I really like and endorse the move made by Ong Ye Kung, Education Minister, Singapore in 2019, when he introduced a new education policy which he hopes will show students that “learning is not a competition”. The approach to learning has in some way always been associated with a spirit of competitiveness and who can perform better. While this strategy may have been used by teachers and parents to motivate the young ones to study, it has somehow left a deep impact on them and unknowingly on parents who had similar situations while they were still in school. Over the years, the education system that we have been following here in our country India is also on similar lines wherein a subtle manner, the message is – only those who can attain the highest marks will make it to a bright future. Others will have to struggle throughout.
Career planning has become a must for children, even better, if parents are also familiar and convinced that a career path of every child will differ based on ample factors. Parents undoubtedly have been main pillars of strength, motivation and behind successes of their children’s career. Unfortunately, this same driving force behind them may at times result in negative and hazardous impact in a person’s lifetime – self-confidence and performances. This is in particular if they are bulldozed with things that they are not competent and interested and secondly if they are forced to compete in trying to achieve certain grades which are beyond their reach. The competitive spirit that has been imbibed into our young souls knowingly and or unknowingly and there seemed to be too much of a desire in wanting to be at the top at all levels, be it in academics, extracurricular activities and learning outside the school premises – keyboard lessons, guitar classes, art classes, cooking classes, personality development, tuitions… you name it, it is all there!
Ironically, the spirit of competitiveness is driven by parents of students who are highly educated. The schools which are filled with children of parents and grandparents holding a high post in a certain office, the haves and the so-called elites of the society experience this immense competitiveness in their surroundings that one cannot even imagine. A friend of mine shared with me, that in a State like Tamil Nadu, people do not discuss anything beyond engineering and medical. The entire upbringing of the children has evolved in such a way that anyone who is not successful in any of these two areas is already considered to be helpless and that their life is waste!
Statistics have shown that the highest rate of suicides is before the Class XII results are declared or after it is declared. The trend has eventually entered the thinking patterns of the society and it seems to have been well accepted too. What is painful to observe is similar trends being copied and incorporated into the educational routine of preschool and kindergarten children up to high school, whereby the level of stress and anxiety among the kids is enormous. While parents do not have enough time since they have to make ends meet, children are being made to literally run because they have deadlines and in particular to tackle the pressure on them to perform better than ever, since one cannot afford to miss the race.
Every hour one student commits suicide in India, with about 28 such suicides reported every day, according to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The NCRB data shows that 10,159 students died by suicide in 2018, an increase from 9,905 in 2017, and 9,478 in 2016. Maharashtra had the highest number of student suicides in 2018 with 1,448 – almost four suicides every day – followed by Tamil Nadu with 953 and Madhya Pradesh with 862. Suicides in premier institutes such as IITs hold a mirror to the education system.
As per data from the Department of Higher Education, under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), 27 students across 10 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) committed suicide between 2014 and 2019. IIT Madras tops the list, with seven students losing their lives during this period. In April last year, 19 students in Telangana committed suicide in a week after the State’s intermediate results were announced. Two years back, in another tragic incident in Madhya Pradesh, 12 students including six girls ended their lives in a single day after the release of the board exam’s results. Kota, primarily known as a coaching centre hub, has seen a series of student deaths every year. As per the data available from the district administration, 58 students ended their lives in Kota between 2013 and 2017 (Source: The Hindu, 2020).
According to a 2012 Lancet report, suicide rates in India are highest in the 15-29 age group – the youth population. The report says that among men, 40 per cent suicides were by individuals aged 15-29, while for women it was almost 60%. Mrugesh Vaishnav, president of the Indian Psychiatric Society said, “Stress, anxiety disorder, depression, personality disorder – all these results in mental illness that leads a student towards suicide. This happens when the students are not familiar/satisfied with his or her surroundings.”
Relationship breakdown is another leading cause. In 2017, Lokniti-CSDS released a survey which showed that four out of ten students went through depression. The survey conducted in the age group 15-34 years also found that one out of every four youth moderately suffered from depression, loneliness, worthlessness and suicidal thoughts. 6 per cent of them got suicidal thoughts at least once. Md. Sanjeer Alam, faculty at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, said, “A student commits suicide when he doesn’t get emotional support at the time of crisis. This might happen when individual expectations are too high. Parental and peer pressure also have an adverse effect”.
A.K. Joshi, Professor and Head of Sociology, Banaras Hindu University, stated, “Academic stress is an obvious factor for students taking their own lives. After studying to a certain level when they feel they are supportless or he/she can’t fulfil their own and their parents’ role expectations, a role conflict starts within the student. In this type of situation, students feel they are left without any choice and so they take such an extreme step”. Pradip Kumar Saha, Director of Institute of Psychiatry, Kolkata, said, “Fear of failure is a leading cause for suicide among students. When students pass through an unsuccessful phase, everything seems pessimistic to them. They feel their future is bleak and this may result in committing suicide.”
At the end of the day, the question remains. . . ‘Is it worth it?’ Has your educational system conditioned our minds to believe in the notion – “survival of the fittest’? Or is there something more to life beyond this competition? I can set an endless number of examples of children undergoing severe depression and mental stress because they cannot cope up with the pressure that comes from the schools, parents, society and peers, examples of individuals who have topped in respective fields, colleges and universities, for the sake of completion of their studies but yet, are not happy in life because of their inner passion longs for something else, outside the periphery of the uncompromised educational standards and norms.
Is Shillong, which was once known as the “education hub” of the Northeast far away from this development? Well, I can confidently say, the race has started. What is left for any one of us to do is to reckon on the way forward, on how we would want to treat your young souls and the path we leave for them to tread. Is it worth to make them go through all the pain, the sacrifice and the compromises? Or do we leave them with a choice to choose, a life that is properly planned and suiting? Swami Vivekananda once said “We want that education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded, and by which one can stand on one’s own feet”. (The writer can be reached at [email protected]