Monday, December 18, 2017
Posted at: Dec 17, 2017, 2:12 AM;
The rising number of student suicides in Kota, the coaching capital of India, and various IITs and other elite institutions is not a story of failure of these youngsters, but of our system
According to the latest National Health Profile published by the government, one in three suicides in India is committed by those in the age group of 15 to 29 years
It has been two years since Sumer Ram, a promising young student of medical stream and an MBBS hopeful, ended his life at a thriving coaching institute in Kota, the coaching capital of India.
Nineteen-year-old Sumer had missed the selection for MBBS through the All-India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT) by 20 marks in 2015. “My son wanted to improve his score to be able to get an MBBS entry in the 2016 edition of AIPMT. He had been at Kota for coaching for seven months, preparing for the next entrance exam. In December 2015 we got the news that he had committed suicide. It came like a bolt from the blue because everything was going fine. The institute people later told us that he had not attended classes for a few days. When we asked why they didn’t intimate us about our son’s absence, they said they couldn’t possibly track all students in the class all the time,” says a teary-eyed Hazri Ram, the deceased’s father, a resident of Nagaur district in Rajasthan.
Hazri Ram is not alone in this anguish. Among the first recorded suicides was that of 19-year-old Nidhi Kumari from Jharkhand. Her father Rajendra Kumar is still grappling with the tragedy. She was studying in Kota for her MBBS entrance.
The latest suicide in this Rajasthan city happened as recently as December 7 this year and involved a young boy. Between 2013 and now, more than 56 students have ended their lives in Kota, unable to cope with the high-pressure preparation schedules for Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) Advanced for entry to IITs and NITs and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test for entry to top medical colleges.
The final push
Why are student suicides continuing unabated? Reasons are multiple. “Mainly because of the way the coaching centres and their schedules are structured. Annual expense to get a student coached in any top Kota institute is Rs 2.5 lakh. It’s a lot of money for most families. Returns are never guaranteed. But parents, in the hope of securing the careers of their children, take loans, sell properties and do anything they can to pay up. The pressure of this cost recovery is squarely on the student who is expected to study well and crack the test. A student’s individual potential for any discipline is secondary,” says Arvind Gupta, a Kota local, who has been tracking city-based suicides.
Each coaching class usually has 200 to 250 students with little personal attention being paid to anyone. Sundays are also not free as internal tests are scheduled on Sundays. The marks obtained in these tests form the basis to rank students within the institute.
“A system of discriminatory teaching is followed in almost all top coaching centres in Kota, which focus on potential high performers who can bag top positions in JEE and NEET. The pressure on slow coping and low performing students is obvious,” says a parent of a student who killed himself.
Alarmed by these deaths, the Rajasthan administration recently issued guidelines to Kota coaching centres asking them to ensure not more than 60 students in a class, mandating the centres to return the fees in case a student wanted to opt out and ordering them to institutionalise a system of sending SMS alerts to parents in case a student absented from a class for more than few days and without medical grounds. The present practice in Kota is to take yearly fee at the time of admission with no pledge to return the dues in case a student wants to exit.
But all this is still being practiced in violation of the government guidelines as suicides continue and as does the business of these centres. The city has over 50 centres. Around 1.70 lakh students annually descend on Kota in the hope of making their dream careers. The commercial value of Kota’s flourishing coaching business is estimated at Rs 4,000 crore annually.
Why do students continue to queue up at Kota despite its reputation of a suicide capital? Reasons are clear.
The mad zeal to crack the competitive engineering and medical entrance exams outweighs all considerations both for parents and students who, sometimes, have little option.
When Varun Kumar, a Ludhiana boy, committed suicide at Allen coaching centre, Kota, on December 3, 2015, his father Balvir Ram was shocked. All Varun wanted was an edge to get enough marks to enter a government medical college which he had missed a year earlier.
“Coaching centres don’t exist in a vacuum. The ground has been laid by our faulty education system where there is a premium on cracking competitive exams while school education is ignored,” says Rajeev Kumar, a former IIT professor from Kharagpur.
These Kota students often take admissions in the city’s dummy schools to complete their Class XII as they attend coaching classes on the side. Local administration is now cracking down on these dummy institutions.
A matter of aptitude
There have also been demands to mandate aptitude tests for students seeking admission to Kota centres so that they know about their potential at the beginning. This recommendation is part of the Kota administration’s guidelines to coaching centres but has not been followed strictly. These centres continue to enrol all students whether or not they have the skill and the aptitude to bear the gruelling preparation schedules. Naturally, weaker students fall off the academic track, many ending their lives.
The cycle of suicides doesn’t end here. It persists through the student life in IITs and NITs and various other elite institutions.
Scores of students have committed suicide after entering IITs because while coaching prepared them to crack the entrance, it didn’t prepare them to stand up to IITs’ real challenge of research and innovation.
Mahtab Ahmed, an IIT Kanpur student, who killed himself some years ago, had scribbled on his hostel wall, “I hate IIT.”
An M. Tech student at IIT Madras, Nithin Reddy, had ended his life after being asked to repeat a course in the final year. Nithin had already landed a job and the repetition would have meant foregoing the job.
The rat race for elite colleges
Even this year, many suicides have been reported from the elite central technical institutes, including that of IIT Kharagpur’s aerospace engineering student Nidhin M in April. He hanged himself from a ceiling fan. “Let me sleep,” was all he wrote before he killed himself.
Former IIT Kanpur Director Sanjay Dhande, who headed
a taskforce to recommend measures to prevent suicides on campuses, feels disproportionate attention and focus on IITs and NITs as India’s top engineering institutions has created the pressure on students to get into these colleges.
The Dhande panel had suggested end of single-room occupancy in IITs and to share rooms to encourage bonding. Another suggestion was to reduce the internet speed on campuses so as to wean students off gadgets and allow them time to concentrate on lessons.
Eventually, a system of MiTR (a guidance and counselling unit) was introduced in IITs to help students cope with the stress of institutional rigours.
The hidden signs
But even counselling services tend to miss signs of stress among students. The counselling wing of IIT Bombay had failed to recognise a student Srikant Malapulla as a depressive. A regular at the counselling centre, he had committed suicide.
“There is no single cause or solution for mental health issues that drive people to suicide. The high levels of competition are a major reason of stress which is why on this World Mental Health Day, the WHO had asked all employers to put the mental health of workers on their agenda. This applies to educational institutions also. Frequent demands of high performance, regular grading and the stress of campus placements in technical institutions takes a toll on students. It’s time to address the issue holistically right from reviving the worth of school education to stressing conceptual knowledge rather than test-cracking abilities which coaching centres hone,” says Dr Rajesh Sagar, Professor of Psychiatry at AIIMS, New Delhi.
Mental health experts, meanwhile, add that suicides are an emerging epidemic in India.
Recent data reveals over 1.30 lakh suicides a year, with young being the most affected and males being more vulnerable than women.
“One in three suicides in India is committed by those between 15 and 29 years and two in three between 15 and 44 years. The younger population is more at risk,” says the latest National Health Profile published by the Government.
It does not analyse the causes behind the trend but presents enough proof for policy makers to consider mental health implications of economic growth, competitive markets, shrinking jobs and disintegrating inter-personal and social ties.
Thursday, December 14, 2017
A 17-year-old coaching student has committed suicide by hanging from a ceiling fan at his hostel in Kota’s Jawahar Nagar area, police said on Wednesday.
JAIPUR Updated: Dec 13, 2017 17:01 Ist
This is the seventh student suicide this year in Kota and second in this month.(HT File)
A 17-year-old coaching student has committed suicide by hanging from a ceiling fan at his hostel in Kota’s Jawahar Nagar area, police said on Wednesday.
The incident came to notice on Tuesday night when Amandeep Singh, who hails from Raigarh district in Maharashtra, did not pick call from his mother, who alerted his hostel mates.
When Singh’s hostel mates reached his room, they found him hanging, police said.
Why Singh’s took his life is yet to be ascertained but a piece of paper inscribed with the word “sorry” was recovered from the spot, said Neeraj Kumar, circle inspector of Jawahar Nagar Police Station.
The student’s body was handed over his parents, who arrived here on Wednesday, after autopsy, he said.
Singh, a class 12 student, was taking coaching for IIT-JEE from a coaching institute in Kota. He had arrived in the city early this year.
This is the seventh student suicide this year in Kota and second in this month.
Abdul Azeez, 21, killed himself on December 6 blaming family problem for his extreme step. Last year, 16 students committed suicide in Kota.
Around 1.50 lakh students from across the country arrive in Kota, is known for its coaching centres, every year to prepare for highly competitive admission tests to enter India’s premier engineering or medical colleges.
December 13, 2017 | UPDATED 18:00 IST
Kota (Rajasthan), Dec 13(PTI) A Class 12 boy, undertaking coaching for the IIT entrance examination, allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself from a ceiling fan in his hostel room here, police said today.
Eighteen-year-old Amandeep Singh, a resident of Haldur area in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh, committed suicide last night in Mahaveernagar I area under Jawaharnagar police station, assistant sub-inspector (ASI) of police Avadesh Singh said.
Amandeep Singh had sought admission in a leading coaching institute about eight to nine months ago for preparing for the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) entrance examination, the ASI said.
The police were yet to ascertain the exact reason behind the boy committing suicide, the police officer said, adding that the body has been sent to the Maharao Bheem Singh (MBS) Hospital for post-mortem.
This is the seventh suicide by an engineering aspirant in the city, popular for its coaching institutes, this year.
Twenty-year-old Abdullaha Azij of Lucknow allegedly committed suicide last week.
On November 20, a 19-year-old girl, identified as Manisha Singh of Patna in Bihar, allegedly committed suicide by hanging herself from a ceiling fan in her hostel room.
The number of suicides by students in the city has, however, gone down by around 70 per cent as compared to last year, police said. PTI CORR SMN
This is unedited, unformatted feed from the Press Trust of India wire.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
November 24, 2017
In 2015, motivated by a cousin, Gaurav* joined IIT Kanpur, making it to the institution through reservation. He had cracked the Joint Entrance Exam despite going to a Hindi medium school until Class X, but his success was shortlived. He was soon unable to compete with classmates in a relative grading system. By the second semester, his interest in academics had declined. After the third semester, his academic programme was terminated.
Gaurav wasn’t the only student who was expelled that semester. According to data obtained by YKA in an RTI reply from IIT Kanpur, the institute expelled 17 undergraduate (UG) students that year on grounds of academic performance – every one of them hailing from SC (6), ST (5), OBC (5), or PwD category (2).
That’s not all. Data obtained through RTI also reveals that this has been the case at IIT Kanpur for at least the last 5 academic years, with every undergraduate student being expelled by the institute belonging to SC/ST /OBC/PwD category (See Table 1), suggesting a systemic failure in addressing caste discrimination and accessibility on campus. The only exception was the second semester of 2016-17, where too, over 80 percent of the expelled students belong to these categories.
These students were expelled on the recommendation of the Academic Performance Evaluation Committee (APEC). The committee made recommendations for expulsion on the basis of credits and grades obtained by the students.
An Inaccessible Campus That Excludes
Asked why only SC/ST/OBC/PWD students were expelled for academic performance in the last 5 years, Manindra Agrawal, the officiating director of the institute, offered this explanation: “Our process is (that) once a student enters into our system, it becomes a purely merit-based process. We don’t look at the category or any other characteristic of a student. And it is entirely based on the performance of the student.”
Activists say the reason this system favours general category students is because the institute fails in addressing discrimination. Odile Henry, a professor of sociology at the Paris8 University who was researching caste discrimination at IIT Kanpur from December 2014 to December 2016, told YKA that students from the SC, ST, and OBC communities feel “very isolated” on campus.
Manish Gautam, an alumnus of the institute, describes this isolation as stemming from what activists call “intergenerational discrimination and poverty”. “I could not live freely, because I studied in Hindi medium, sarkaari school jahaan kuch padhaya nahi jaata hai (government school where nothing is taught), whereas some of my classmates were coming from better schools ,” he explains.
“Caste discrimination is there, but it is very implicit,” another research scholar at the institute told YKA on the condition of anonymity. It comes to the fore when a professor asks a student’s last name, he said. Since seats were increased to provide reservation to OBC students, the research scholar said professors also talk casually about the declining “quality of IITs” due to “higher student intake”.
For students with disability, this exclusion begins with inaccessibility to the campus. Agrawal claims the institute acted on an accessibility audit done two years ago, but could not explain how hearing-impaired or visually-impaired students access classrooms.
“I visited their (IIT Kanpur’s) library a couple of years ago. While it’s an interesting area, but how do they ensure that people with different abilities move through it? Likewise their lecture halls, their hostels,” says Gaurav Raheja, an associate professor at IIT Roorkee who was also empanelled as an access auditor for the Accessible India campaign. He requested his comments be not understood as a formal response of the institute.
Gautam says that apart from subtle discrimination and exclusion, IITs avoid discussions on caste, citing the ban on Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle at IIT Madras. Henry observed this at IIT Kanpur when her research was discontinued by the institute, she alleges, for the “unofficial reason” that she participated in a discussion on the suicide of Rohith Vemula there.
Division Of Labour Based On Caste
The effect caste discrimination has on students is compounded at IIT Kanpur by the fact that they don’t have professors from their community either. The annual reports of the institute from the year 2012-13 to 2015-16 reveal that while the total number of teaching staff increased from 348 to 394, the number of SC teaching staff alternated between 2 and 3, and the number of ST and OBC teaching staff remained constant at 0 (See Table 2).
Admitting the numbers were abysmally low, Agrawal claimed this is so because many professors “have competed in the open and they refuse to put a label against their names”. “So the number that you see is actually those that have declared in their forms that they are from this category,” he said.
Beena Pallical, a national coordinator at National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, says this is like claiming to be an equal opportunity employer by just showing an empty chair. “Why don’t they consciously go and look for those people who can fill those seats? It’s part of their mandate that they have to have these quotas fulfilled,” she said.
The institute, for example, seems to have had no problem filling up the quotas for the non-academic staff of the institute. The percentage of SC, ST, and OBC non-academic staff at the institute, for example, are closer to the reservation requirements, the same annual reports show (see Table 3).
Missing Remedial Measures
Clearly, while reservation policies mandated by the government ensure diversity in the admission process, campus doesn’t do enough to preserve it.
So even though Agrawal confirmed the presence of an SC/ST/OBC/PwD cell, the truth is that if a student wanted to contact the cell, they wouldn’t know where to look. The cell does not find any mention on the institute’s website, unlike the Women’s Cell or the Institute Counselling Centre. The only record of such a cell existing is in the annual reports of IIT Kanpur, where too it is only an SC/ST/OBC cell before 2015-16.
The institute at times seems to have shied away when students have asked for systemic help. For example, when an elected student body asked the Senate Undergraduate Committee (SUGC), which formulates academic policies of the institute, to create a remedial programme for “academically deficient students”, the SUGC formed another committee in October 2015 to look into the matter.
While this committee acknowledged the need for such a programme, it shot down key demands like running summer courses for students stating the demand was not acceptable to departments, the minutes of a July 2016 SUGC meeting show. “Lack of interest of academically deficient students and the stigma attached to it” and “shortage of faculty” for running new additional courses were the other two difficulties cited.
Not everybody is satisfied with the existing mentorship programmes either. “They are like surveillance to just ensure that students don’t commit suicide – that kind of attitude is there,” Gautam, who was also on academic probation at the institute, told YKA. He says he has only now been able to understand that what he actually needed was respite from the baggage that he “came through quota”.
Moving Beyond Quota
Three former students who had been on academic probation at IIT Kanpur in the past five years told YKA that the schooling that precedes IIT makes the institute a challenge for students from SC, ST, OBC communities or for those who are disabled. The problem is that IIT Kanpur continues to perpetuate that challenge, activists say.
“I want IITs to lead as role-models rather than with an approach that we have done this much and it is a great thing and let’s have an applause,” Raheja says. He explains that IITs need to make more efforts at periodic intervals to make the campus more inclusive and not sit idle because a quota exists.
Unless IIT Kanpur does that, it is likely to remain a closed brick-and-mortar entity for nearly half of its students – who avail admission through reservation.
*Name changed on the request of the student.
Ashish Ittyerah Joseph | Nov 25, 2017, 01:00 IST
The suicide of a girl student at an engineering college in Chennai, after she was allegedly caught copying, has brought to the fore the discussion on the burning issue of why our youngsters are not being able to handle pressure and resort to extreme steps the minute they are reprimanded for even the slightest misdemeanour. We speak to a cross-section of people from state educational officials to institutional heads to counsellors on the same. Social media, isolation within one's home, pressure to complete course in stipulated time, helicopter parenting — there seem to be one too many reasons out there for the statistics to show an alarming rise as far as student suicides go. So, what gives?
Social media, helicopter parenting put pressure on kids
Of late, on social media, many people always want to post things that project the best in them or their children. That result in putting unrealistic expectations on kids. That's the main problem. Secondly, we aren't teaching our kids how to handle failures in life. Earlier, when we were children, we were taught that the means mattered and not the end. But now, it's vice versa. In this case also, the same thing happened. She wanted to do well in the exam at any cost. Too much of helicopter parenting is another reason for putting unwanted pressure on students. A few years ago, the higher education department had initiated the Arts and Science colleges to have counsellors and may be soon, we can have them in engineering colleges as well.
- Sunil Paliwal, IAS, Principal Secretary, Department of Higher Education
Continuous communication between staff and students helps
The kind of democratic setup we have in MCC helps us transfuse concerns, worries and anxieties, especially among the students. Also, we've student leaders in the decision-making body and therefore, there isn't much room for any misunderstanding. Continuous communication between the staff and the students helps us sort out issues and find solutions smoothly. That ensures any untoward incidents. Also, considering the number of stress-related cases that we see these days, we have a full-time counsellor as well.
- Dr RW Alexander Jesudasan, Principal, Madras Christian College
Shame the wrong act he/ she did, not the individual
As a therapist, I feel that we've to be kind in the way we bring up an issue, especially when dealing with youngsters even if they're the ones at fault. These kinds of untoward things happen when the core of a person is disrespected for whatever reason it is. You must shame the wrong act he/she did, not the person. Many fail to differentiate between the two. Even to correct a person, we need not look straightaway at punishment. Also, what needs to be discussed is why an individual is being pressured to do something. In this case, she would have been under so much pressure to pass the exam. So, her intention had been to pass the exam somehow and it ended up this way Magdalene Jeyarathnam,
Blame it on the isolation within our own homes
From my experience talking to psychiatrists, some people genetically have this tendency to commit suicide. Meanwhile, in my opinion, this isn't a topic that should be discussed much. Because in some way or the other, that will give people such ideations when they're pushed to a corner. Instead, let's discuss stress management. And the best way to manage it is to talk to someone or call 104 helpline. In the last four years, there have been 1200 people who would have overcome suicide ideation after being counselled by us. There's no way we can avoid pressure, but how we overcome pressure is what that matters. Also, if there's a spurt in the number of suicides, blame it on the isolation that we face within our homes. Everyone is glued on to their mobile phones.
— Counsellor from 104 helpline
We need to build a proper, nurturing ecosystem for children
The family, society, education system and the technological advancement in terms of social media — all these have a cumulative effect on the individual. With social media dominating the web of life (of young adults specifically), the shame the person may have to carry for a minor misdeed amplifies multifold — and becomes a memory that doesn't fade with time. Psychologists have confirmed that we are negativity-biased naturally. Social media seems to increase this vulnerability. Many a time, the individual has been trained or brought up in such a way as to be quite hard on his or her own self — to such an extent that they are not allowed to consider failure or shame as a feather that can be shed. Shame and failure do not come with the same yardstick for all individuals. It is usually not the teacher who's at fault. Let me share my experience here — I went to the school my son studied at one day, so that the parent can observe the proceedings of the class. When asked a question, 80 hands were raised in a 40 student class, with a cry of 'miss, miss'. So much was the enthusiasm to answer. All of them wanted to display their knowledge. When one of them told a wrong answer, the teacher moved on and the kids in the class also didn't care about the wrong answer. It was over at that moment — and the student also never felt any kind of shame in having accidently uttered a wrong answer.
Being a teacher myself, in one of the colleges where students are considered the cream of the country, when I tested the same method as above, trying to draw the attention of the class into answering a simple question, very few hands went up. These hands were of those who were very sure of their answers. For a long time, I did not understand why this shift. It was later, while dealing with troubled students, that I realised why students' behaviour changes when they get into higher classes — it was all about maintaining their image among their friends and peers. The news about failure spreads fast — and this makes these students very touchy about erring. At IIT-M, we have one of the best Student Counselling Programs in India.
We have come to believe in moderate and balanced involvement of parents to be an optimal way. Parents themselves seem to need a lot of counselling, as they often tend to unknowingly transfer their anxiety onto their kids, in the belief that they are providing them with a better future. Actually, we need to do a lot of work in terms of building an ecosystem right from home, school, work and retirement that nurtures the individual in terms of themselves, and helps them shed socially driven anxieties.
— Professor Sivakumar M Srinivasan, Dean (Students), IIT Madras
Students' council needed in our colleges
In these places, there are hundreds of non-teaching staff who've no other job but to monitor students in hostels and ensure that they don't gather in groups for any reason. There are no extracurricular activities in these deemed universities. Basically, it's the fault with our education system. We need to restructure that. It's high time that the University Grants Commission (UGC) checked on these deemed universities and the way they function. Also, students council need to be formed in colleges to address their issues. There's nothing of that sort in our engineering campuses, especially in deemed universities. Now, Tamil Nadu is only second in India in the number of student suicides. In the last five years, close to 40,000 student suicides have happened across India. Several such suicides have happened in our deemed universities in the past. With their influence, they have been able to keep them under wraps. Now, it's because of Anita suicide and its aftermath, such incidents are coming to light.
— D Chandru, SFI south Chennai district president
The punishment must be logical
Children are so mentally fragile these days — I believe they are overprotected by their surroundings and they don't know or want to accept failure. Another reason is that there is not enough communication when the students come to a new college; they don't have friends in the first year, they don't interact with others and feel lonely. I don't know what the inside truth is, but going by the reports, if the girl was caught cheating in the examination hall, a mature teacher would have scrapped her paper and asked her to re-write the paper. They don't need to verbally insult the student in the middle of the examination. But even if the teacher is questioning in the examination hall as to why the student did it, it is not wrong. Today, children are sensitive; they are not able to accept that they are doing something wrong. They do not like anyone questioning them and so is the case with parents these days. If a teacher scolds a student, they are questioned by the parents — 'Why did you talk to my child like that?' So, I don't know where the problem lies exactly. From my experience, I can say that if the students feel and trust whatever their teachers do is for their own good, they won't protest. But teachers must be mature, behave, and the punishment should be logical.
—TV Geetha, Dean, College of Engineering, Anna University
There's unwanted pressure on students to complete course in four years
Pressure is there from both the parents and peers. No matter what, parents want their children to excel in higher studies within a stipulated time and get a lucrative job. Our education system and society are giving too much importance to trivial matters; for example, completing a professional course in four years and doing things only the way it is defined. But if you take the case in the world's most developed countries like America, government expects the students to finish a course in 150% of the time. If it's a four-year course, the number of students completing the course in that stipulated time is very less. And the students there don't feel pressured. Also, when they are caught copying in front of their peers, they fear that their parents will come to know about it and they will be left in embarrassment. Because these students would be coming from the same neighbourhood and their families would know each other. With every parent boasting so much about their wards' achievements, this would be an embarrassment. Another thing is that we only focus on the incident, but fail to discuss the root causes. Lastly, it should also be noted that there's a general perception and talk even among parents that private university education is commercialised. So, such feeling creeps into the minds of students as well and they will not pay attention to teachers. They see us as a commercial entity and give no value to our words.
— Koteswararao Anne, Director of academics, Veltech University