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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Student suicides: Our culture of expectation is to blame - Sify

Student suicides: Our culture of expectation is to blame Source : SIFY By : Nandini Krishnan Last Updated: Mon, May 02, 2016 11:03 hrs

As the academic year ends and admissions begin, the stubs begin to creep into newspaper front pages, so common in occurrence that they don’t merit more than a few lines of newsprint – ‘Student kills self after failing exam’. The names and faces change, the haunted expression in their eyes remains the same. Kriti Tripathi was not one of these names and faces, because she did pass the examination for which she was studying so hard – the IIT-JEE. Media reports have speculated that she did not want to be an engineer, that she was unhappy with the marks she had scored, and that she was depressed for other reasons. A five-page letter she wrote before she jumped to her death is being fed to the public in parts. Whatever the specific reasons for her suicide were, Kriti’s death has alarmed us. The statistics which are reproduced every time her death is mentioned are horrifying. She is the fifth IIT-JEE aspirant in Kota to have killed herself this year. It is the eighteenth student suicide in the city this year. It is the seventieth student suicide in the last five years. The IITs have been vilified of late for the number of suicides among aspiring entrants and current students. There have been tirades against the culture they foster among students to get in, to stay in, to get out and be successful. No one who has grown up in India could be unfamiliar with certain aspects of ‘IIT prep’. The students who undertake coaching right from Class 6, so that they will be accepted into elite coaching centres when they are in Class 11. The bleary-eyed, overworked students who go to school from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, and then coaching classes from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm. The students who take a year off to go to intensive coaching centres, where they study up to eighteen hours a day, only taking breaks to eat and sleep. Parents, teachers, educational institutes, and the IITs will be blamed in various analyses. But where does the burden of expectations start? The problem is not with people or institutions alone; it is endemic to our culture. In India, success is inextricably tied to a particular set of things – a private education, a professional degree, a scholarship in a prestigious foreign institution, a work permit abroad, and a large house with picket fences and artificial lawn in a neighbourhood made familiar by American television dramas. Practically from the moment a child can speak, we want to know whether he or she would rather be a doctor or an engineer. These are the only acceptable choices. Any other answer – teacher, poet, dancer, singer, sportsperson – is laughed off as unviable. A child who wants to enter politics and change the world is told that politicians are corrupt. A child who wants to become a scientist is indulged briefly, before being told he or she is being too ambitious. A child who is immensely talented at sports, dance, or music is told not to waste time on extracurricular activities. All of a sudden, the school education authorities wake up and decide academia cannot be the only criterion on which a student is judged.   The solution – Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation – only makes things worse: students will now be judged on academic performance in addition to several other aspects of their education. A slip in any one will have a bearing on their overall record. The word used over and over and over again in schools and homes is “focus”. Students are expected to focus on their studies. They are expected to focus on their careers once they are done with their education. They are expected to focus on their families while holding down a job. They are expected to focus on their own children once they produce them, and turn them into bigger successes than they themselves were. × Students must focus on sports so that they can focus better on their subjects.  They must ace “extracurricular activities” so that they will have an edge over their colleagues when they apply to foreign universities. I know children whose waking hours are neatly divided into chunks for various classes – school, tuition, ballet, tennis, cricket, basketball, yoga.   Do these children have the time to play, or the liberty to dream? Can they afford not to excel at everything? When our elite institutions have 100 percent cut-offs for entry, what are students expected to do to prove that they are good enough? Every time a teenager decides he or she is not worthy of living through the next several decades, every time a person becomes a statistic, we ask ourselves who or what is placing this burden of expectations on them. It is us. It is the parents, the schools, the relatives, the friends, the news reports, the success stories. It is everything. It is the culture into which they are born. And we need to change it if we want them to shine before they burn out. Read More by the Author: 

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