Comments to my last blog on Topper TV have been a bit emotional. On the one hand there is SR who feels "the idea shouldn't be to coach them for exams but rather to teach them something". However he goes on to add that Topper TV is obviously catering to the prevailing system and that is topper oriented.
Yeah, otherwise it would have been called Knowledge TV, right?
Ram (who is perhaps associated with the venture?) wants to know why I could not make a comment on the content of the show, instead of the presentation.
The show is about learning science, and not acting. The IIT Professor she picks on is an expert in his field, and not in acting. The anchors tried to teach for the first time at a very lower level and under 1000 and one odd restrictions imposed by the TV channel (e.g the “red shirt”).
The impression I got on the content was a televised version of what's in the textbook. No great innovation in making it easier to understand or remember. But hey, those of you who've actually attended such classes (in school and in coaching) are welcome to add your more informed opinions to the debate.
I just felt a lack of passion, and connection with the student. Maybe it's just the initial stage fright of being on national television?
I would only like to add that teaching is an art. The best teachers need not be highly regarded academics, or from IITs. The best teachers are those who know
their subject AND communicate it interestingly and effectively. And a teacher who changes lives is one who exudes passion, and a sense of empathy.
Anyhow, inspired by this whole topper business I am putting up a piece which looks at life @ India's most successful topper factory - Bansal Classes in Kota. It's based on a long chat with my cousin who spent 3 years at Bansal's (2004-7) but did not make it to IITs (well, technically he did on second attempt but with a rank of 4000 plus he could not get an IIT seat). He is now in BITS Goa and has no regrets.
Thought this just might help some of you considering studying @ Kota or curious to know wahan aisa kya khilate hain :) I for one found what it all quite fascinating!
Lastly, I have not made any value judgements - about whether coaching classes are a good thing, bad thing etc etc. It's all from the horse's mouth, relayed to you 'as is'.
What they really teach you at Bansal classes
- Rashmi Bansal
As such no school syllabus teaches you to think along lines of competitive exams. For that you have to join a coaching class and today, Bansal's is the most preferred.
Why? Because in all 1538 Bansal students got selected in IITs in the year 2007. The secret of their success is 'pre selection'. Admission to Bansal classes is based on an entrance exam after class 10. There are 2 exams - the first is around April 15th, just after the 10th Boards. This exam is called 'Bullseye'.
The second entrance is in the first week of June. This exam is called 'Acme'. It is better to give the first exam, as you will have a 2 month advantage and also, first batch students get the better teachers. Second exam is of course an option for people who have missed the first one.
Majority of students who make it to Bansal's are from CBSE or ICSE board. In my time barely 2 students from state board made it! But even for CBSE students the Chemistry portion is tough as what we are taught in school is not enough.
Yes, there are 15 day crash courses to help you get into Bansal classes such as 'Garg classes'. Not only do they coach you for the Bansal test, they teach you 2-3chapters of their study material so you can score better in the first few weekly tests. Yup, it's one hell of a competitive environment.
You see the 'merit rank' that you get in Bansal entrance determines which batch you get. The top rankers are part of the 'elite' batches which get the best teachers. Of course the ranking has to be maintained by your performance in weekly tests. You get a cumulative ranking based on scores of past and present tests. Those who scored less in the entrance and therefore got a lower batch do have a chance to move up.
But in general, the elite batches have an edge. The catch is you don't know what rank you've got until you've paid your fees in full. By which time it's a fait accompli.
Aspirants can take heart from the 2007 topper Achin Bansal. He is a fresher who joined in S4 batch, which is one of the lowest. But he had worked his way up to A1 batch by class 12. It's rare, but it can happen!
There are two kinds of students - freshers and 'droppers'. Freshers are those attempting JEE for the first time, droppers are those who are repeating a year to give it again. Some join Bansal's dropper batch directly and for them there is an entrance test called 'Sterling'.
In the past people would drop upto 3-4 years and keep trying for JEE. Often they repeated to get a better rank. But with the new rules you can only give JEE twice.
In class 11 - which consists of 'freshers' , the topper batch is P1, followed by P2 and so on upto P6. At the next rung are batches Q1 to Q6, similarly R and then S (upto S6). That is 24 batches of freshers in all. Then you have an additional 9 batches who join through the 2nd test are numbered from J1 to J9. In 12th standard the batches are numbered A1, A2 and so on with A 1 being the cream of the class.
Before 2007, more droppers used to get selected than freshers. Now that you can't keep giving JEE, the ratio has improved.47% of selections were freshers and 53% were droppers. Among freshers, most of those selected were from the top 6 batches ie A1 to A7. In batches after that only 2-3 students got selected. There are 75 students in every batch.
Fresher classes start at 2-2.30 pm because officially morning is 'school timing'. Of course no one attends school, we use that time to do homework of 'DPPs' (Daily Practice Problems). The toughness of these problems rises to maddening heights. Of course now that JEE pattern has changed solving these problems is not so important, now many students don't take them as seriously.
Droppers have no school issue - they study all day. Classes start at 8 am, batches are named X, Y and Z (there were 8 batches per series in my time!)
The main thing is mental toughness and keeping yourself motivated. If you fall behind, you fall behind. You may be lucky and find a sympathetic teacher but mostly you're on your own.
There are all kinds of teachers.
For example there was a Physical Chemistry teacher who was a 25 yr old Chem Engineer from IIT Bombay. He was rumoured to earn Rs 1 lakh a month and they'd also given him a Tata Scorpio. Last heard he had left Bansals to pursue a course in fashion design having obtained an AIR 2 in a national level entrance exam. (yeah, ironic isn't it!)
Also one of the 'maverick' but good teachers, like Mr.Narendra Awasthi aka "Sodium" who taught Physical Chem has left (current whereabouts not known). Mr Jeevan Jyothi Agrawal aka "JJ Sir",an excellent and extremely committed Maths teacher as well as a good human being, has left to teach at "Allen's", a very famous medical coaching institute at Kota. He was the one from whom I received max guidance during my 3 yr stint.
So quality of teachers and teaching keeps changing.
Teaching method is quite informal. There is an a/c in the class but it's never switched on. It's only a showpiece. Also, the original Mr Bansal only teaches Maths. His brother manages the admin.
A roaring business
When I gave the Bansal exam in 2004, 5000 students took the test. Of which 2000 got in. Now they are taking in more students. Currently there would be around 10,000 students in Bansal classes. Of which 2800 would be 'droppers', 3000 would be the class 12 fresher batch and rest would be class 11 freshers (3800 or so in number).
Earlier there were 75 students in a batch.Now we have 85 to 90 in the topper batches and 120 to 150 in lower batches. They have 2 buildings in which classes are held. The new one has classrooms where 150 students can be seated.
When I joined 2 years back the fees per year were Rs 35,000 p.a.. Then it became Rs 50,000. Now it is Rs 60,000. Which means an estimated turnover of Rs 60 crores. Two years ago their official turnover was Rs 18 crores. And I forgot, they have a correspondence course called 'Locus' as well.
Bansal's main centre is Kota - that's where close to 1400 of the 1538 selections are from. There are only two 'branches' - Jaipur and Ajmer. Of these Jaipur is bigger and more preferred (had 154 selections vs 8 in Ajmer). Jaipur and Ajmer branches are generally offered to those who don't make it to Kota.
Incidentally, the 1538 selections includes 60 SC/ ST students as well.
Bansal selection break up:
top 100 JEE ranks: 32 students
top 1000 JEE ranks: 250 students rest rank far lower.
My rank was 4800, there were 860 Bansal students above me, Of course at 4800 I had no chance of admission to an IIT. I eventually joined BITS Goa.
The only other JEE coaching class of any repute in Kota is Resonance. They take in 10,000 students and boast of 800 selections but there are hardly any in the top JEE ranks. Also only about 450 of the selections would be through classroom coaching, rest are people who are in Bansal or other classes but took up one test series from Resonance.
Most students give both Bansal and Resonance entrance tests and prefer Bansal if they get both. Resonance tries to lure you by offering scholarships. They have a hostel called 'Lakshya' where they offer some of the toppers a free stay, provided they keep up their performance . Resonance has hardly any selections in the top 100 but many in the top 1000 (includes both classroom and test series). There are also institutes like Career Point and Insight.
There are barely 300 girls at Bansal classes. ie around 8-9 per batch. The front row is reserved for them.
There are a lot of students in Kota from UP and Bihar. Mr V K Bansal is not very pleased with the Bihar students. A couple of years ago they burst a rassi bomb in one of the toilets, But it must be said Biharis are generally intelligent, good in Maths.
Life in Kota
Bansal does not have any hostel facility. This means booming business for private hostels and PGs. A room close to Bansal can cost Rs 4000 p.m. And this is a tiny room converted from a kitchen. You can get a better room in Vigyan nagar for Rs 2000-2500 p.m. and Talwandi for Rs 1500 p.m. But living in Talwandi wastes time as you have to cross a highway and the signal does not work there.
Yeah, every minute counts!
Hostels are more or less the same. They charge Rs 6000 p.m. for lodging, food, washing clothes. Food starts out ok then deteriorates.Many survive on Maggi - they keep a gas in the room. There is a hot water problem in winter. Often the solar panels don't work. Then people skip baths or heat water with a rod.
On Sundays the mess has a holiday. The only decent restaurant close by is Eatos. Many prefer to eat at thelawalas or then at places like Saat Handi, Maheshwari etc further away. There is a new trend where sometimes mothers come and stay with the kids to ensure they have no 'food problems' and can concentrate on studies!.
Bicycle theft( from landlord's homes, hostels and even parking lots of coaching institutes with security guards is a very common phenomenon). Students are therefore advised to buy second hand bicycles only which are readily available everywhere.
Then there is the issue of attending 'school' . Most people join DAV public school - they actually ask for your Bansal admit card at the time of admission. Of their 400 class 12 students, 350 are from Bansal. Of course they are phantom students and they populate imaginary divisions. We only go for practicals once in a while. You wake up in 12th class around Jan-Feb and cram for exams.
Occassionally there are CBSE 'raids'. But you generally come to know in advance and rush to school, complete the books etc. Another school called 'IL' was raided and shut down Now the school is derecognised but Bansal has taken over the building and holds classes there!
Due to these raids no CBSE school is ready to give fraudulent admissions so people are increasingly opting for Rajasthan Board or National Open School.
Perseverance is most important. Living in Kota on your own, many deviate from studies also. There are lots of net cafes, pool and gaming parlours. The non serious types spend 2 years doing masti, roaming on their bikes and bunking classes.
Other Coaching Classes
In Hyderabad Ramaiah is the most sought after class. They take 150 students, of which 130 students clear JEE. They have stringent rules, including studies from 4 am! Classes like FIIT JEE are known more for correspondence material than classroom now. Even Bansal students join for correspondence and then the names overlap in the list published by different classes, Brilliants is a similar story,
Mention must also be made of Vidyamandir Classes based in Delhi. It is run by three brothers and takes in the creme-la-creme of students in Delhi and adjoining areas like Faridabad and Gurgaon.The focus is mostly on self study and classes are held only twice a week for which students come from as far as Faridabad.
The entrance test is the toughest of any JEE coaching institute in India as they want students who can do everything on their own. 140 out of 160 VMC students clear JEE every year. For those who don't make it, their study material is freely available in the market for couple of 1000 bucks.
But obviously with all these classes it's more about PRE selecting students who are likely to succeed.
And here's a newsflash: At the end of the day IITs call upto JEE rank 7200 for counselling and classes can claim all of these as 'selected' candidates. The last decent course ends around rank 3500.
Therefore the numbers claimed as 'successful candidates' by coaching classes is far higher than those who actually get an IIT seat.
Another point to note: One disadvantage of studying at Bansal is you can't compete for your home state colleges. Your 'home state' becomes Rajasthan as that is where you gave your board exam. So getting into a good college through AIEEE score (where state rank is considered) is next to impossible.
Lastly, in the last one year Bansal's has increased the intake substantially. The toppers come there anyways, there's no harm in admitting more and letting them live the dream. Why give other coaching classes any business?
Disclaimer: Although we share the same last name I am in no way related to Bansal classes!