduate courses holds no challenges (and therefore provides no motivation) for students who aspire to join IIT Bombay. Nor does it prepare them for the highly competitive and challenging Joint Entrance Examination conducted by the IITs (Atleast it used to be challenging. Attempts have been made to lower the bar to make coaching classes irrelevant). The coaching classes (atleast the good ones) actually provide a much better education than the government recognized and mandated pre-undergraduate courses. Coaching classes are so prevalent that most students attend them in addition to regular (government-mandated) school. Indeed, there are government recognized colleges that allow students to take the mandated board examinations but do not require daily attendance (I do not know whether this is legal, but it is definitely widespread). The students attend coaching classes instead of the regular colleges, create fake records of laboratory courses which the coaching classes do not have and clear the board examinations with no trouble at all. All this because regular education is protected from commercialization by state decree. I do not know all the details of what is allowed and what is not but the end result is that any professional needs to hold a government recognized degree from a non-commercial government recognized and regulated organization, while the actual education that the degree is supposed to certify comes from parallel higly profitable commercial organizations. The parents (few students finance their own education) end up paying for both and the students end up wasting a lot of their time at useless institutions where they learn nothing.

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