Saturday, May 27, 2006

Coaching Classes or Poaching Classes

I was attracted to this rather loud advertisement in my morning newspaper which claimed stupendous success at the CAT / IIM - 2006 by a leading National Tutorial in the business of MBA Entrance training. Very soon I was to realise that I am faced with a bitter truth of today's education business. Results - is what sells in the coaching class markets and so results is what they will show

- come what may. But in this blind race to show results how far will they go. Thsis ad is a burning example:

In the middle of this full page ad were the hindi words “phir se phod diya” (Cracked Again). On the left side was presented an array of photographs of students selected to the IIMs – the reverse headline said – “from Indore to IIMs – grand success story since 13 years”. On the right side another array of photographs which carried the title “Super Stars of PT Indore Centre – Year 2005”

The fine print is interesting and is full of insight on how masses are fooled by the concerned tutorial into believing that it has been a grand success at CAT/IIMs. Here are some observations

The IIM Selections claimed are of 13 years
The photographs on the left side are not IIM selections of this year alone. They are all the selections that has happened over the last 13 (yes Thirteen) years including the current year. The ad is cleverly planned by writing that vague line “Grand success story of last 13 years” to mean that that the following photographs are of all those students who were selected over the last 13 years.
Obviously for the casual reader this would look like a stupendous result for a place like Indore. I took a quick snap poll to confirm my instinct. The result : 10 out of 10 parents (of under graduate students) had to closely look at the ad three times to figure out that – even the ad is claiming just 10 IIM Selections for the current year.

Lots of these students were not even assisted by them
One of the most defaced photograph – of one “Girish Pahadia” dates back to the year 94-95. Check the year written on the photogrph in that red color – it is poorer than that in clarity in the actual print ad.
I am a close friend of Girish. He told me that he had approached this class for help when he had received a GD/PI call way back in 1995. He was offered to start practicing immediately without paying anything. After attending one session he never returned back & has never paid a single paisa to the tutorial in question. His fault – he filled up a form (he swears that he did not give any photograph then).

Girish is not a stand alone case.
From the students selected this year one - Aditya Gupta – attened exactly two GK lectures (paid Rs. 500 for that). That was their contribution to Aditya’s success. Aditya says that their marketing of GK lectures looked attractive and so I went for a couple of seminars – that’s all. "In fact" He says “I was approached by them many times – being offered freebies to get registered with them. In fact after my admission was confirmed – I was again called to ask for my photograph and signatures. I had refused to them on phone and also told them I do not want to talk to any body from their administration.”

Of course aditya was a regular student with another coaching class in the city. Aditya is furious and for a change he is contemplating action against the tutorial in question. However scores of others who are claimed as proud success by them either do not know (as they might not be in town anymore) or they don’t care to look into the fine print.)

And then there is the case of Saurabh Laddha. Another one who made it to all the five IIMs except Ahmedabad this year. He was a student of this tutorial in the year 2002 (yes – 2002 – do notice the registration number quoted by the ad. It starts with 02 – the year in which he joined – It is 05 for Aditya). He did not get a single call in that year. He started working for a company called CSC at Indore and kept taking CAT every year. He had joined a test series with another coaching institute (not PT Education) and then joined a second coaching class (not PT Education) for his Group Discussion and Interview preparation this year.

He says “it is not just misuse but also misinformation. I do not give a single paisa credit to them for what I achieved this year. Of course they did not talk to me before putting my name and photograph in the ad”

Supriya Gupte appears to be another case similar to that of Saurabh’s. She is among current years selections claimed by this ad. Although I do not have a direct contact with her – but her registration number with PT (published in this ad) reveals her to be student of 2003.

Even if we give the benefit of doubt in this case to the tutorial (for want of concrete first hand information) – others are glaring cases of misrepresentation, at best, and simply fraud - practically speaking. Go on to read more such cases.

History of such results
May be this year they have poor results and they might have done such a thing in desperation?? Unlikely, becuase similar cases exist in this ad which dates back to the time of Girish. Here are some more.

Maulshri Rathi
joined PT in the year 1998. Did not make it to any B-School in that year. Joined another training institute in the next year. Again failed to make it to any B-School. Took up a job with WebDunia - an Indore based software company – appeared for GMAT, applied for the first batch of ISB Hyderabad. When she received a call from ISB for an interview, she went back to the later institute (not PT) for help and made it to ISB. Possibly one of the youngest to join that B-School. Now even PT did not use her name and photographs in earlier communications that it made during her year of selection – but puts her as a proud achievement now.

Pratik Maru -
Was a student of PT in 98. Did not make it to any of the B-Schools. Took up a job and went out of Indore. Appeared for CAT again later – finally got calls for GD-PI and approached another coaching class (not PT Education) in Indore to prepare himself for the final assault. He finally achieved admission in the year 2001. However he is happily claimed as a PT success story now.

Shireen Date -
Joined for a three month elementary course (then called beginners) with PT in 2001. Then she joined a year long course with another institute in the city and was a student of this institute (not PT Education) when she was selected. But as in all other cases she is one of the grand success stories of PT.

The ad is probably full of such cases – I am presenting those for which I have authentic first hand info. All these cases have been confirmed with the persons themselves and the facts are verifiable by anybody.

That’s not all – 3 out of 10 are waitlisted
No, that’s not all. Look closely at that ad. You will then discover that out of the 10 IIM selections claimed for the current year THREE are (by their own admission in the ad) waitlisted. For example the case of Nikhil Paranjape. But wait the admission of that is in the fine print only – the heading at the top happily claims “All final selections after GD-PIs”

In the copy they claim 95% of top B-School selections from Indore – now anybody even on the gut feel will reject such a claim. But who is there to question whatever a copy says.

About the photographs presented to the right side of “Phod Diya” the lesser said the better. Selections to any Tom, Dick and Harry institute has been listed – so that the photographs appear to be as many in number as is possible. Obviously the masses at large do not notice that spending thousands of rupees to seek admission to such institutes is sheer waste of money. However, if these are genuine selections of this year of their own students – they are entitled to make them noticed in the way they deem it fit. The point is only that the ad is hyping up lies and half truths to unacceptably high levels.
Am I reading too much in one ad ?
One can ask a genuine question at this juncture – despite the acts of commission or omission of information in above cases being glaring – is it possible that I am trying to interpret too much in a single communication?

The answer friends, is an emphatic NO. This kind of misrepresentation, half truths, and hyperbole has been a consistent strategy with the tutorial under the scanner – here are a few more campaigns that PT has taken up in the earlier years. Here are past examples

Hype on “Changes in CAT”
Following is a copy of ad that was published by PT in January 2004. The readers would be aware that this was the time when the HRD ministry was working at reducing the number of exams for MBA admissions.

The copy of this reads

“The complete process of MBA entrance will undergo a change soon. All individual institute specific exams are being scrapped and replaced by a central All India test. Syllabus is undergoing a dramatic change. GD-PI may be removed from the selection process.”

It goes on to say
“In such uncertain and turbulent times, you can still sit back and relax. After all, PT is by your side.

PT presents – a completely upgraded pinnacle course ready to support you crack the new challenge of CAT 2004. Created by our large nationwide R & D cell, the all new Pinnacle is the ultimate weapon for you to crack the new CAT. No matter what the pattern finally turns out to be, we will cover it in totality”

This ad was supplemented by seminars and counseling rounds where it was openly said that CAT is changing & PT knows what to do? I am in touch with a student who attended one of those seminars where it was claimed that CAT-2004 will have an essay to write.

All these was publicised whe this discussion was at best a rumor with almost no confirmation either in media or otherwise by authorities that be.

In nut shell a hype was created that CAT is changing and it was blatantly suggested that PT knows about it and has upgraded the course to take care of the changes – much before the changes were even announced by the competent authorities. Of course the ad had a harmless footnote suggesting all information compiled from standard news papers and media sources.

Hype on CAT 2004 Results
Following is a copy of an ad PT indore center published in March 2005 in all leading vernaculars of MP. This is another example of half truths and most probably lies

The fine print here is actually more interesting. Here are some verified observations.

95% of all IIM Calls from Indore?
Below that equation in red (which claims IIMite = PTite) the copy reads – “PT Indore center has 95% of all IIM calls from Indore.”. A blatant lie, because that percentage would be close to 50% in that year and surely nowhere near 95%.

Which Calls?
The headline says “clean sweep of results” . Now the detail - there are 25 photographs with their names. The other information that was provided in the ad was - hold your breath - the name of the course that each student joined with PT. What was cleverly omitted was the information on the institutes from which this students received those calls. Think about it – why was the information on their calls not given when the rest of the ad screams out results and IIM call and what is the logic of putting in the name of the course they joined with the tutorial. Knowing fully well that few people read what is written below the photograph (as long as something is written) and it is assumed that information about their selection is present.

Obviously people were made to believe that there were as many as 25 people with IIM calls in that year alone. All trials to verify that fact failed. My research confirmed about 15 people out of them with genuine IIM calls. Two questions went unanswered till date – Did all these 25 people had GD/PI calls from one or more of the IIMS in that year?? Were all these 25 people from Indore?? The tutorial in question was completely quiet on this account despite pamphlets being distributed in Indore on similar themes by competition.

That’s not all. At least one student – Nitisha Laddha - in this set of photographs was a case of misrepresentation again. She was pursued by PT into attending their GD/PI training free and she attended just one session due to consistent pestering of their counselor. The next day she was in their ad.

The Toppers Campaign
In June 2005 PT came with another campaign both in the news papers and also on the hoardings at Indore. The campaign was named – “Toppers Unlimited”. It claimed that PT had 10 toppers in a row. Toppers meaning their students reaching the first rank of the exam.
Now, a closer look in the ad will reveal 4 CAT toppers for that year (100 percentile), One MAT topper followed by a few names who topped their MBA course or their branch at their respective institute. Examples – There was a photograph of one Neha Taleja – the fine print said she is a topper (a gold medalist) at M.I.C.A. and then there was a Prashant Dinodiya – Topper (gold medalist) for best overall performance at IIM Kozhikhode.

(I will soon post the ad and the hoarding photograph of this campaign too)

When an institute who trains students for MBA entrance claims credit for their success at the respective B-School, isn’t it blatantly stretching things a bit too far. Moreover, clubbing them with successful students of CAT and other MBA entrance exams is a glaring case of misguiding.

Why PT be singled out
In a world full of cut throat competition, why single out PT? Aren’t their more players, brands in the market who might be following similar practices?

The answer to this question is manifolds –
First, I write about PT because I know more about what they do & how in Indore.

Second, because I believe that most other players in the market are not so blatantly unethical. Yes, in a commercial/professional world of business, promoters of most such businesses (including me) might have, in their weak times, resorted to a half truth here or a creative interpretation there. But the consistency and the brazenness of PT is truly unmatched.

Third, Campaigns like those above, tend to brainwash students into believing loudness to be the truth. This post on the blog is just my way of reaching out to a larger mass.

There must be more names in the industry who are involved in such misrepresentation – but I have seen only this one as the most blatant by far. Moreover, there are smaller players who get into such practices more out of desperation to get business but one expects more ethical behaviour from a national player.

I am sure that none would disagree when I say that Mainstream Media would not like to take this issue as that would mean targeting someone who is a big source of ad revenue

The way forward
Education has already attained the status of a booming industry in India. Increasing awareness of merits of education and the high flying lucrative careers being talked about in media has made it an exciting business preposition. Burgeoning numbers of students compete for ridiculously low number of seats. For instance, for a less than 1500 seats at the IIMs more than 1,75,000 people appeared for CAT last year. This numbers are growing faster then ever before and the news. As a result professional/commercial coaching classes have gradually replaced the erstwhile tutors or conventional coaching classes run by teachers. The business is now conducted by managers who play with the psyche of people and are masters in the art of influencing through communication.

Something needs to be done to check all such practices – before it becomes a menace to the society in general. Government, Laws, autonomous regulating agencies – may be yes. A more alert, watchful, unbiased and honest media – surely if that happens half the battle is won. A common association of larger players in the industry who would work towards fair competition – desirable, but I do not think that such a thing will work in the current environment. But something needs to be done pretty soon. Till then “Grand Success Story of PT” continues. This blog-post is my submission to a larger goal.
All images are scanned images of Newspapers (Nai Dunia or Dainik Bhaskar).