A coaching institute of India-wide repute has lately been advertizing lavishly in the papers, pushing a new program purporting to train young aspirants for the SAT examination conducted by ETS Princeton, so that they can bypass the whole rigmarole of trying to get into some so-called elite Indian college/university – such as the IITs – and directly go to the US of A (which is, after all, the ULTIMATE AMBITION of the whole Indian middle- and upper middle classes; the IITs have never, let’s face it, been anything more than undergraduate churning factories which serve as a stepping stone on the way). After all, says the ad, why waste time trying to get into one of the IITs? They don’t figure among the top 200 elite institutes in the world anyway. Especially when you can go directly to attend the ‘best’ colleges in the world?
The irony in this ad stems from the fact that this is being done by an organization which for nearly two decades, I think, has been both feeding the ‘dream’ of sending millions to the IITs, the ‘finest colleges in India, among the best in the world’, and making a fortune out if it (they have started ‘preparing’ kids as young as class six). Obviously, their chief honchos are now beginning to realize that this particular milch cow is beginning to dry up slowly – the competition has increased manifold, the market is reaching saturation, and a still small but increasing number of parents are beginning to realize that getting into one of the IITs, especially these days, is something pretty much short of finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; the best that they can lead to is attempts to go off into a master’s course on scholarship somewhere in the US, or preparing to get into some decent B-school, or taking a shot at the civil services. And a lot of photographers and fashion models and lawyers and private tutors and chefs and airline pilots and musicians and restaurateurs are making far more money than IIT graduates on the average can ever hope for. But imagine: it’s a big ticket tutorial which is saying so now, not just Suvro Chatterjee, who is just a small-town private tutor of English and who has been reviled, scorned, feared and avoided by a lot of parents and kids alike simply because this is the tune he has been singing for 25 years and more!
But caveat emptor. Unlike these big businesses/cram shops, I have never wavered from the true teacher’s credo in all my life: tell the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be, and even if it brings me no material advantage whatsoever. This SAT is no big deal; steer clear of expensive coaching for it. If you have an ICSE/ISC background and are in the 75%-plus marks category, to get a decent score in SAT which will get you admission to a fairly good college in the US, you need to do nothing more than buy a widely available guidebook for a few hundred rupees and practise daily for an hour or two for two months or three. Of course, that will not ensure you a full scholarship: for that, you need to score in the 99th percentile or higher, and most of you should forget about that straightaway, unless you really believe you are Einstein or Tagore. These newfangled courses will be designed for the wards of that newly-rich class of Indian parents who can afford to send off their kids to Umrica on their own, no scholarships needed – that’s anything between 15 and 30 lakhs a year or even more for four straight years. So if your dad makes something between Rs. 50,000 and 200,000 a month, don’t even think about it. The ad talks about sending you to Harvard. Well, I know a bit more about the ways of places like Harvard than the average parent hereabouts, and let me tell you this: the three best ways to get in there are a) prove that you are the next Zuckerberg, even if not Einstein (it will not hurt to watch the movie 21 either), b) have a surname like Gandhi (not even an Ambani or Tendulkar is quite good enough), or c) tell your dad to make a $10 million endowment to the university fund. Note: coaching classes don’t figure in this picture at all!