Priyanka Bhadange is just 14. And a very busy 14-year-old at that. Apart from homework and attending classes, the Std IX student is also preparing for the Indian Institute of Technology' (IIT) joint entrance exam (JEE) that she will sit for in four years' time.
"I have started preparing before the rest so that when the time comes, my basics are very strong," said the Sanpada-resident.
Bhadange wants to have an 'edge' over the others. And she has a lot of company considering admissions to the prestigious IITs have become increasingly competitive. Only two of every 100 students who appear for the entrance from Mumbai actually enter one of the seven IIT campuses.
So while a generation ago, schoolchildren in Std VIII and IX just dreamt of becoming astronauts and astronomers, more and more of these students are now signing up at coaching classes for foundation courses that prepare them for these entrance tests. For instance, 150 school students have already enrolled at the Triumphant Institute of Management Education (TIME). "Across India we have 3,000 students, but the response in Mumbai is overwhelming," said Arks Srinivas, Mumbai head, TIME. "The best time for students to get the basics right is when they are in school. These courses bridge the gap between the theory-oriented maths and science taught in school and the practical application of logic expected for competitive exams."
Coaching institute IITian's PACE sends tutors to schools so students don't waste time commuting. "Earlier, 14-year-olds had no clue about what they wanted to do in life but now even 12-year-olds approach us for IIT coaching," said Praveen Tyagi, managing director, IITian's PACE.
Some feel that such early preparation only adds pressure on children. "Parents are brainwashed by fancy tags. Let a childhood survive," said career counsellor Prathiba Jain. "The pressure is unfair, the child will burn out even before he has a chance to peak."
But parents have their own reasons. "My child does not need to do his IIT, but at least he will realise the work involved," said Nerul-based Madhavi Voleti. Her 13-year-old son is attending classes to prepare for the IIT entrance.