Wednesday, November 23, 2005

selling hope in the classrooms

Rashmi in a rather unusual post and-no-1-cat-coaching-class-is says
"Cosmetics is the business of selling 'hope in a jar'. Coaching is pretty much the same thing, except in an overcrowded little classroom"

Some food for thought - that.

A Look around us and we find every student right from a school going kid to an undergraduate has turned himself into an IIT aspirant, an IIM aspirant, an IAS aspirants, a CA aspirant so on and so forth. And each of this category visits a coaching classe nursing, not necessarily serving, their dreams. So far so good - the bigger question that confronts us - do most of these students know what they are into?

Explosion of Numbers
Not long ago a very small percentage of students aspired for a seat in the IITs, IIMs. The numbers have grown tremendously. CAT-2005 was taken by more than 1,75,000 students. Anywhere between 2 to 3 times that number aspire for & appear in the IIT-JEE. The rise in numbers is particularly sharp in the last three years.

The reasons seems to be a herd mentality among students coupled with superb promotion machinary actuated by increasingly professional coaching classes. Wait..... this post is not yet another haraunge on increasing unethical practices among coaching classes - its about something more serious.

Coaching - an FMCG business?
So aptly put by Rashmi in that single statement - coaching has been transformed from a business of supporting the weaker lot to a business of selling success in competition.
  • Like a vanishing cream promising beauty (read fair skin) coaching classes today promise sucess to dreams of students and parents alike.
  • Like most cosmetics the claims made by these coaching institutes are highly questionable (if not false outrightly) check the post here for some data.
  • Cosmetics companies hire models/celebrities to endorse their products when those celebrities might not themselves be users of the products. Coaching classes today do the same - they pay successful students to endorse their classes.
  • Cosmetics companies bundle freebies, discount schemes to boost sale of a product. Coaching classes aggressively do that. A leading coaching institute in Central India openly offered Rs. 1 Lakh Scholarship (yes it was called Scholarship) to students for enrolling with them and finally making it to the IIMs. Another one offered upto 20% discount for enrolling in a group of more than 20. Yet another offers a free trial for first week and so on
  • Like most cosmetics companies the fee (price) charged by most coaching classes is bloated beyond comprehemsion. In case of cosmetics they sell at such exbortinant price because they play on the inherent insecurity of a human being about his/her appearance. Similarly coaching classes play on the inherent insecurity of students/parents about their future careers.
  • A cosmetic company in its enthusiasm to expand its business do not hesitate promising unrealistic results which obviously never happens. Coaching classes also do the same often getting young vulnerable mind to register for courses which are neither relevant nor usefult to them.

So what?

The problem is that today education has become a commodity and students their clients. As a result conventional marketing thinking is being applied to this business - Questions are asked as to what new 'target segments' exist? How can one 'convert' them to premium ctegory products? How can one create a 'brand' or 'media presence' which will attract larger volumes?

To be fair - this has also improved the quality of service (which might not always be education) and the availability of resources to students. But it has also created a hype about a few careers. Today a student gets committed to a few courses without knowing his/her own fit to the course. This happens most at the behest of 'Academic advisors' of the coaching institutes.

One can increasingly notice two categories of students emerging from this system -

One of those who succeed in the exams - feel they were always great stuff and hence often carry a false sense of superiortiy.

Another who feel shattered after not making it because they got committed to a wrong course(For Eg. a student with a purely hindi medium background in education getting committed to CAT for admissions to the IIMs). This happens because they were shown the great lifestyle of an IIM or the paypackages that they achieved from these careers.

Will something happen to this culture before it takes higher proportion - or that we will eventually become a society full of overconfident low achievers and of nervous havocs.

PS. There is one more thing about the analogy of cosmetics and coaching institutes. Most cosmetics might not achieve the fabulous result they promise - however sustained use do give a user healthier skin (if not faires). Similarly most coaching classes add to the growth of the student although their dreams often get shattered. Probably that is the reason both businesses still thrive.