Blame the mad rat race for students’ suicide

It is a strange phenomenon that, of late, the successful students at the Board exams, in addition   to the failures, are committing suicide. Hours after the CBSE X exam results were declared, three students from Delhi — Ryan International School, M R Vevikananda Model School and School of Open Learning — with an aggregate pass percentage of 86.7 — have committed suicide because they could not bear the ignominy of not scoring high percentage of marks. And now Shilpa Kunder, Mumbai and Sakshi Eknath Bendkule, Nashik, who secured 71% and 56% respectively at the SSC exam, have killed themselves for not scoring the marks they expected. Every one hour, a school going teenager is committing suicide in India. This is a very alarming trend that needs our serious attention. Why the success is a failure? An attempt is made to analyse the reasons for suicides among students.

First, it is a sense of guilt. Most of the students committing suicide feel not living up to the expectations of their parents. It is a sense of inadequacy and lack of self assurance. The exams are reduced to a mad rat race, marks deciding the merit and the future of children. That marks don’t make a career and guarantee success in life never passes their mind. Of course, marks at X and XII exams do make a difference in getting admission to a course in a ‘good’ college of one’s choice. But, this is an uninformed choice that needs to be challenged. There is a lot of myth about the desirability of a course and choosing of a so-called ‘good’ college. The parents impose their ill-conceived choice and want to realise their dreams through their children.

Second, the rush for marks explains the inbuilt bias for certain courses. That vast majority of students in metropolis and urban areas prefer science stream and professional courses — medicine, engineering and management, IT etc — that require high percentage of marks at the Board exams due to unhealthy competition. That is how staggering 63,331 students from Maharashtra and 13,229 from Mumbai have scored 90% and above at the SSC exam this year. At the all India level and even in interior Maharashtra, there is overwhelming demand for Arts stream as the students wish to choose careers in teaching, civil service, legal profession, journalism, social sector and host of other challenging and promising professions. At the most prestigious institute of Mumbai, St  Xavier’s College, the admission for FYJC Arts class closes at a higher percentage than that of FYJC Science. The students should learn to take admission wherever they get. After all, the Board exams are the same throughout the country. But their  irrational preference only to a particular course, that too in a particular college, going by the trend, is what explains the reason for the mad rat race and its impending deadly consequence.

Third, there is a menace of coaching classes. The students are under tremendous pressure from parents, teachers and peers to excel in academic performance. It has become a trend that almost all students do the dual shifting — attending the regular classes in their schools and colleges and then rushing to coaching classes, leaving no time for rest, leisure and pursuit of hobbies. In fact, some elite Junior colleges in Mumbai have found a novel idea of tying up with coaching classes to promote “integrated programmes”, renting their premises to them, where the students attend the coaching classes and bunk the lectures in their own colleges, with proxy attendance becoming the norm. The boost for the parallel system is an indication of coaching classes capitalising on the parents and the students’ anxiety and their misconception that marks alone make careers.

A good student doesn’t need coaching classes. Take, for instance, the Noida girl Meghna Srivastava, who topped the CBSE Board XII exam, scoring 499/500 marks, never attended any tuition class. She studied Humanities. Shashank Ramakrishnan from Thane, who topped at the CBSE X Exam from Maharashtra, scoring 99.2% marks, did not attend any coaching class.  Rashi Shah from Mumbai, scored 99% marks at the exam, didn’t join any coaching class secured full 100 marks in Mathematics. Bhavik Bharambe from Dombivli, scored 100% marks at the SSC exam, didn’t take any private tuition. It may be necessary to ban the regular students enrolling in coaching classes to reduce the stress and strain that the students go through, besides saving a fortune spent on private tuitions, especially by poor students. The lower income group people — manual workers, auto and taxi drivers, maids and the like — are spending their hard earned money in enrolling their wards in coaching classes, unable to withstand the peer pressure and the trend, hoping they make a better future. When the students fail to live up to the expectations of their parents, they develop a sense of guilt and take the extreme step of ending their lives.

And finally, it should be mandatory in every secondary and higher secondary school and junior college to conduct orientation classes to the parents and the students, giving comprehensive information regarding the multiple courses and job opportunities after X and XII Board exams. The parents and their wards need to change their mindset. The counseling in schools is often prejudiced; it does not lead to discovering the real aptitude and interest of students. It is important to buck the blind trend of preferring only particular courses and joining coaching classes. It is heartening to know that many students from marginalised section, who can’t afford private tuitions, are defying the trend and pursuing different fields of learning. It is a good positive policy of the Maharashtra Board — MSBSHSE — of giving importance to extra-curricular activities and allotting 25 marks for them. The poor and disabled students are doing well by taking its advantage.

G Ramachandram is a professor of Political Science and a retired principal. He has published his magnum opus ‘The Trial by Fire: Memoirs of a College Principal’.

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