Sarika Shelke comes home from college at 3.30pm, and five minutes later, she has logged into her computer, put on her headphones and connected to the virtual classroom of a coaching class miles away from her residence in Dhule. At 4pm, her tutor is on the screen proceeding with the lesson scheduled for the day on a white board.
For Sarika, online coaching for the joint entrance examination (JEE) to an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) was an easier than moving to a big city and spending on accommodation, food and junior college education.
Preparing for competitive exams through distance learning for engineering, medical and foundation courses is catching the fancy of students from small towns including Dhule, Jalgaon, Rajgarh, Aurangabad, Nashik, Kolhapur and many others.
These towns have seen at least a 10-12% rise in enrolments since 2014 for distance learning courses, mainly online, at coaching classes in Pune and Mumbai.
Course providers claim they have had over 10,000 students from Tier III and IV cities in Maharashtra in the past four years for their distance learning courses. The trend shows that rural students are taking to online education to prepare for competitive examinations including GATE, IIT-JEE, Common Admission Test (CAT) and others.
"There are many benefits of the online course which includes not having to move to any location, convenience of choosing my time, recording the lectures and revisiting them when in doubt. I can concentrate on my junior college studies after I am done with the competitive exam preparation as it is just four days a week and I save time on travelling," Sarika said.
The GATE academy started its distance learning courses in 2010 and for the GATE exam held in 2011, about 40 students registered for the course. There are over 70,000 enrolments under free subscription and officials said that most enrolments were from Tier III and IV cities.
Ritesh Raushan, director and co-founder of GATE Academy, said, "We have seen almost a 100% growth every year for enrolments to our online and distance learning courses. There are three formats on offer which includes live interactive online sessions, an entire course on cellphone or tablets and thirdly, Samsung cellphones phones that come with pre-loaded courses for GATE entrance examination. The test series are extremely popular among candidates enrolling for distance learning. We are seeing a growing participation from smaller towns in Maharashtra as well as other states in the country."
When the GATE Academy started the online course, they thought that the participation from city candidates would be larger but realised that small towns were bigger contributors to the growth. Plans are to develop a cellphone application for GATE preparation where students can sample their online courses.
It is also a cost saver. A normal course for a competitive exam would cost Rs 1.20 lakh per year. An online course would cost just one-third of the normal fee structure coming to about Rs 40,000 to 42,000.
Aditi Avasthi, chief executive officer and founder, embibe.com, said, "We have noticed a sharp difference in the students’ engagement with online courses from remote areas. We have been studying the performance of students opting for long distance online courses and have found that they are emerging as regional toppers. So, it is not just about enrolment, but also about engagement of students in the courses. It shows that students from remote places are quality performers, but poor facilities have left them lagging behind their urban counterparts."