Student suicides are our collective shame. Education mustn't be a battle unto death
We need to teach our youngsters that no job or degree defines them.
- Total Shares
According to recent news reports, more than 50 students have committed suicide across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in the past two months. Kota, Rajasthan – the "coaching capital of India" – saw 17 suicides by students in the last year alone.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2015, every hour one student commits suicide in India. This happens nationwide: according to the NCRB, in 2015, the highest number of student suicides was reported from Maharashtra, followed by Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh.
So why is India so dangerous for its students, and what can be done to prevent it?
There are some obvious, broad reasons – a post-liberalisation generation grows up aspiring for a certain standard of life; for most, a professional degree is the only way to attain it; there are few colleges and fewer jobs and so the competition to get into the ones that "guarantee a job" is tragically fierce. Add to this family expectations, the tying of self-worth to scores/grades, and you have a lethal cocktail.
Solutions can be found at the policy level to make the education system less stressful, more attuned to students' needs. The government can start more colleges, legislation can be brought in to make private colleges more affordable. Skill development centres can provide alternatives to those who do not/could not take the academic route for employment.
Parents need to realise that there are a lot more jobs available apart from the holy trinity of engineer-doctor-MBA. Photo: PTI/file
However, these will remain palliative solutions. The root of the problem lies in how a whole generation is growing up, and that is what the solutions need to focus on.
We need to teach our youngsters that no job or educational degree defines them, that no exam result is more important than them. It is terrible that teenagers, with their whole lives before them, think they are worth nothing if they do not manage to score a certain percentage of marks or get into a particular college.
Who is to blame for this? "Society" is a very vague term, distributing responsibility and thus not fixing it on anyone.
The responsibility lies on successive governments, which have failed to create adequate number of jobs; on middle-class respectability, which sees white collar jobs as salvation; on schools, which recognise just one type of "merit"; and unfortunately, but squarely, on parents.
It is a horrible thought for any parent that they might be pushing their children to suicide. But Indian parents need to accept that a general "wanting the best" for their children, and recognising what actually is the best for their children, at par with their unique interests and abilities, are two entirely different things.
Parents need to realise that there are a lot more options available apart from the holy trinity of engineer-doctor-MBA. That job security is not more important than your child's self-esteem. That forcing children to take up a career against their will condemns them to a lifetime of dissatisfaction and feelings of inadequacy.
Schools need to realise that they are not an industry churning out elite-college-worthy products. They are responsible for the holistic development of each unique child, and "education" should include the teaching that no job is lowly, and scoring better does not make one child superior to the other.
The government needs to ensure all schools have qualified counsellors. Loved ones and friends are great, but we as a society need to accept they are not always enough. Not "failing" students till Class 10 does not help, they need to be taught that failure is not the end of the world. The syllabus of schools and entrance tests need to be aligned better, so that the need for coaching classes can be eliminated.
In October last year, Aman Kumar Gupta of Bihar, student of a coaching institute in Kota, jumped into River Chambal. In a video clip he shot before killing himself, he apologised to his parents for not meeting their expectations.
Parents investing their life's savings in paying for coaching institutes where hostels have suicide-proof fans, and sending their 17-year-olds to live there surrounded only by similarly stressed teens, should not be a norm.
What kills children is the weight of expectations, the fear of disappointing loved ones, the "ignominy" of being left behind. Different institutions in the society are responsible for creating these ideas of success and failure. All of them need to do their part in changing this mindset.