FEATURES/Cross Border | Jun 7, 2012 | 39245 views

The New Coaching Class in Kota

South Korea's Etoos is taking on the top players in Kota's entrance test business. But will its new approach work?
The New Coaching Class in Kota
Image: Amit Verma
A DIFFERENT CLASS Director of Etoos India Choi Young Joo (foreground)along with the general manager of the coaching centre, Kim Dong Woun (right), and other faculty members (facing camera) in a classroom at Kota


ota, in Rajasthan, is one of those rare places named after a loser. When Jait Singh of Bundi slew the Bhil chieftain Kotya and captured Akelgarh in 1264, he was so impressed by Kotya’s bravery that he named his newly conquered principality Kotah after him. Ironical, as today thousands throng to this small town, some 240 km south of Jaipur, to win at a more refined version of combat—the entrance examination to top engineering colleges in India.  

Situated on the banks of the Chambal River (yes, the same one that passes through ravines once lorded over by dacoits like Paan Singh Tomar and Phoolan Devi), Kota was known more for its saris and a fine-grained variety of limestone. But that changed when an engineer at JK Synthetics, VK Bansal, took up teaching after being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a hereditary muscle disease for which there is no cure. He set up Bansal Classes to coach students for entrance tests. By the late 1990s, when Bansal’s students began to regularly figure in the top 100 of the IIT entrance test ranks, Kota became the place to go for those seeking a ticket to the top colleges and a plum job.
When other successful coaching institutes mushroomed (set up mostly by those who branched off from Bansal Classes), Kota changed from a sleepy town to one in which thousands of sleepless students prepared day and night for the tests. The fact that these students spend lakhs of rupees each on tuition and lodging allowed both the coaching centres and the residents of Kota to prosper. And when success comes, so does more competition.         

Enter the Koreans
Etoos Academy, backed by the $104-billion SK Group (among South Korea’s top four conglomerates) and one of South Korea’s leading coaching institutes, has set up shop in Kota. Entrance tests are as critical in South Korea as they are in India, if not more. There, more than 80 percent of high-school students move on to higher-level education. So, doing well in the college entrance exams—also known as the College Scholastic Ability Test—is a prerequisite to getting into a prestigious college. Not that different from India, where every year more than 4,50,000 students take the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) entrance exam and only 3 percent of them are successful.


Infographic: Sameer Pawar

The Indian market’s potential is 10 times that of South Korea’s, says Choi Yung Joo, the Korean director, sitting in a small office in the Etoos building in Kota. “There are simply many more students here than there, and the idea of private coaching is very popular,” he says. Unofficial figures peg the Indian coaching market at Rs 15,000 crore. This prompted Etoos, with no experience of operating anywhere outside Korea, to open its first overseas office in Kota two years ago.

The first director of Etoos India, Kang Sung Jin, spent six months in Kota before starting operations. He soon realised that the real rockstars in Kota were the teachers. They were the magnets that attracted students to various institutes. So, he decided to hire the best ‘star’ faculty available.

Like Navneet Jethwani, one of the most sought-after teachers in town. In 2011, when working at Bansal Classes, he got a call from someone who spoke English with an accent. The voice at the other end told Jethwani about a new coaching centre called Etoos. “We are trying out a new approach,” the person continued. NJ sir, as he is known to students, was sceptical, but agreed to meet. Today, he is a faculty at Etoos, and earns more than he ever did.

To really appreciate the celebrity-like status of the star teachers in Kota, all one has to do is look at the billboards. In any other town, they’d be adorned with smiling pictures of film stars or sportspersons endorsing various products. But not so in Kota. Here, they are all about teachers—NKC sir, SK sir, NJ sir, and so on.

Jin ‘poached’ 21 faculty members from Bansal, Vibrant Academy (another top player) and other leading institutes. Of the 21, nine were ‘stars’. According to reliable sources, who wished to remain anonymous, these stars got a salary of about Rs 40 lakh a year. Etoos paid them around Rs 50 lakh-Rs 60 lakh, says a faculty at Vibrant Classes. The exodus of these star teachers dealt a severe blow to the top coaching centres, especially Bansal. It was just recovering from a similar setback in 2009, when seven star teachers broke away to form Vibrant.

This article appeared in the Forbes India magazine issue of 08 June, 2012
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Comments (13)
Manish Kumar Jan 11, 2013
No teacher or coaching institute has ever produced a genius. Only one who bases himself on intuition and hardwork becomes a genius.
Kshitij Aug 1, 2012
Amazingly written. For someone who has gone through the phase of Kota and experienced it all i can tell you seem to have narrated it well. This also highlights how big this industry is and how its attracting more and more people into this field.

Too bad our Government doesnt realise this and go about correctional reforms so that these practices (however profitable and innovative) they maybe would not really be required, in an ideal situation.
Navneeta Barooah Jun 18, 2012
Very interesting! I recently witnessed hundreds of students going from far flung Assam and its neighbouring areas- a north eastern state in India. 'Kota' is getting so popular among students and their parents community that they literally pray God to get an opportunity to be there and get trained...Amazing!
Response to Navneeta Barooah:
Anirvan Jun 29, 2012
You are right. And for this reason some of the older coachings have entrance tests to screen students! So students go through one test to get into the coaching, which will then prepare them for the final IITJEE test. Or whatever form the new IIT entrance exam will take.
Nitin Jun 12, 2012
Kota was pegged to be the Industrial capital of Rajasthan but most industries that were set up had to shut down or ran into losses due to lack of political will and vision (as in the rest of the state). This forced some residents to look at alternative avenues and given many of them were engineers, and engineering is by far the most popular career choice amongst India's middle classes, coaching for engineering aspirants probably hit the jackpot. Clearly Kota is no metropolitan city, however am not sure It's a small town either. Its the third largest city in Rajasthan (after Jaipur and Jodhpur) with a population of over a million people. Given its faster growth trajectory, it might actually overtake Jodhpur as the second largest city in the state in the next 5-10 years. Its a major railroad junction, has a huge cantonment, thermal, atomic and hydro power projects and a relatively cosmopolitan population. Its also the divisonal headquarters for the region with command over many surrounding districts. Unlike Rajasthan more popular though clearly smaller cities (Udaipur and Jaisalmer for example) its largely off the tourist map. Wondering if that's the reason for the 'small town' perception (unless of course we'd like to consider all urban centres other than the top 4/6/8 metros as small towns). Disclaimer: I'm not a resident of Kota but have visited the city on quite a few occassions, and have since the first visit always carried the impression of Kota being a decent sized city.
Vikash Goel Jun 8, 2012
I Love this article which focuses on the Education sector and how the coaching business is making positive news in India.

Expecting more such articles on Education and Vocational Training in India
Ankur Jun 8, 2012
well written Anirvan, globalization is getting there in every field slowly
Anurag Mohanty Jun 7, 2012
come on Mr. Intekhab, using 'differently abled' for disabled was understood but there is no harm using dacoits for outlaws. How much respect do you expect for them? Forbes need not be so politically correct. Anirvan it is a good informative article.
Response to Anurag Mohanty:
Anirvan Jun 8, 2012
Hi Anurag, that was indeed well said. Thanks for your comment.
Response to Anurag Mohanty:
Intekhab Jun 12, 2012
#Anurag: I never doubted the article, it indeed is interesting :) Also as you said, we use 'differently abled' for disabled', WHY? to be politically correct right? c'mon u know we weren't being sensitive but being politically correct. Dacoits are also human beings. Outlaw is a politically correct word (at least as compared to dacoits). We Indians aren't sensitive about these small things but this forum I guess is: Forbes it is. Also there can be a separated exchange of thoughts over why those dacoits were dacoits? Ironically today each one of us at least once thought of killing someone due to the insensitivity of the 'system'. Need a driving license, a passport verification, a ration card, or any other services where the government is involved, 'log apna kaam nai kar rahe dost', we grew up in the 80s-90s singing patriotic songs and reading how our leaders fought for freedom but what we got was taxes even on water, next is on oxygen to breath. Am sounding like at outlaw? Am I :) *this was the point I wanted to convey.

And once again, good one from Anirvan (thumbs up)
Intekhab Jun 7, 2012
I like the article but c'mon Anirvan, rather than using the word dacoit you could have used outlaws. *No personal affection to any of them but just that it didn't sound "Forbes".

Response to Intekhab:
Anirvan Jun 8, 2012
Firstly, thanks for reading and commenting here. True that the word 'outlaw' could have been used, but ultimately they were dacoits. They chose that path. Maybe for some of them it came about because of social injustice, but ultimately they were feared because they were armed and ready to kill in order to loot. So calling them 'dacoits' is apt.
Response to Anirvan:
Intekhab Jun 12, 2012
Great! You had to justify that? Lol :)

And how un-parliamentary is it to call 'the real dacoits' as dacoits? You know who am talking about, right? Our very own member of parliaments who are not armed with guns but are surely armed with the arsenal enough to 'loot' and kill a nation. Long live democracy! But thanks for replying
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