Published: 22nd September 2023
Coaching for UPSC: Yes or no? Let's see what experts say
An exam that needs months of preparation, and dedicated hours, needs to be braved alone or assistance will ultimately not be a bad idea?
When it comes to preparing for the UPSC CSE (Union Public Service Commission Civil Services Examination) aspirants mostly prefer assistance from coaching institutes that are well-established and have records that can display scores of students ranking mightily in the examination, but given the recent atmosphere brewing in these coaching centres operating nationally for different competitive examinations, it is worth questioning if these institutions of learning are ultimately providing students the right direction.
Reliance on coaching culture
The inclination towards these coaching cultures for easy accessibility to preparation materials, top-class teachers and a competitive environment are some of the few elements that students look for before appearing for UPSC, but the increase in dependability on these coaching institutes in gradual time, could be a matter of concern.
MG Devasahayam, a retired army Major and a bureaucrat belonging to the 1968 Haryana Cadre, says that there is now a cent per cent reliance on these coaching institutes, which is further crippling the candidates rather than making them further intellectually capable to understand the system of true governance and leadership.
He further criticises the current system of the examination that is entirely based on ‘rote-learning’, where chunks of information is being fed by these coaching institutes. However, he says that the syllabus covered in the UPSC examinations is not taught in schools, universities or colleges therefore, candidates may need to acquire vital information through other sources, to make the preparation easier, and for that, assistance can be sought.
“Hailing from Nagercoil village in Tamil Nadu, I worked on my own, having gathered all the necessary study materials. I was selected for the interview, and to take extra help, I went to Rau’s IAS Study Circle in Delhi, but was denied on the grounds that there was limited time left for the interview, but I didn’t let my confidence waver and successfully passed it.”
A former UPSC aspirant, Medha Rikhi, says that ease in affordability has now made access to coaching easier. “Most of the institutions are well-established businesses that can readily capitalise on people’s emotions,” says Rikhi in relation to the fact that these coaching centres assure students of their guaranteed success, students too, with passion and zeal, put their faith in these institutions to guide them through their UPSC journey, but in reality, a student finds themselves in a class with other 500-600 students with a similar goal.
“We, the aspirants, used to wait in long queues for the class to start and used to sit in uncomfortable benches for five to six hours straight. No one complained and if anyone did, they were told that one has to sacrifice in order to achieve something in life,” she shares.
But when it comes to delivering the promises made, is the success ratio going up with time, keeping in mind the higher enrollment rates? Talib Khan, from Khan Study Group (KSG), says that coaching institutes have surprisingly contributed a lot to improving the performance of the students, when the latter is able to strike a balance. “We make sure that the pressure of coaching does not lead to burnout or mental health issues, with strategically planned syllabus and additional guidance to address the problems,” he states.
Brace for pressure
An irrefutable fact about coaching centres is that although it is highly criticised, students are still motivated to choose this path. It can sometimes create a situation of adversity that might push the students to the brim of their sanity, but when it comes to the UPSC examination, do these coaching centres act as a stimulant or soon create a block between the aspirants and their dreams?
Medha shares that although it may seem that they are lost in the middle of an ocean, there is a constant flow of energy that one can sense when they meet other aspirants which further helps them in disciplining themselves. She also adds that there are teachers around them who never induce any pressure on students.
But sometimes, situations can also not play to one’s favour, as the evaluative tests done by the coaching centres can be mentally taxing and can lead to bouts of self-doubt and intrusive thoughts of failure.
Khan, who is also the faculty of Polity and International Relations at KSG IAS, says that coaching centres have faced a lot of criticism given the recent incidents taking place at Kota, but he also advocates for the mental health of students which is of paramount importance.
He lays emphasis on the awareness that coaching institutes must have in order to adapt a more student-friendly environment and also facilitate stress-management programmes or sessions to relieve students from their daily schedule.
Get a coach or help yourself?
An argument on the coaching-culture supremacy has been established but the efficacy of self-preparatory cannot be dismissed. On these grounds, E Balaguruswamy, former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University and a former member of UPSC says that having strong analytical power, a mind that can reason logically and proper planning and commitment is needed to succeed in UPSC.
"The power of self is more at play when preparing for UPSC. Coaching is not a must and the study materials provided are not a shortcut that students can opt for,” he says, stating that the entire process of coaching can turn into a bane if followed religiously and without any self-preparation.
A question continues to lurk when it comes to what kind of guidance does one really needs, is self-study enough or would coaching centres rob students of their individuality like robots programmed to perform? Is there any validity to the statement? The KSG mentor is of the notion that self-study offers a valuable foundation, helps adopt critical thinking and renders the aspirant to independently form opinions.
But he adds that mentorship or coaching accelerates learning. “Coaching indefinitely offers a structured path forward but students should be mindful of the balance, as too much of a guidance can limit one’s originality and might also result in inefficiency.”
Medha too opines that coaching centres can be of great help if one can rely on them, albeit not too heavily, and also have the time to analyse their own progress. She adds that whatever is taught to the students should not be equated with their own philosophy, and a person must strategise as per their needs or can take external help from other people who have successfully cracked the exam.