I have a Solution that will reduce pressure on IIT aspirants but do not know how to get this across to HRD Minister of India. Suggestions are welcome. - Ram Krishnaswamy

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Why campuses are in need of well-trained counsellors to help students

Why campuses are in need of well-trained counsellors to help students

According to mental health experts, students require space to have a conversation rather than a medical diagnosis, which is where counsellors play a role.


Shiba Kurian Follow @shiba_kurian

In September 2019, a student of Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) in Kerala killed herself allegedly over not being able to score well in a subject. This death, according to students and alumni, is one of the many suicides by AIMS students that year stemming from difficulties in dealing with academic pressure, among other reasons.

An alumna of the college started an online petition to garner enough signatures to impel the AIMS Dean to improve student support on campus and save lives. “The student welfare committee clearly is not functioning properly and exists in a disciplinary rather than a supportive function. As proven by these unnecessary deaths, much more needs to be done,” read the statement.

A few months later, after Fathima Latheef, a first-year student at IIT Madras was found dead at the college hostel in November 2019, the students of the premier government institute protested to reiterate demands put forward by the student legislative committee in early 2019.

Apart from an internal probe in Fathima’s death, the students demanded that the college also conduct a holistic survey, along with professionals from outside — psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, sociologists and educationalists — to understand the mental health issues faced by the students.

“About six students took their own lives last year,” claimed a member of Chinta Bar, an independent student body of IIT-Madras. “We do not have a committee that probes these suicides to find out what led the students to take the extreme step. There is no scientific approach to address or even understand what are the actual problems students face. Currently, some professors give their opinion based on their understanding of the matter,” the student told TNM on the condition of anonymity.

Incidentally, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, 10,159 students died by suicide in 2018, which is an increase of 254 from 2017.

The need of the hour — as expressed by students and mental health experts, and as mandated by the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 — is a mental health support system at educational institutions.

Counselling, a solution-based approach

Experts say that many times, students just require a space to have a conversation rather than a diagnosis or medication, which can be given by a psychiatrist. That’s why counsellors or counselling psychologists have a major role to play in making mental healthcare systems in academic institutions robust to deal with students’ issues.

“Counsellors play the role of therapists. Clinical psychologists know if the patient has to be referred to a counsellor or a psychiatrist. Clinical psychologists infer if it is a medical problem and refer to a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist has the right to give medication that helps the patient cope with their mental health issues, if required. But what educational institutions really need, are counsellors,” explained Harish Bhuvan, a counsellor based in Bengaluru.

“Academics, peers, relationships and family-related problems are some of the issues that young adults face and come to us for,” said Shalini Rao, Consultant Counsellor, Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, which has a mental health centre on campus called Mind Space.

“Mental health is undervalued in Indian academics. The presence of a mental health support centre on campus helps students navigate their stress. Besides, students don’t come to get help only when there is a crisis. They also come because there is a culture of positive attitude towards mental health on the campus,” she added.

When there’s trust deficit

According to some students and experts TNM spoke to, lack of trust also discourages many students from approaching in-house counsellors.

Tina (name changed), a college student in Bengaluru, had once sought help from a counsellor at her school. However, a few details of the conversation were shared with the principal, teachers and then her parents. “We need the space to talk. But I do not go to the counsellors at my college due to that lack of trust,” she said.

Harish agreed that the practice of reporting back to the college administration makes students reluctant to approach the in-house counsellors.

“The institution, in an attempt to ensure quality, decides to allocate a person to supervise the counsellor when he/she is not qualified to do so. In fact, they may, directly or indirectly, be part of the problem the student is facing,” he said. “When the anonymity or confidentiality is compromised, students may prefer seeking help from counsellors outside.”

Letting an external chief counsellor supervise the campus counsellor instead will help keep personal biases at bay and lets the counsellor look at the case differently, he added.

Counsellors need rigorous training

The culture and systematic understanding of mental health is relatively new to the Indian education system. Besides giving solutions, understanding the problem itself is the first step in strengthening the mental support system on campuses, said Harish. He added that counsellors need to invest more time in one-on-one therapy sessions with students to learn more about their issues as well.

Further, to address the dearth of resources, it is important to have regulatory bodies or licensing practices to ensure there are well-trained counsellors, which is currently lacking in India, noted Shalini.

All the while practising, it is equally crucial that counsellors proactively seek additional education or courses. Shalini, for instance, recently took a queer affirmative counselling practising course. “It provides a solid framework to support queer individuals. It is affirmative to not just saying we are friendly but helps counsellors be a political ally to the community,” she said.

IIT Bombay: Being Political Amidst Changing Student Dynamics - YKA

IIT Bombay: Being Political Amidst Changing Student Dynamics

By priyank samagra in Activities on Campus, Campus Watch
18th February, 2020

In the last couple of months, IIT Bombay has witnessed a series of marches and protest sit-ins for various reasons including the MTech fee hike, suicide of Fathima Latheef at IIT Madras, CAA and pan-India NRC and, violence in academic spaces. The protests have stirred the campus so much, that recently an open forum was called with Director and Deans. But, there are some questions which are relevant beyond the context of IIT Bombay.

The first question is regarding the changing character of IIT Bombay as an institution. I have written here in detail about the transition which is going on at IIT-B. It is no longer, if I may use the word, a fiefdom of engineering and technology. The establishment of interdisciplinary centres at IIT Bombay has brought in faculty members and students on campus who are trained to critically think and write about society, politics, philosophical worldviews, etc.

It’s a welcome change and requires constant conversation among students and faculty members for the future of research, teaching, learning and the overall academic environment 
on campus.

IIT Bombay.

The second question is regarding the formation of various students’ groups around various political worldviews. One may outrightly discard them by naming those groups as political. However, in my opinion, that is the consequence of uniformed and ill-informed thinking.

The demography of IIT Bombay has changed. First of all, postgraduate students now outnumber the undergraduate students. This brings diversity to the campus in all respects – economic, social, political.

Those coming for postgraduate degrees have studied at different universities before coming to IIT Bombay. They have grown up as adults have their own social and political experiences. They are going to mobilise and organise themselves.

The problem arises when these groups, read as political worldviews, become some sort of turfs to be protected or fought for. Albeit the purpose should be to have debates and conversations. The groups will not cease to exist. But, if dealt with heavy-handedly or by smear campaigns, polarisation is bound to get reinforced. And, the purpose of academic freedom is bound to get defeated.

The third question is regarding the access to spaces of higher education. The truth is that most of the higher education spaces in India do not reflect the reality of our society. Even a simple survey on social composition of such spaces – faculty members, students, non-teaching staff, contract workers, etc. will bring out the truth on our face.

In such a context, the attempts to de facto commercialise the public universities, are bound to face resistance.

The three questions regarding (i) transition from a technology focused institute to interdisciplinary world-class university; (ii) changing demography due to more and more inclusion; (iii) access to higher education and changing national policies in this regard are not limited to IIT Bombay alone.

Also Read: During An Internship At IIT Bombay, This Is How An Online Training Came To My Rescue

They can be used as a framework in context of any other institutes/universities as well. Therefore, the political/apolitical debate is farcical. Because, the questions before us are deeply political. The right debate is to ask what kind of politics, for whom, and to what end.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Vinay Bavdekar/Flickr.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Meet Padma Shri HC Verma, who struggled to pass in school, teaches India Physics today - Hindustan GTimes

Meet Padma Shri HC Verma, who struggled to pass in school, teaches India Physics today

HC Verma said the reason why there were news reports of students committing suicide despite reaching IITs or even in coaching institutes while preparing for entrance exams was that they could not withstand the academic pressure despite scoring good marks in schools.

Updated: Feb 10, 2020 16:44 IST

Arun Kumar
Hindustan Times, Patna

The recipient of Bihar’s highest award in the field of education, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Shiksha Puruskar, 2017, HC Verma said that shifting the blame by saying that the teachers or students are not of good quality would not serve the purpose.(hcverma.in )

A teacher must first fall in love with the subject he or she teaches before expecting the students to do the same. The schools are not the place to just score marks. They are the place to empower mind and improve capabilities. The target of education cannot be and should not be to clear board exams or IIT/NEET entrance.

When noted educator and retired IIT-Kanpur professor HC Verma says this, he means it, for he has lived that way right since his childhood, when he was a below average student and struggled to pass exams, to this day, when his entire life is devoted to developing scientific temper among students in the language they understand and enjoy.

Not the kind to shift blame for the education slide, especially in his home state Bihar, Verma feels that the biggest thing lacking in schools these days is the target and vision.

“Why do we study? 
What for teachers teach? 
It is the drift from the target that is creating the problems. If the vision is not clear, we should not expect positive results. Marks cannot be the target, capabilities and empowerment certainly is. If one is empowered, marks will automatically come. The central theme is that child is an empty bowl. Students must be given situations where they think. We need to catch them young,” he said.

Verma, the recipient of this year’s Padma Shri Award for his distinguished contribution in the field of science and technology, said the reason why there were news reports of students committing suicide despite reaching IITs or even in coaching institutes while preparing for entrance exams was that they could not withstand the academic pressure despite scoring good marks in schools.

“Isn’t it the moral duty of teachers to groom students in a way that they don’t wilt under academic pressure? What is the need to be happy with marks if students commit suicide? Education should be such that teaches students not to give up and be ready to face all situations. The society also needs to focus on this. Blaming coaching institutions is not the solution. It is the schools and the teachers who will have to strive to stay relevant, which will automatically shrink the space for parallel system and this requires emotional attachment with the profession,” he said.

The recipient of Bihar’s highest award in the field of education, Maulana Abul KalamAzad Shiksha Puruskar, 2017, Verma said that shifting the blame by saying that the teachers or students are not of good quality would not serve the purpose. “This is running away from the problem. If a person can be motivated, he can do anything. We can create quality, provided we honestly try and this has to begin from schools,” he added.

Verma, who studied in Patna Science College and also taught there before moving to IIT, Kanpur, is known for his famous book ‘Concepts of Physics’, which is the prize possession with all IIT aspirants. Now, almost three decades later, he has come up with another one ‘Bhoutiki ki Samajh’ in Hindi.

“In the last 28 years, my understanding has also developed. So, I came up with a new book. This time it is in Hindi instead of a revised edition in English for wider reach. In science, language should not be a barrier. I am also working on the second part. We have also developed B.Sc-level online interactive courses free of cost, which students can use with just mobile. The response has been good, though from my State Bihar it has been not satisfactory despite my letters to VCs and principals to popularize this free opportunity among students,” he said.

At the IIT-K, he has been instrumental in making a group of faculty members and students together with local youths to run an NGO called “Shiksha Sopan”, which maintains direct daily contact with students and their families to not only give educational help, but also inculcate Indian values and culture. It also runs scholarship programs and Pratibha Poshan Yojana to identify talent in the interiors and give them opportunity at the residential summer camps.

In 2011, Verma initiated a new project National Anveshika Network of India (NANI), which has become a flagship programme of the Indian Association of Physics Teachers (IAPT). Verma has developed more than 1000 ‘low cost’ physics experiments which can be used by teachers in their classrooms. Informal open-ended experimental activities have also been developed where students are initiated in a direction and they conceive, assemble and perform experiments on their own.

He earns huge amount through royalty from his best-selling books, but he spends all on his passion – to groom next generation. “What will I do with the money? Have a few houses here and there. It is better to spend on developing labs and improving teaching,” said Verma, who enjoys living a simple life.

In Kanpur, he has developed ‘Sopan Ashram’, which are equipped with classrooms, laboratories and a lot more to generate interest among students by acquainting them with dimensions of science.

“We are developing it as a place of science tourism. Children from government schools come here,” he said, adding the next in line is a project in Bihar to improve quality of science teaching in schools by training teachers. He has already trained thousands of teachers in other states, including Jammu & Kashmir where he spent several months.

The Bihar project is being developed with the help of IIT, Patna. “It was planned two years ago, when I was honoured by the Biahr government, but it got delayed. Now, I have got information from Manoranjan Kar, principal supervisor at IIT, Patna, that it will take off in the next 15-20 days.

“It is a three-year project to train government school teachers on understanding of physics and teaching methodology. The government also has a big role to play, as coordination is important. The teachers will be grouped in batches and trained at camps in Patna for making science teaching meaningful and entertaining through low-cost experiments, which can be performed at home. If teachers get involved and strive for self-renewal, quality will certainly come,” he added.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

2 Years Of Exile In Kota Broke Me Down So Much That I’m Still Recovering - Youth Ki Awaaz

2 Years Of Exile In Kota Broke Me Down So Much That I’m Still Recovering

By Tamoghna Ghosh in My Story
30th June, 2016

By Tamoghna Ghosh:

Recently, it was in the news that a girl from Kota had committed suicide after her failure in the JEE. The incident stirred up a whole lot of suppressed memories inside me. So I wanted to share the story of a girl, who almost met the same fate as her. Well, almost.

There’s a sarcastic remark that does the rounds in the engineering circles, “First do B. Tech. Then follow your actual passion.”

Yeah, right. Only that some people have to go through hell to do precisely that.

I had always been the topper of my class since I started schooling, much to the resentment of my classmates, and the pride of my parents and teachers. But I was never a model student. Quite the contrary. My grade sheet at the end of each academic year would be stained by a simple ‘B’ in bold letters in front of ‘DISCIPLINE & CONDUCT’. It was a matter of great concern to my mother, who’d been a quiet child, that her daughter would grow up to be a ‘lyaj-kata-bandor’ (a tailless monkey, for you). I was mortally afraid of her and her punishments. But in spite of all that, I continued to perform well in academics.

As with any good student in India, I was brainwashed into believing that ‘Science’ is the best thing out there. That being a bright student, I was ear-marked to be a student of science.

Nobody, however, cared to scrutinise my mark sheet and discover that my best marks were always inevitably in English. Nobody looked through my notebooks to find sweet little poems scribbled in the last pages. Nobody cared that I had a badge for being a cub reporter in TTIS (the student’s magazine in vogue back then).

By the time I was in Class IX and X, I already knew there were only two career choices in front of me – be a doctor or an engineer. Coming from a family background of doctor and engineer ‘mama’, ‘mami’, ‘mausi’, ‘mama-ki-beti’, ‘mausi-ki-beti’… I knew there was hardly a way out without being engulfed in the family circle, churning out doctors and engineers every year. Adding to that was my parent’s cliched idea of maintaining their ‘standing-in-society’, which would get an immense boost if they manage to produce a doctor beti or an IITian beti. Yeah, you heard me right. Not just any engineering college. That would be too mainstream. That would be lesser than that ‘IITian-cousin-you-have-got-in-your-family’. That would make them ‘lose their nose’, or whatever part of their face, in front of a gang of bloodthirsty relatives and society.

So, all my dreams of being a writer, or a journalist, or a fashion designer, or an interior decorator flushed down the gutter. I was plucked from my cosy life in Bengal and shipped off to the Mecca of IIT coaching: Kota.

In all my 22 years of life, I prefer to block out every memory of the two years of my exile to Kota. The struggle and hardships I went through broke me down to such a level that it took me all the years of my college life to ease back to my old style. I am still recovering.

Kota seemed to me a place from a different galaxy. The environment was so different from the nourished, caring way I was brought up back in Bengal. I got enrolled in a proxy school. I went for classes daily at the coaching institute I had joined and tried my best to cope with the piling pressure. Needless to say, I failed. The coaching institutes had a system of segregating students on the basis of marks in the monthly exams, into different batches.

The top-most elite batches would get the elite teachers, the best of everything, and be fuelled (or brainwashed, I should say) more and more to crack the JEE with flying colours. As we descend down the levels of the hierarchy, we find the competence diminishing, the skills of teachers lessening and the pressure of reaching the elite batches increasing. It was a circus, those coaching institutes. Once you fall, you’re lost for life. The competition is so damn high, that it’ll take you ages to climb back to your previous rung in the ladder, and that too if Lady Luck was benign enough.

Apart from academic pressure, life in Kota, in general, was excruciatingly painful. Being away from your parents, coping with your daily life all by yourself is not an easy thing. On top of it, you have no real friends. The friends are your competitors and it becomes hard to find a person to trust. You become all alone in this mad circus. I did too. I lost my capacity to make friends. I became quiet and introverted. I stuck out like a sore thumb. The girl who’d get a B in Conduct for being an incorrigible chatterbox had lost all zeal in life. She was just another face in the sea of countless students, struggling to reach the top for air and preventing the forces of nature from dragging her down.

By the time I was done with Kota, I was hardly recognisable. I had lost my creative enthusiasm. I couldn’t write a single good poem. That was coming from a girl who’d write poems by the dozen, every other week. I hadn’t read a good book in years. My ability to reason and logic, in short, my IQ, for which I had received many an accolade in life, had reached an all-time low. I was just a robot who’d been programmed with the essential commands to crack IIT-JEE and think no more.

A part of me dealt with all the academic information, which I must remember till the last second of the exam. The other part of me, which was still human, dealt with the pressure put on me by my family. Every second of my life, my dad would remind me the lakhs they were spending on my education, and how I must reimburse them by getting into IIT and getting a well-paying job. My mom would never stop to remind me of her sacrifices, and how I would ‘rub their faces in the mud’ if I didn’t crack JEE. It was a lot to take in. I was overwhelmed to say the very least.

And then the D-Day came. And I couldn’t crack JEE. Speculations and blame games started in my family. Mom and dad took it upon themselves, that it was their fault I couldn’t crack JEE. That they should have spent more money, they should have given more time, they should have fed me nutritious food to make my brain function, they should have changed coaching centres and all that crap. It never occurred to them that the real blame lay in forcing me into something I was disinterested in. Relatives tut-tutted and sighed in mock concern and gave advice that hardly seemed sincere enough. My grandparents snidely commented, “Not all people have the same IQ. There could be just one IITian in the family.” In short, my parent’s ‘standing-in-society’ plummeted to the depths because of their demented daughter. *Slow clap for the Indian society and education system*

It was a terrible thing to be caught in the crossfire that ensued my not getting into IIT. First of all, there was the burden of my failure. Then my low self-esteem, which sank even lower hearing those comments from my relatives, people I had always counted on. Then the stricken look on the faces of my parents and their incessant moaning about how much money they’d invested in me. The academic, financial and psychological loss was too much for me. I contemplated suicide many times. I started smoking stealthily. I had a nervous breakdown. And my parents knew nothing of that. They were busy licking their own wounds, the wounds inflicted on them by their own daughter, apparently.

Now, after three years, I don’t remember exactly how I managed to climb out of the pit of depression, if there was a turning point or not. I quit smoking, grew bolder and started nursing myself back to good health, figuratively. Then one fine day, after my admission to my college and only a fortnight away from joining college, I finally snapped and lashed out at my parents in the midst of a family argument. A few relatives were present too. They were stunned into silence. Something had broken inside me, that urged me to shout at my own parents and mouth things (the truth, obviously) that I would never have had the courage to say. The pent-up frustration of all those years was out in a matter of seconds. That incident is to go down in the history of my life as the day I stopped fearing my parents and what society would say and started concentrating on what I want, for a change.

I am now in my fourth year of civil engineering. Again it was a stream I wasn’t too keen on at first, but slowly with time I’ve grown to love it. My philosophy towards life has changed a lot and the meek submissive girl of high-school is no more. On that note, I stand vehemently against the whole system of education in Kota, where coaching centres have sprouted like mushrooms and against the orthodox practice of parents imposing their ambitious dreams on the naive shoulders of their children.

Like Tamoghna, lakhs of students in India face intense pressure because of a system that’s obsessed with marks over learning. This need to change. Tweet to the Education Minister and demand action now:

Why must students in India undergo so much pressure? Edu. Minister @PrakashJavdekar, #DoYourJob

Featured image for representation only. Credit: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.

Banner image credit: Ramesh Sharma/India Today Group/Getty Images.

“I Got Out Of Kota With Minimal Damage, But Not Everyone Is As Lucky” - Youth Ki Awaaz

“I Got Out Of Kota With Minimal Damage, But Not Everyone Is As Lucky”

By Avinash Pathak in Campus Watch, Mental Health, Society
8th February, 2020

Trigger Warning: suicide

Kota, India’s coaching hub, is a city located in Rajasthan, is in news for the last few years. Two major reasons behind these are the production of toppers in various competitive exams like IIT-JEE, NEET, etc. and the other being the suicide of students due to exams and academic pressure.

I had also spent a year in Kota preparing for IIT-JEE and witnessed the suicide of one of my classmates. We will come to these later. Kota had a good environment for studious students as well as for them who are good at science but for average or below-average students. Kota may not be the same place for toppers.

In the last few years, nearly all toppers of various competitive exams as mentioned above are from Kota. Nowadays, nearly 2 lakh students are enrolled in various courses in Kota for competitive exams and about only 10% (which is less than the national level of 13%) of them cleared their respective exams with satisfactory marks in previous years, according to a report by economics times. Let us come to my side of the story.

Students returning from coaching test in IL Colony, Kota. (Photo provided by author)

I took admission in Allen, Kota in May 2019 in the LEADER Course and had to submit a sum of ₹1,35000 as admission fee. After a few days of admission, I started feeling something negative about the place as there is a lot of study pressure there.

I started thinking of canceling my admission and refunding my money. But, after discussing it with my parents and friends, I withdrew the idea started focusing on my studies. Allen holds regular tests to check the preparation of their students and I had performed satisfactorily in a few of the initial tests.

After a few days, due to some personal and emotional issues, I started losing my concentration on studies and began bunking classes. Because of this, I started to score worse in my tests and it affected me adversely.

But after nearly three months, due to the support of my friends, I started feeling better about my emotional health and again started to focus on my studies. But, in the past three months, I had made enough mistakes and it made me score poorly in my first JEE-Main exam.

Just after that, I heard about one of my classmates dying by suicide. This shocked me, my friends, as well as my parents, when they found out through national media. Just a few days later, I heard about a student from Bangalore who had stopped attending classes and had not bathed for months due to a mental illness she was battling, which was caused by study pressure as well as loneliness here in Kota.

I remember the number of calls I received from my parents each day, who continuously told me to not to worry about studying and giving exams. They would assure me, saying that whatever the result would be, they are and will always be with me.

However, I got just fine (not good neither satisfactory) marks in my second attempt of JEE-Main but was unable to clear the JEE-Advance. I was devastated.

But due to the continuous support of my parents, I managed to come out of it and take admission in a government university in my state.

Let us take a moment to think about the situation of those middle-class students who were not able to clear the JEE, but had invested a lot of money in it, the parents whose child died by suicide due to exams pressure, about those whose mental health took a toll due to the high-pressure environment of exams.

It’s not just about Kota, it’s about the environment of our country when it comes to various competitive exams. A new Kota is rising in every big city in the country , yet all we need is to understand what is going on in the minds of those students who are going to appear in competitive exams and had to join coaching for the same.

Also Read: 2 Years Of Exile In Kota Broke Me Down So Much That I’m Still Recovering

Youths are the creator of the future and without a healthy creator, we will never be able to make a good and sustainable future. The authorities as well as parents, both need to understand the interest of the children and then decide whether they should be sent to Kota (or to anywhere for competitive exams) or not, because every child is not the same.

We, as responsible citizens in other spheres, are also responsible for the harmonious and healthy growth of our future generations and each of us should take measures to ensure the same at our level.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Ramesh Sharma for India Today Group via Getty Images.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Is The Sharp Rise In Student Suicides Becoming An Epidemic For India?

Is The Sharp Rise In Student Suicides Becoming An Epidemic For India?

By Tanisha Venkani in Campus Watch, Education, Mental Health
6th February, 2020

Two periods in a student’s life prove crucial to them and the people surrounding them — examinations and results. Right from the very beginning, parents and teachers play a crucial part in putting students under tremendous pressure of performing well in academics and entrance examinations, in lieu of their better future, so much so that they often forget the internal battles and challenges that students fight almost every day to live up to those expectations.

The fear of not getting through IITs made me work hard during my 11th-12th; my anxiety hit the peak which is when I decided to change my stream altogether than succumbing to the pressure. But, how many students have had the same privilege?

This is that time of the year when results of the board and entrance examinations are announced, deciding the fate of millions of students; this has been going around for decades. But millennials are facing major problems coping with the burden. In this write-up, I will try to put across a few reasons that I have learned, which make things difficult for students.

Students attend class at the Bansal Classes in Kota, in India’s desert state of Rajasthan. (Photo: REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)

As many as 9,474 students died by suicide in 2016, which implies that almost 26 students died every day. That’s almost one student every hour; how devastating is this figure?!  The magnitude of stress parents and society put on the students leads them to give up and take their own lives is an undeclared emergency in the country. Data by the NCRB shows an increase in student suicide rates by 240% in the last decade.

One of the major names that come up when we talk of entrance exams is Kota, a city in Rajasthan known for coaching students rigorously paralleling punishing schedules with one aim — academic glory and excellence. In interviews conducted by BBC and CNN, students reveal that their interests lie in fashion designing, dancing, music, etcetera; yet they spend months or years away from home, in Kota, and study for as many as fourteen hours every day hoping for a bright future.

What Are The Reasons For This?
Looking at the above-mentioned data, interacting with students, and listening to interviews and perception of various field experts, we can say that there is more than one reason behind students taking up such destructive measures.
Elders’ Expectations

A significant number of students admit that they study because their parents and teachers have made them feel that cracking these entrance or board examinations is the only way they can become successful in their respective lives. A lot of these students express their wish to study humanities and have explicitly mentioned that these examination preparations are in no way taking them where they want to be.

As parents, elder siblings, and educators, it becomes our prime duty to encourage students to follow the career path that they want. It is rather apparent that a government job or passing out of IIT would promise a more certain and secure career; but let’s face it, there are millions of applicants against only 23 IITs. The chances of someone getting through an IIT when they are not even interested in doing it is slim.

When parents of the students who had died by suicide out of exam pressure and stress were interviewed, they said they had only little idea about what was going on in their child’s mind. This indicates a huge communication gap in the parents wanting to be empathetic with their children.

Deteriorating Mental Health

India is the most depressed country, and the pressure students face is only a testimony to why we rank so high in the domain of poor mental health. According to a report, the country spends 0.06% of the total budget on mental health — which is not a very pleasant number, in my opinion. Students cannot handle pressure or seek aid when they feel depressed or anxious thus, gradually lose focus and attention.

I work as an author at an educational research wing. I remember suggesting the administration about introducing one module on mental health for the eighth grade. They turned me down by saying that students are too young to understand the concept of mental health. If this is the case of a company that deals in removing disparity in education, what can one possibly expect out of others?

Our lack of understanding of mental health and its direct link to student suicide is very harmful to our youth, which is an urgent call for action to all the educators, educational institutions, and teacher trainers.

If you want to torture students to study well so they can make your institute and its performance looks well, might as well teach them how to cope with the pressure, no?

Students of IIT Bombay carrying out a solidarity march for Fathima Lateef, a first year MA student at IIT Madras, who died by suicide in November last year. Students across the country held similar gatherings, alleging Fathima’s death was no less than institutional murder. (Photo: Bhanu Prasad, YKA User)
Social Media

The main culprit behind emotional and mental disturbances and living up to societal expectations is the advent and the growing obsession with social media. How will I look in front of my parents and now, with social media, how will I look in front of my peers is another reason students feel immensely in turmoil.

The need for social acceptance and virtual validation is unforgiving and has made the entire situation no less than a virtual pressure cooker. Hence, in this age and time students are more vulnerable and susceptible to emotional disturbances and mental instability.

Someone I know of, who owns a chain of schools, puts up stories and posts on Instagram the very day results are announced, praising outstanding students with pride and not even acknowledging the rest of the class. Put yourself in this situation — you have not scored as you expected and are already upset and disturbed thinking of how you’ll confront your family and relatives (because they are an integral part when results are announced in India).

That very day — when you log on to your social media account — all you see is your principal and your facilitator praising the top scorers, portraying them as successful students with a bright future ahead of them. Can you be expected to stay calm and composed?

India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates and 25% of the total student suicides happen due to failure in examinations. Is it not high time for us to realise what we are losing our youth to? And how urgent this situation is?
What Can You Do?

As a parent, sibling, teacher, educator, or anyone who is directly related to a student, it is our responsibility to help them in this phase. This might seem like a catch-22 situation but we can play a significant part nevertheless.

1. Identify The Symptoms And Talk To Students

Try to identify the symptoms of ill mental health and talk to your child or student at regular intervals, especially before exams as to how they are handling things. Help ease their anxiety by telling them that an examination will not determine their future; it helps!

2. Refer Therapy To Them

Thankfully, most schools and coaching institutes now have a counsellor that the students can go to when in distress. However, most of them do not go. Encourage students to meet counsellors; and if possible, take them to one. It helps them cope with distress when they know someone’s there with them who understands and is willing to help.

Counsellors and therapists are trained professionals who can help students fight their emotional battles.

Also Read: Colleges Can Prevent Students From Committing Suicide If They Only Paid Attention

My only request to anyone who reads this is that please understand that examination pressure is a real thing, and so is depression. Nothing justifies a student giving up their life for marks. Life is much more than that and the onus also lies on us to be empathetic, aware, and helpful to the country’s student populace.

Note: this article was first published here

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Pardeep Gaur for Mint via Getty.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Rapacious coaching centres fly in the face of code of conduct

Tuesday, February 4, 2020, 7:18 AM IST

Rapacious coaching centres fly in the face of code of conduct
By Prof. Shiv Sethi

In a past few decades India has painfully witnessed a steep rise in the cases of farmer suicides. The statistics have jolted the nation badly. It is a lamentable state of affairs that needs immediate attention, but here the focus will be fixed on another equally vulnerable community - the members of which are unfortunately and unabatedly cutting their lives short with their own hands.

Ruefully referring to the aspirant community of the young students who harbour lofty dreams and when due to multiple reasons, which are present galore, they fail to achieve their goals and translate their dreams into reality.

Many of them, out of sheer desperation and despondency are driven to the deadly, dark dungeons of suicides. According to the latest available data from the National Crime Records Bureau, a student commits suicide every hour in India.

Erudite educationists put Kota (a city in the state of Rajasthan) on a high pedestal and call it a seat of learning. On the flip side, Kota is notoriously known as India’s suicide capital. Setting foot in the streets of the city, one marvels at the mushrooming growth of the IIT coaching centers in every nook and cranny.

The bustling town has more than one hundred and fifty coaching centers which are doing roaring business. First of all, the mind-boggling number of these institutes puts a big question mark on our educational system, which truly speaking, is in shambles. Kota is indeed a popular destination for those who are aspiring to secure their seats in some elite IITs and medical institutes.

Many of the aspirant students who take admissions in coaching classes have to undergo the rigorous study regime, for which all are neither prepared nor equipped with the needed set of skills. Much to our astonishment, the parent community has begun to pin very high hopes on their children.

It is the desire of almost every parent that his/her son or daughter must either become an engineer or a doctor. Afflicted with Peter principle, such parents are often unable to recognise the real aptitude and the latent potential of their children.

Blindfolded, they forcibly goad their children to tread the path of their own choice whereas the choice of the children is given the least consideration. Umpteen times, the consequences of such unwise decisions turn out to be disastrous and prove fatal for the students.

When a student is sent to some coaching institute in a city like Kota, the parents have to pay a hefty sum of fee along with other expenditure. Each institute charges around two lakhs as its annual fee burning a big hole on the shallow pockets of the parents. But the determined parents do not hesitate to go to any lengths.

Money is borrowed on high interest rates which puts equally high pressure on the tender minds of the students. Undeniably, in the absence of quality school education, all children are not properly schooled to encounter the tough challenges ahead.

The coaching institutes which can be rightly compared with the money-making educational mafia, are thriving. They have no considerations for the prescribed code of conduct, which says that an institute is bound to give an aptitude test to a student before admitting him to a particular course. This test can well determine the capabilities of a student, so the experts can be sure of the success chances of a student to a large extent.

Contrarily, in an absolute flagrant violation to the set norms, no such test is conducted, and even if it is, it will be nothing short of a perfunctory ritual. No one is denied admission on the basis of unsatisfactory performance in the aptitude test because the owners of these institutes are basically devious-minded businesses men. Their sole objective is to line their own pockets.

The fee once paid is not refundable. When a student sans prerequisite skills for such studies fails to deliver the goods, he tends to fall into the quagmire of depression. Without any psychiatric help, a depressed student finds himself stuck in a catch-22 situation. Out of which, many a time he comes out not alive, but dead.

Many students have lost their precious lives at Kota in the rat race of getting seat in the top-notch medical and IIT institutes. The saga of suicides is not only confined to the four walls of Kota. It has spread its tentacles outside, too. Many students who somehow manage to carve their niche in a medical college or an engineering institute have been seen succumbing to the pressures of gruelling courses.

Consequently, several of them take to the extreme means and put a full stop to the small sentence of their life. It is time for the government and the parents to come out of their hibernation. Parents must not forget the fact that their children are not of them, only from them. Children have every right to exercise their own choice when it comes to the matters of their life and career.

At the same time, it is also incumbent on the government that it adopts some robust measures to revamp our decaying education system. The faulty and flawed elementary education must be overhauled as it has failed badly in training students to take the tough call between engineering and medical professions. The fact can also not be gainsaid that our governments have always soft paddled the matters pertaining to the killer coaching industry.

In the absence of a stringent code of conduct for the coaching centres and its proper implementation, many innocent lives have been untimely snuffed out. All these coaching institutes must be governed by a regulatory government body so that they are not allowed to practise their unbridled rampant highhandedness and the flowers of beautiful lives are not mercilessly plucked.

The writer is HOD, English Language and Linguistics, Dev Samaj PG College For Women, Ferozepur

Monday, February 3, 2020

Should have raised voice when Article 370 was scrapped:

Should have raised voice when Article 370 was scrapped:

Aishe Ghosh PTI, Mumbai,
FEB 02 2020, 08:52AM IST

JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh. (PTI Photo) Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president Aishe Ghos...

Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/national/national-politics/should-have-raised-voice-when-article-370-was-scrapped-aishe-ghosh-800697.html

Friday, January 31, 2020

Student suicides rising, 28 lives lost every day - The Hindu

Student suicides rising, 28 lives lost every day

CHENNAI, JANUARY 29, 2020 19:47 IST

According to a 2012 Lancet report, suicide rates in India are highest in the 15-29 age group — the youth population. | Photo Credit: K.R. DEEPAK

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.

“Live a little every day, ek hi zindagi mili hai (You have got but one life).” These were the last few words found on an eight-page-long note written by a deceased postgraduate student at the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad (IIT-H). The student was found dead on July 2 last year in his hostel room.

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 4 suicides every day — followed by Tamil Nadu with 953 and Madhya Pradesh with 862.

Between 1999 and 2003, 27,990 students ended their lives; 28,913 between 2004 and 2008; and 36,913 between 2009 and 2013. The 2014-18 period saw a 26% jump from the preceding 5-year period to 46,554.

Hold a mirror to education system
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.

Rate highest in the 15-29 age group

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% 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 result in mental illness that leads a student towards suicide. This happens when the students are not familiar/satisified with his or her surroundings.” Relationship breakdown is another leading cause.

In 2017, Lokniti-CSDS released a survey which showed that 4 out of 10 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. Six 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.”

Those in distress or having suicidal tendencies could seek help and counselling by calling any of the following numbers:

Telangana Roshni - 040-6620 2000

Andhra Pradesh 1Life - 78930-78930

Karnataka Arogya Sahayavani - 104

Tamil Nadu Sneha - 044- 24640050

Delhi Sanjivini, Society for Mental Health - 011-4076 9002, Monday-Saturday, 10 am -7.30 pm

Mumbai BMC Mental Health Helpline: 022-24131212

Vandrevala Foundation: 18602662345/18002333330

I Call - 022-25521111, Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

ASRA - 022 2754 6669

The Samaritans Mumbai: 8422984528/842984529/8422984530, 3 p.m. -9 p.m., all days

Bengaluru Sahai - 080-25497777, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Kochi Maitri — 0484-2540530, Chaithram — 0484-2361160

Kolkata Lifeline Foundation - 033-24637401/32

Thursday, January 30, 2020