Online coaching in Kota: ‘Covid has taught me that nothing is impossible… I can’t wait for physical classes to resume’

In May last year, when life came to a standstill after several rounds of lockdown and students in Kota, Rajasthan desperately approached state governments to help them return home, Soyeb Aftab took a decision. “The Odisha government sent us buses, but I knew I wouldn’t find the same study environment in Rourkela. So I decided to stay back and continue my preparations,” says the 18-year-old who lived in Kota with his mother, and continued his coaching at the Allen Career Institute.

The move paid off. In October, Aftab not only took first place in the NEET exams, but became the first to score 100%.

“There was a lot of talk about the pandemic, the virus, but I just blocked it… Virus ka darr toh tha heen (I was afraid of contracting the virus), but I paid attention to online conferences, tests and WhatsApp chats with my teachers,” says Aftab, who entered the Indian Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi.

As the pandemic disrupted most academic calendars in 2020, Kota, the country’s largest training facility, was forced to go digital within days.

With the future of 1.5 lakh students at stake, says Pankaj Birla, Vice President of the Allen Coaching Center, the shift to “Allen Digital” was swift. “We managed to reach 100% of our students in a few months. Since the program for most batches was completed in March, we focused on clarifying doubts through our “e-solution” platform, where teachers had to answer questions within 24 hours,” says- he.

Another staff member closely associated with the move online said that within two months the institute had managed to install high-quality materials in teachers’ homes and had started uploading courses. “We also set up a mentorship program that helped many students who didn’t have laptops or had poor internet connections. Under the program, 50 students were assigned a mentor and they could call him anytime to ask questions,” he said.

For students in remote areas, the institutes have come up with other ingenious solutions. “Many of our students at J&K didn’t have 4G or 3G connectivity and couldn’t view the classes online. So we put the lectures on a USB drive and posted them,” explains Pramod Maheshwari, director of Career Point.

But overall, he says, 2020 has taught us that the digital platform is an effective and flexible medium for education. “Students can review lecture recordings to understand a topic; they study at home, so there is more moral support; and there are no travel hassles,” says Maheshwari, adding that even though the students of the institute are among the best in the NEET and IIT-JEE exams, “it would be unfair to compare the results with the year last, because most of the coaching was completed in physical classes before the pandemic.

The Maheshwari team has also started accepting applications for the next session, and this time they are offering students the opportunity to take courses both online and offline. “Amazingly, we have doubled the number of applications for physical courses compared to last December, and most people are opting for our “Gurukul” campus, where students cannot leave the campus and where there are also accommodations for families,” he said. Career Point charges Rs 90,000 for physical courses and Rs 30,000 for its online course.

Sangam Kumar, 18, who at the start of the pandemic left Kota to return to his home in Jamui district, Bihar, said: “There was a lot of panic then, and we were all scared… Once returned home, I felt eased,” Sangam says. “I joined engineering schools, but I didn’t follow the course of my choice. I plan to drop a year and go back to Kota,” he adds.

Back in Delhi, Aftab started another series of online courses. “AIIMS has started its first year courses. I only went to campus once, when I registered. The pandemic has taught me that nothing is impossible and I can’t wait for physics classes to resume,” he says.

Read more about The Indian Express series, ‘Silver Lining: A Yearbook’

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