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Saturday, July 29, 2017

IITs take initiative to reduce suicide among students - DNA

DNA CORRESPONDENT | Fri, 28 Jul 2017-07:35am , New Delhi , DNA

Twelve students have committed suicide and some attempted at suicide across various Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in the country in last three years.

5 such cases were reported in 2015, 4 cases in 2014, and 3 in 2016. This information was revealed by minister of state, human resource development, Mahendra Nath Pandey, in response to a written question in Parliament on Thursday.
According to the ministry, the reasons vary from academic stress to domestic and personal reasons. The institutions themselves, however realise that the problem is serious. Hence, the institutions have started taking various initiatives to make the students feel comfortable, specially freshers and those who have a problem with the medium of learning.

"IITs have been taking various steps such as peer assisted learning, special languages classes for students who need help with studies, in order to ease the academic stress. In addition to this, IITs also conduct workshops/ seminars on wellness, regular sessions on Yoga, induction programmes, extracurricular activities, including sports and cultural activities, to create a friendly environment for students," the minister added.

IIT Delhi, which is one of the oldest IITs in the country and gets students from various parts of the country, is going to pay special attention to its first year students from this year. From their orientation session to extra-curricular activities, the institute is taking some new initiatives.

"We have appointed senior students as guides for first year students. These students will go around at hostels in the night after 8 p.m. to help students with studies. Since the class size in IITs is big, its is difficult to give special attention to students, such efforts will help. This will also keep the stress off students," a professor at IIT Delhi said.

IIT Ropar, which is one of the new age IITs is also going to organise a two-week induction programme for freshers to introduce them to the institute, departments, facilities and life on campus. Other than these, one of the most important reasons for this special extended induction programme is to get the students engaged in extra-curricular activities like sports, yoga and to enhance their social & team skills.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

India Has the Highest Suicide Rate Among Youth. Here’s How You Can Help Someone Who’s Struggling

India Has the Highest Suicide Rate Among Youth. Here’s How You Can Help Someone Who’s Struggling

It is vital that organisations and governments receive support to promote mental health education and promote coping skills in youth.

Approximately half of India’s 1.2 billion people are under the age of 26, and by 2020 we are forecast to be the youngest country in the world, with a median age of 29 years. With this tremendous forecast, it becomes imperative to ensure an environment which promotes positive well-being. Unfortunately, India has the highest suicide rate in the world among the youth standing at 35.5 per 100,000 people for 2012, the last year for which numbers are available.

The reason for such high numbers can be attributed to lack of economic, social, and emotional resources. More specifically, academic pressure, workplace stress, social pressures, modernisation of urban centers, relationship concerns, and the breakdown of support systems. Some researchers have attributed the rise of youth suicide to urbanisation and the breakdown of the traditional large family support system. The clash of values within families is an important factor for young people in their lives. 

As young Indians become more progressive, their traditionalist households become less supportive of their choices pertaining to financial independence, marriage age, premarital sex, rehabilitation and taking care of the elderly.

Emile Durkheim (1966) described suicide as one of the crudest expressions of social phenomenon. Suicide, or the act of deliberately ending one’s own life, is a public health concern and a growing one among the younger age bracket. There are several risk factors that come into play that may be responsible for a suicidal attempt or completion of suicide. Some of those many factors include-
  • being diagnosed with a mental health disorder such as depression or schizophrenia
  • previous suicide attempts
  • substance abuse
  • burden of financial crisis
  • family history of suicide
  • poor job security or low levels of job satisfaction
  • history of being abused or witnessing continuous abuse
  • being diagnosed with a serious medical condition, such as cancer or HIV
  • being socially discriminated or ostracised
  • being exposed to suicidal behaviour
There is a notable gender difference in the suicidal attempts and completion of suicide. Women are four times more likely than men to attempt suicide (make an attempt but not complete), whereas, men are twice more likely than women to complete the act of suicide. India is quoted to experience the highest rate of suicide among the age bracket of 15-29 years.

This leaves an impact on the development and well-being of individuals, societies and nations. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2015 quoted that every hour one student commits suicide in India. Parents and schools cannot prepare children mentally and psychologically for the many triggers in the world. Hence it is imperative that as a society we work to promote a positive environment. It is vital that organisations and governments receive support to promote mental health education and promote coping skills in youth.

Suicide is preventable.
The striking numbers around youth suicide are shameful!
There is about 1 suicide occurring every 40 seconds across the globe. Together, we must all stand up, speak up, and advocate for better policies and implementation of resources for mental health. We must view suicide as a condition needing treatment, not as a punishment. A multi-pronged approach must be taken to decrease the world’s suicide rate. Mental health education and resources for dealing with symptoms of mental health should be taught and promoted from an early age. Doing so will provide an avenue for the maintenance of dignity and help-seeking behavior.

If you know someone who is feeling suicidal or is emotionally distressed, tell them that you care for them. Being an active listener and being aware of signs of distress can help you to be there and make the person realise that you will help them and that they deserve to be helped. Being empathetic helps the person feel understood and heard. It is important to realise that feeling suicidal is not the nature of the person but a mere state of mind. People feel suicidal because they feel nothing else will work out and their death will solve the problem. Suicidal thoughts are often linked with a mental disorder and can be treated well. These are some ways we can help.

In India, suicide is more of a social and public health objective than a traditional exercise in the mental health sector. Mental health professionals, doctors and counselors can be reached out to manage suicidal tendencies. The proactive steps taken by several such professionals in the capacity of leaders has helped and has the potential to help save thousands of lives. There are several organisations, crisis centers and suicide prevention helplines that are offering a great support to the emotionally distressed and those individuals who feel suicidal. Some of the helplines that may be approached in times of need are:

The Samaritans Mumbai
– 022 6464 3267, 022 6565 3267, 022 6565 3247Email: samaritans.helpline@gmail.com
Address – 402, Jasmine Apartments
Opposite Kala Kendra, Dadasaheb Phalke Road
Dadar (E) 400014

MINDS Gujarat– 
BHavnagar and Vadodara, 

Police Control Room, 

+91 22 2556 3291, 
e-mail – icall@tiss.edu

Thanal– KERALA
0495 237 1100
E-mail – thanal.calicut@gmail.com
Address – Iqra Hospital
Calicut 673009

+91-480 – 2820091
Address – Vidya Jothi
Cathedral Junction
Irinjalakuda 680 685

+91 484 2448830
E-mail – rajiravi2000@hotmail.com
Address – Near Ambedkar Park
Peruvaram Road
North Paravur 683 513

079 2630 5544, 079 2630 0222
Address – B12 Nilamber Complex
H.L. Commerce College Road
Ahmedabad 380 006

040 790 4646
E-mail – help@roshnihyd.org
Address – 1-8-303/48/21 Kalavathy Nivas
Sindhi Colony
S.P. Road
Secunderabad 500003

Lifeline Foundation– 
+91 33 24637401, +91 33 24637432
Address – 17/1A Alipore Road
Sarat Bose Road 700 027

E-mail- feelingsuicidal@sumaitri.net
Address – Sumaitri
Aradhana Hostel Complex
No. 1 Bhagwan Das Lane
Bhagwan Das Road
New Delhi

91- 484 – 2540530
E-mail – maithrihelp@gmail.com
Address – ICTA Shantigram
Changampuzha Nagar (P.O.)
Kochi 682 033

Connecting India– 
9922001122, 18002094353
Website – connectingngo.org
Address – Connecting Trust
Dastur Girls School
Moledina Road
Pune 411001

Nagpur Suicide Prevention Helpline – 

91-44-2464 0050, 91-44-2464 0060
E-mail – help@snehaindia.org
Address – #11, Park View Road
R.A. Puram
Chennai 600028

Maitreyi– +91-413-339999
Address – 255 Thyagumudali Street

Will you join us in promoting mental health to end the stigma and decrease the suicide rate in India?

Written by Pragya Lodha, Associate Programme Developer, The MINDS Foundation and Raghu K Appasani, Founder and CEO, The MINDS Foundation

9 per cent of IITians dropped out in 2016-17 - TNN

Chethan Kumar | TNN | Updated: Jul 19, 2017, 10:32 AM

  • The main reason for PhD and postgraduate students leaving courses midway are offers for placement in public sector enterprises and personal preference for better opportunities elsewhere.
  • Undergraduates left due to wrong choices made by them and poor performance, besides personal reasons.
BENGALURU: Indian Institutes of Technology have seen 889 (about 9%) students drop out in the 2016-17 academic year, according to latest data released by the ministry of human resources development (MHRD). 

Of these, nearly 71% (630) were PG students, 196 PhD scholars and 63 undergraduates. The total number of seats available were 9,885, of which 73 were not taken. In 2015-16, 656 students dropped out of the 23 IITs; this year marks an increase of 35% over that figure. 

According to MHRD, "The main reason for PhD and postgraduate students leaving courses midway are offers for placement in public sector enterprises and personal preference for better opportunities elsewhere". Undergraduates left due to wrong choices made by them and poor performance, besides personal reasons. 

Fourteen of the 23 IITs have registered dropouts. The recently set up institutes — in Tirupati, Bhilai, Goa, Dharwad, Jammu and Dhanbad (formerly Indian School of Mines) — have no dropouts. Most dropouts (27%) were from IIT-Roorkee, followed by Delhi (20.6%), Kanpur (17.4%) and Kharagpur (10.6%). 

35% faculty shortage

The MHRD data also flagged another area of concern — shortage of faculty. As of July 17 this year, 35% of faculty posts in IITs remain vacant. Of the 13,012 sanctioned posts, over 4,500 remain vacant. The vacancy was 38% in 2016. To address the shortage, the ministry has decided to allow faculty working under central government or central autonomous bodies to join IITs. It also invites alumni, scientists, experts and foreign faculty to teach at IITs from time to time. 

Top Comment
Nothing unexpected. Remove reservations. There will be no dropouts
Appa Durai

Deaths in 6 IITs

Eight deaths were reported from six IITs during the academic year. Four of these deaths were unnatural and four accidental. Three unnatural deaths were reported from IIT-Kharagpur while one student committed suicide at IIT-Varanasi. IIT-Madras and Roorkee reported an accident each. One student from IITBhubaneswar died due to asphyxia caused by drowning in the sea while an IIT-Mandi student drowned in a river.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A secret community for IIT students to vent frustrations - TNN

TNN | Updated: Jul 17, 2017, 05:43 PM IST

Last month, a group of research scholars from IIT Kharagpur started a Facebook page called 'IIT KGP RS Confessions' for 'frustrated' students of the institution. A student, whose life is troubled by his research or someone who has recently been refused by his or her crush or perhaps students who are reeling under study pressure can write their story here. The administrators of the group, who did not reveal their identities, told us they started the group last month after a number of suicides by students on campus. "We felt that a large number of students needed a platform to communicate. There are many things they can't share with anyone else and that is making them take drastic steps," said an admin. He said in order to maintain secrecy within the group, they accept stories from students anonymously. Each of the posts is monitored by the administrators and then posted with a number. "People read them and provide solutions to the problem and the writers get a sense of being a part of a community. This was the main reason we created this group," said the admin. The community already has around 1,000 hits and the number is growing every day.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

11-yr-old jumps to death in Telangana after parents send him for IIT coaching - Hindustan Times

11-yr-old jumps to death in Telangana after parents send him for IIT coaching

Every hour one student commits suicide in India, according to latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau.

INDIA Updated: Jul 14, 2017 09:57 IST
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu

Monday, July 10, 2017

IITs chart out wellness path for students; 24-hour helpline on cards TNN

IITs chart out wellness path for students; 24-hour helpline on cards

 | Jul 10, 2017, 05.56 AM IST
KOLKATA: While the IITs have been churning out world-class engineers, most of them with high IQs, are they emotionally strong enough? The high rate of depression, which often leads to suicides by IIT students, had alerted the Union ministry of human resources development that had asked all the IITs to put their heads together to chart out a course of "wellness" for the community.

The first workshop with this intent was held at IIT Kharagpur this week to brainstorm and introduce innovative programmes in their curriculum aimed at promoting human excellence. 

The IIT perspective was presented by IIT Kharagpur, IIT Bombay, IIT Madras and IIT Gandhinagar. Experts from NIMHANS and TISS Mumbai and several industry experts tried to understand the problems of students at hand.

"Our aim is not to pick their weaknesses but encourage their inner strengths. They are brilliant students whose problems are unique. We need to give them relief from unnecessary and imaginary stress elements. So, we need unique solutions too,"said Partha Pratim Chakrabarti, director of IIT Kharagpur at the workshop. 

The workshop has thrown up ideas, including a 24-hour helpline for students, an orientation/induction programme and academic curricula update. 

Several such workshops will be organised before a structure is arrived at but even before that IIT Kharagpur is introducing four programmes for its undergraduate students from this academic session, starting August. While the first year students will have an induction programme helping them to settle with campus life, the second-year students will have an assimilation session where they will understand the IIT system better. Once in third year, the students will have re-orientation sessions and finally in third year they will go through a de-induction programme to make them ready for life outside campus.

IIT-BHU has introduced an induction programme as well while IIT Bombay has collaborated with TISS for a counselling helpline. Faculty members across IITs felt that the issues faced by undergraduate and postgraduate students are not the same. 

At IIT Kharagpur, the students' councils will now have representation of four categories of students — women, PhD, postgraduate and undergraduate — from every department who will be further represented by a council member from each category. "This will ensure that the students from every department get to channelize their worries and problems to the institute administration. Further, students counselling will also include services such as career development and students' activities to encourage students to opt for professional help for conscious health and wellness activities," Chakraborty said. 

IIT Bombay has developed a detailed questionnaire to analyse students' mental health. IIT Madras has developed reactive and proactive programmes called Mitra and Saathi respectively. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

IIT Gandhinagar: An Oasis in India’s Higher Education Desert - Fair Observer

Atul Singh is the Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Fair Observer. He teaches Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley and at the
IIT Gandhinagar offers some key lessons for tackling the acute crisis in India’s higher education system.

Readers must know at the outset that this author teaches at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IITGN). Furthermore, this author greatly admires Sudhir Jain, the director of the institution. He also has close relationships with and high regard for a number of faculty members in IITGN. Therefore, this is certainly not an article written from Olympian heights with Apollonian objectivity. Yet this author hopes it will shed light on an issue that bedevils the future of the land of the Buddha, Kabir and Tagore.

India’s higher education system has long been in crisis. In September 2004, Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta authored a Harvard paper titled, “Indian Higher Education Reform: From Half-Baked Socialism to Half-Baked Capitalism.” They mapped the massive scale of the de facto privatization of Indian higher education. They posited: “This privatization has resulted from a breakdown of the state system and an exit of Indian elites from public institutions, to both private sector institutions within the country as well as abroad.” The situation in 2017 is far worse.

Kapur and Mehta also pointed out that the ideological and institutional underpinnings of privatization remain very weak. In 2004, the University Grants Commission (UGC), India’s apex body for higher education regulation, classified two-thirds of 15,000 colleges that educated almost 10 million students as “Arts, Science, Commerce and Oriental Learning Colleges.” Such terminology gives away the fact that the Victorian spirit might be dead in Britain, but still thrives in India’s UGC.

Little of the Victorian rectitude survives in India, though. Politicians have got into the education business and so have bureaucrats. Indian dirigisme simply means that those with connections can begin engineering institutes, medical colleges or management schools. Indian license raj enjoins that higher education institutions be nonprofit institutions. After all, they are temples of learning. That may well be true, but Kapur and Mehta astutely observe that “non-profit status allows for tax exemption and makes it easier to launder money.”

Most Indian higher education institutions are absolutely awful. They churn out graduates with little skill and scant knowledge. In 2016, a study found that barely 3% of graduating engineers are employable in software or product market and only 7% could handle core engineering tasks. 

Dheeraj Sanghi, an eminent academic renowned for his forthrightness, has chronicled “the absolutely abysmal quality of education in [Indian] colleges” for many years. More than “poor quality curriculum, poor quality faculty, poor infrastructure, poor school education” et al, Sanghi blames the culture of copying in colleges for the terrible state of Indian education.

Sanghi is right. In India, plagiarism is a way of life. Laziness, not learning, is the guiding principle of most faculty and students. The country has lost its moral compass and education is about gaining certification, not acquiring knowledge. The malaise is captured best by a 2015 Reuters report that chronicled rampant fraud at Indian medical schools. This has been a longstanding phenomenon. For the last two decades, I.P. Singh, the author’s father and an eminent plastic surgeon, along with many of his illustrious colleagues, has bemoaned the catastrophic decline in medical education. Remember, the vast majority of India’s best minds go into science, engineering and medicine. The less said about those who get an education in arts, commerce and “oriental” subjects the better.

Suffice to say, a growing number are deeply worried about the gargantuan crisis in India’s higher education system. On August 7, 2016, Shail Kumar argued, “everyone is paying a hefty price for [the crisis]: students, parents, industry, society and the nation.” Since most degrees are often not worth the paper they are written on, students strive to get into elite institutions such as the IITs. To do so, parents pack them off to coaching classes in towns like Kota where they prepare for dreaded entrance examinations for up to four years. The chosen ones get to go places like IIT. Those who fail to make the cut are often deeply disappointed, some are scarred for life and a few even commit suicide.

The coaching classes industry is booming in India. In Kota alone, the industry has an annual turnover of nearly $250 million (Rs1,500 crore). Some middle-class parents spend up to a third of their salary on coaching for their children. 

Unsurprisingly, the coaching business is now a multibillion dollar industry. Even as middle-class Indians send their children to Kota, richer Indians simply pack them off abroad. Children of leading politicians and bureaucrats leave for places like Harvard and Yale as soon as they finish school.
Given the dire state of affairs, is there reason to hope?

Those who take a cyclical view of life and history muse that things are never static and can always turn around. In the East, this view has always held weight. That may or may not be true, but there are institutions and people still living up to ancient ideals of education in India’s time-warped land.

One of these institutions is IITGN. Led by the visionary Jain, it is an institution that is taking risks and embracing bold ideas. For a start, IITGN is on the banks of the Sabarmati, the river by which Mahatma Gandhi set up his ashram some kilometers downstream when he returned from South Africa. In 2012, after turning down other offers of land, Jain astutely wrangled 400 acres of riverfront property from the Gujarat state government at a hugely symbolic location. Appositely, Rajmohan Gandhi, the nearly 82-year-old grandson of the Mahatma, now teaches here.

IITGN not only gains from being on the banks of the Sabarmati, but also from its location in Gujarat. Gandhi’s ancestral home, with its long, jagged coastline, has been a land of traders since time immemorial. Purportedly, it was a Gujarati sea pilot who guided Vasco da Gama to Kozhikode. Today, Gujaratis can be found all along East Africa, Canada, Britain, the US and any other part of the world. Gujarat continues to be the most entrepreneurial of Indian states and is relatively better governed, even though traffic signals are ornamental lights that no one heeds. The entrepreneurial environment gives IITGN the opportunity to serve the needs of the local industry, find jobs for its graduating students, and draw upon well-heeled Gujaratis to support the young institution.

Location is important but not enough. Besides, India is a land where opportunities are squandered on a daily basis. Even famous institutions have been crumbling. “Tagore’s Viswa-Bharati University is now a picture of decline and decay” and students at Malaviya’s Banaras Hindu University allege sexual harassment by faculty. So, IITGN’s location by the Sabarmati in the entrepreneurial state of Gujarat was and is no guarantee of success. The institution has got off to a rollicking start because it puts the students center stage. In a conversation with other university leaders, Jain remarked that directors may come and go, but students will be associated with the institution for life. In his view, students and alumni are the biggest stakeholders in any academic institution.

Therefore, Jain has fostered a culture of student involvement in all aspects of campus life. They have given inputs in architectural plans, chosen names of hostels, created mini-traditions and traveled around the country to find their moorings. 

IITGN’s “Foundation Program” for students who join the institution is exceedingly radical. This five-week program is intended to expose students who might have spent four years in Kota to the wider world. For the first time, many paint or play sports, do community service or organize social events, meet people from other walks of life, and discover new possibilities for the future.

Jain encourages his students to explore. Under his leadership, IITGN provides multiple opportunities for its students to go abroad and experience other cultures. Students do research projects, courses and internships all over the map. Some spend summers at US universities such as Caltech and the University of Texas. Others do courses in design or literature at places like the New School in New York. Some go to Japan where they experience work ethic, discipline, punctuality, politeness and high technology in a society markedly different to theirs. Yet others make their way to Portugal where they savor the sun and sand in the land from where Vasco da Gama set sail for India.

Jain has also made IITGN students discover their own land. An “Explorer’s Fellowship” enables students to travel through the length and breadth of their vast subcontinent. Through this experience, they come to understand their country’s traditions and its complex ground realities. The assumption is that travel through the dusty towns and rustic villages of India will give students much-needed practical knowledge, connect them to real-life problems and make them better decision-makers when they assume positions of leadership.

Along with this exposure, IITGN instils rigor among its students. There is zero tolerance for plagiarism that plagues the country. Students who copy from others and fail to do original work face swift and severe action. Regurgitation is unacceptable. Students study a range of subjects from mathematics to humanities to develop the confidence to come up with and develop their ideas. As Jain often says, IITGN aims to produce graduates who not only solve important problems, but also identify problems worth solving.

Naturally, students will only be able to do so if they have the confidence and bravery to think independently and critically. Therefore, inspiring students and making them think is a fundamental goal that Jain has set out for his young institution. In a country where rote learning and obsession with examinations rule the roost, this focus on learning and thinking harks back to Tagore. Unsurprisingly, Tagore’s iconic poem, “Where The Mind is Without Fear,” that celebrates cosmopolitanism, curiosity, reason, knowledge and truth takes center stage on IITGN’s vision document.

In the past, India was known for its universities. Takshashila, Nalanda and Vikramshila are haloed names in history. They educated scholars not only from India, but also from abroad. Each of these universities set strong roots in local communities but opened its windows to the world. It is this millennia-old ecumenical and liberal tradition that IITGN is laying claim to.
Jain has created internal systems that work. He has put good people in key places. He once remarked: “You have to keep internal systems in equilibrium to create outward looking universities.” That is precisely what he has achieved. A cursory look at IITGN’s website tells any visitor that American Nobel laureates, Japanese ministers and Portuguese officials have spent time at the campus.

The campus itself is superlatively designed. G.C. Chaudhary, the superintending engineer, has come from the Military Engineering Service (MES) on deputation after building runways for fighter jets in difficult conditions. He has achieved wonders on a tight budget. Once, Chaudhary was Jain’s student. 

Conveniently, Jain is a civil engineer who did his PhD from Caltech. This means he has been exceedingly hands-on in the designing and building of the campus. The buildings in the academic area all flow into one another and foster serendipitous social interaction between faculty and students. Steve Jobs had precisely the same idea when he designed Pixar’s headquarters in Emeryville.

Unlike Jobs, Jain and Chaudhary have created the campus rather frugally. Yet it has won numerous awards for its environmentally friendly design and has been deemed “the greenest campus in India.” Its innovative features such as the use of natural light, use of fly-ash bricks, cavity walls, solar panels, passive cooling technologies, saving pre-existing trees, and integration of horticulture and waste management are path-breaking in the country. Naturally, this pioneering spirit rubs off on students and faculty.

Most young institutions hire faculty rather quickly. In contrast, IITGN has been patient and picky. To set the institution on the right footing, Jain has astutely collected a crew of sages who retired from older IIT campuses to provide statesmanship for this young institution. Some sages come from non-academic backgrounds. Michel Danino, a French engineer-turned-environmentalist, conservationist and renowned scholar on ancient India, is a shining star in the IITGN firmament. Earlier this year, the president of India conferred on Danino the Padma Shri, a national honor for the country’s most eminent citizens. Other sages come from abroad. Fred Coolidge, a youthful 68-year-old professor and cyclist, brings to the campus l’étonnement philosophique, the ability to marvel at the wonder of the world and incessantly discover things new.

Coolidge and this author shared an office earlier this year. Among other things, Coolidge has worked on the evolution of the human brain and done some interesting work even on the Neanderthals. One fine morning, Coolidge asked this author which god had emerged from the forehead of Zeus. This author responded it was not a god but a goddess named Athena. Coolidge then revealed that this is where the frontal lobes are located. This is a part of the brain that controls our key cognitive skills such as language, memory, thinking and judgment. Did the ancient Greeks observe the human body and come up with this conclusion? Or were they simply intuiting something fundamental that modern science has finally verified? We may never fully know.

As a modern-day philosophe, such serendipitous discoveries delight this author. They are only possible if an institution creates an interdisciplinary environment. This is precisely what Jain has done. In Jain’s recent visit to Portugal, the education minister of this former European naval superpower remarked that he wished his universities operated a bit more like IITGN. 

The minister cited the example of IITGN’s engineering and anthropology departments working together on interesting problems, hoping Portuguese universities would do the same.

Younger faculty members at IITGN embody this interdisciplinary ethos and some of them are highly impressive. Amit Prashant has a mind that cuts through complex issues like a hot knife through butter. Vimal Mishra is a walking encyclopedia on river basins and more. Amit Arora has shed light on how to make the infernally heavy tripods used by the Indian army much lighter. Rita Kothari is a multilingual author, translator and teacher par excellence. Neeldhara Misra is a fount of knowledge on internet technologies and online tools. Manas Paliwal, a lover of Montreal and Canada, has wit and wisdom beyond his years. These and many others will form the spine of IITGN for decades to come. After all, what is an institution but a collection of people bound together by shared norms and working toward a common purpose?

With the institution’s spine in place, Jain has been building relationship with other institutions. IITGN has signed multiple memoranda of understanding with the likes of Tata Chemicals and the Indian army. Young researchers such as Arora and Paliwal will be finding solutions to India’s real-life and real-time problems. 

research park connecting industry and academia is soon on its way. Jain is taking a leaf out of Caltech or MIT and striving to make IITGN much more than a watering hole for students on their way to jobs in multinationals, careers in the civil services or research in American universities.

Of course, no institution is perfect and IITGN has its warts. After all, it cannot escape the Indian terroir. Many students are burnt out and lack the desire to learn. Few can write half-decently and even fewer can speak coherently. Some faculty members are not as passionate as others. However, it is important to remember that even Harvard is far from perfect. This author knows graduate students who crammed up over the summer and then taught undergraduates Indian politics from September without ever visiting the country or having any knowledge of a single Indian language. By contrast, Danino and Gandhi illuminate ancient and modern India for those who want to learn.

There is one last thing that needs mentioning but that requires a trip to the past. The pre-independence period from 1892 to 1947 was a time of extraordinary developments in India’s higher education. As Kapur and Mehta point out, philanthropy played a big part. Public institutions of enduring significance, such as Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Annamalai University and the Indian Institute of Science “were created largely through voluntary donations.” The two gentlemen go on to observe that “the net share of private philanthropy in shouldering the burden of public institutions was as high as seventeen percent in 1950 and is now down to less than two percent.”

Jain has taken it upon himself to turn the clock back. He engages with people with extraordinary warmth, infectious cheerfulness and indefatigable energy. Staff members such as Santosh Raut, Sunita Menon and Yashwant Chauhan ensure that visitors enjoy warm hospitality for which India has long been famous.

This warm welcome bowls over foreigners like Olivier Lavinal, donors such as Ruyintan Mehta and even prospective faculty members. It generates goodwill that has helped Jain raise money for IITGN. In particular, he has tapped the Indian diaspora in the US and Gujarati business community closer to home. 

Remarkably, alumni from IITGN are already donating to the institution. For the financial year 2016-17 that ended in March, Jain raised about $3 million (Rs18 crore). Compared to US universities, this is piffle but IITGN is a lighthouse for other public institutions in India that are entirely dependent on government largesse.

This author hopes that other institutions will use this lighthouse to sail to better waters and India’s higher education will improve in his lifetime.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Instants

Student suicides only a minor hiccup as coaching hub Kota marches on - Hindustan Times

Nearly 1.25 lakh students prepare for NEET, IIT­JEE in Rajasthan’s Kota. Reports of suicides have failed to diminish the rush to the town.

JAIPUR Updated: Jul 04, 2017 16:53 Ist

Salik Ahmad 
Hindustan Times

Kota’s Radha Krishan Temple has messages written all over its walls by students seeking divine help. (Raj K Raj/ HT Photo)

Raunak Gupta has a dream. He wants to be a doctor. For the 17-year-old, a degree from one of the top medical colleges is the sure-shot way to a secure job in government-run hospitals, which in turn will ensure upward social mobility for him and his family.

Determined as he is, Raunak an above average student, also knows that mere school education may not help him achieve his dream. He also knows that the key to admission in MBBS and BDS courses in the best medical colleges of India is a good ranking in the national eligibility entrance test (NEET).

It was to gain that cutting edge needed to crack the NEET that Raunak, a resident of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, decided to head to Kota, the district in Rajasthan that is now known as coaching capital of India.

Gupta is one of the nearly 1.25 lakh students who have made Kota their temporary home while preparing for two of the country’s toughest examinations --- NEET and IIT-JEE.

Stories behind stories
Kota, with its coaching centres selling the success dreams, represents the perennial struggle of the Indian middle class and its aspirations to escape the life of mediocrity. Every time results of competitive exams are declared, the coaching centres come out with full page advertisements in newspapers highlighting their success stories. The ads invariably have stories written by successful candidates who detail how they wouldn’t have made it to the top without the help of the coaching centres.

Town situated on the Chambal bank is home to 40 institutes. (HT Photo)

The ads, however, don’t tell the full story. They don’t tell about the thousands who fail to crack the exams. They don’t tell about the students who didn’t turn out to be good enough to escape the life of mediocrity, and will live hating it. They also don’t tell stories of those who couldn’t cope with the competition and the pressure to perform and gave up, taking the extreme step of committing suicide.

Suicide hub?
More than 60 students took the extreme step in the past six years owing mostly to pressure or failure. Last year, 17 students killed themselves. At least 12 students have already committed suicide in Kota in 2017, the last being a medical aspirant from Bihar who killed herself days before NEET results were declared.

The suicides have naturally led to apprehensions among parents. When Raunak told his parents in April that he wanted to shift to Kota to prepare for the NEET, his father put his foot down.
“The moment I said I wanted to go to Kota, my father refused. He said there are a lot of cases of students going into depression and committing suicide in Kota and he suggested that I go to Kanpur instead,” says Raunak.

It took days of persuasion to convince his father, who owns a drug store in Gorakhpur, to let Raunak go to Kota for a year. He now has taken up a room in Kunhadi area, where a mini city has come up with tall, glitzy hostels and paying guest accommodations catering to the coaching institutes.

In six years, 60 students have killed themselves in Kota. (AH Zaidi/HT Photo)

The city’s Indra Vihar area, home to the country’s biggest coaching institute with 79,000 students on rolls in Kota alone, bustles with activity on a summer afternoon, even as temperatures soar 40 degree Celsius.

Youngsters, entering their second growth spurt, walk hurriedly and purposefully, in greyish-blue uniforms, the colour of the trousers only a few shades darker than the colour of shirts. The teachers, all of them males, with six-figure monthly salaries, drive around in their swanky vehicles.

Newcomers to the city, usually couples along with their children, clutching handbags, ostensibly with money for coaching fee that is generally around Rs 1 lakh for a year, take breaks from the heat at roadside stalls offering sugarcane juice and mango shakes.

No full stop here

Kota’s “competitive atmosphere” attracts people from all parts of the country. The student deaths, however, has gained it some notoriety too.
For those who have been living in Kota for more than a year, a suicide and the subsequent media report means a frantic call from home. And most of the parents, according to students, have a standard way of addressing the concern – “he or she need not have committed suicide...you must not take any stress”.

“The concern is always there. My father tells me not to worry if I am unable to crack the exam,” says Vandana Bharti, a native of Saharsa, Bihar, a Class 12 student at a school in Kota. She is also preparing for the NEET.

Prabhat Kumar has reached Kota from Muzaffarpur in Bihar. He says his son wanted to come to Kota immediately after Class 10 examinations to prepare for IIT-JEE. “But I told him to wait for two years. One reason was the reports of depression and suicides that emanate from here,” says Kumar, an advocate at Muzaffarpur civil court.

Kumar adds that he would have been fine with his son pursuing a graduation degree and that his son was free to come back home anytime he felt he was unable to handle the pressure.

Antaryami Kaushik, a resident of Sri Ganganagar is in Kota to get his 16-year-old son admitted to a coaching institute. Kaushik says his wife will stay with their son as he prepares for IIT-JEE. “The son of a close friend is also staying here with my son. My wife and my friend’s wife will alternately come and stay here with the children,” says Kaushik, a teacher in a government college.

Celebrations at a coaching institute after one of its student was declared the topper of JEE MAINS 2017. (AH Zaidi/HT Photo)

Kaushik adds that the main reason he wants his wife to stay with the children is the disquiet caused by the reports of suicides.

Life moves on
While the fears do encroach upon the hearts and minds of parents, it has not deterred them from sending their children to Kota. Incidentally, none of the students HT talked to said that they were forced into the competition by their parents.

Kota has six to eight major coaching institutes, apart from some 35 minor ones, according to district administration.

“The coaching industry in Kota has grown consistently in the past decade, both in terms of enrolment as well as the number of coaching institutes. Many a times, a group of teachers defect from a major institute and establish their own setup, so the number keeps growing,” says Rajeev Jain, professor of management studies at University of Kota.

Allen Career Institute, the biggest player in the coaching industry, has 79,000 enrolled students. The number was 60,000 three years ago.

Another major institute, Resonance has some 25,000 students at its Kota centres. The institute too has registered a growth of few thousand in the past three years, an official from the institute said.

As the evening approaches and the temperatures dip, more uniformed students appear on the streets. Some hang around food joints, some go about talking on their cellphones -- one goes around fidgeting with a Rubik’s cube – while a giant TV screen plays promotional videos with bytes of former toppers vouching for the coaching institutes.

The coaching industry of India’s coaching capital marches on with its usual ruthlessness