indian education suicide 1
Indian Education- Suicide–Madura beats

Another suicide at the altar of so-called Education. The news report about a fortnight back shook one to the core – so much so that the tragedy stays in the mind all these days after the happening, knocking at the door of conscious thought every now and then. A young girl seeking admission to the M.Sc. (Chemistry) Course in Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak squeezed the trigger on her life as she could not clear the entrance test for admission to this course in spite of having passed her B.Sc. examination with 83% marks ( Her hard work could not get her in. Just a few days after this tragic news was published, came this : based on a four-year research covering 600 students aged 16 to 19 years in four districts of Haryana, it came to light that 43% of the students covered were victims of stress, 23 % in depression, 35% suffered from loneliness and 71% were confused about the career they would like to choose. The research, according to a newspaper report, has been conducted by the Department of Psychology, Guru Jambeshwar University of Science and Technology, Hisar. (Dainik Bhaskar, July 4, 2018, page 2; Haryana edition, Rohtak).

As I read these news reports within the span of a few minutes (in spite of the distance in days between them), after return home from a journey away for about a week, the mind recalled a conversation with another young woman about a year and a half back. A research scholar, living in a hostel, when asked about her well-being, responded by saying something to this effect – “Feeling depressed. There’s death all around.” This was in the wake of a news similar to the one now – a student in a hostel had committed suicide for reasons somewhat similar to the ones now, so far as I can recall.

One is, once again, forced to think about the prevalent system of our education – what factors within it force our youngsters to face such psychological pressures that, sometimes, further result in the extreme step of terminating one’s own life?

I was reminded of philosopher-educationist J.Krishnamurthy. Way back in 1954, he had a series of talks and dialogues with students in Varanasi at the Rajghat Besant School which he had founded at the confluence of the Ganga and Varuna. Chief amongst the issues that he discussed with the children were those of Fear, Comparison and Security as also What is Education?. It is, indeed, quite an irony that 64 years down the line, we still have to think about these same issues when we think of how our children and youth are faring in our schools, colleges and universities.

In the midst of the two aforementioned news reports another short piece by J. Krishnamurti sprang to mind – ‘Without Goodness and Love one is not Educated’. In a dialogue with four young boys, roughly aged sixteen to eighteen, he asks – “Are you being educated to meet this vast affair called life?”, and the answer he gets is – “Who is to so educate us?…. Our teachers and professors seem so indifferent. Some of them are clever and well-read, but none of them give any thought to this kind of thing. We are pushed through, and we shall consider ourselves lucky if we take our degrees; everything is getting to be so difficult.” And the parents, as Krishnamurti says, “are anxious for the boy to find a secure job and earn some money; but with such an enormous population, there are a thousand candidates for every job….” Even in 1954? Yes! And what, pray, is the situation like now, 64 years down the line?

Some home-truths have to be told over and over again, till one realizes their import and changes course. The pressure of tests and assessments, competition and percentages, has become the norm in our system of education. Exceptions apart, no school or college – perhaps even university – looks beyond these parameters, unless imbued with the true spirit of education, which seems to have almost totally lost out in this ancient land of ours over these last couple of decades or more for sure. The whole edifice of the present system seems to be based on fear – felt by the parent, the student and the teacher. The constant fear of examinations – and of not being able to get the expected percentage – weighs on the mind of the student; the persistent fear of the child not being able to get the high percentage, first to be able to join a course in a desired institution and subsequent to completion of formal education, to get a job, haunts the parents. The teacher too is hedged in by the pressure of delivering a good result reflected in the students’ performance in examinations, for this constitutes a major part of a teacher’s annual confidential report. In the midst of all these pulls, pressures and fears, children and youngsters are the biggest losers. Those not able to cope with the pressure, crack – in various ways, for the spectrum of this pressure covers the condition of inferiority complex born out of comparison and competitiveness, and states of uneasiness, stress and depression right up to the ultimate step of taking one’s life, when the pressure reaches unbearable proportions.

And so, Krishnamurthy’s question reverberates loud and clear – are our young students being “educated to meet this vast affair called life”? But before we can come to this, some more home-truths, a bit more detailing, in order to complete the picture.

With the very nature of schooling and education, the way subjects are negotiated in terms of the syllabi, tests and methods of assessment and evaluation as also examinations, many parents would most probably be at a loss to understand quite a lot many things about their child’s progress at school. The support and help that children might expect to get from them, therefore, is perhaps minimal. The teachers too, it would appear, are not really well-equipped to handle the subjects in terms of being able to help a student understand their conceptual framework – enabling a comprehension of the concepts in a subject, followed by an attempt to master it rather than function through methods based on memory and rote-learning. This then leads to the path of coaching and tuitions in the hope that what could not be learnt at school or college will be learnt with the assistance of these crutches. The additional burden of coaching is most likely to take a further toll on a child’s physical and mental health, apart from the stress involved in being able to compete and succeed. To make matters worse – and most importantly – neither at school or college nor at home are children guided and prepared to face failure with equanimity. And the nature of this ‘failure’ is, indeed, bizarre – for, in this scheme of things sometimes even a score of 90% or more is ‘failure’, it being not enough to get admission to a course.

Competition (not co-operation), comparisons leading to negative (not positive) emotions, the fear of being unable to fulfil parents’ (and their own) hyped expectations, the shackles of a system and socio-cultural milieu that pushes one into choosing a stream or subject in which one might not be interested, a pedagogy based not on comprehension and understanding but on rote-learning, the absence of a support-mechanism that would help youngsters to cope with these situations – what else but psychological issues would crop up in such a scenario? Our schooling and parenting does not help and guide children to be self-dependent individuals prepared to take their own decisions with intelligence that comes from assessing all the pros and cons of a given situation. We do not provide them with the environment that they need to feel emotionally stable and secure, an atmosphere not just stress-free but imbued with a sense of freedom that facilitates taking joy in studies.

In this very land of ours we have had Tagore and Gandhi and Aurobindo – and many more – who had insights to give in terms of what education really should be all about: learning with a sense of freedom, without pressure, in a holistic manner that encompasses the whole being of the student – physical, mental, psychological, even spiritual. We, however, chose to neglect that wise path, even as we now lay emphasis on the technical and technological, I.T. and its allied fields, forming a distorted, lop-sided image of Education that looks down upon the liberal arts. And even as we do so, we seem to have forgotten what knowledge really means.

In almost every sphere of life, it is the rat-race that has come to define what we are. The “minefields” of Kota are a ready example of where this rat-race is heading in the sphere of education. According to a Hindustan Times report in July 2017, nearly 1.25 lakh students made Kota their temporary home while preparing for two of the country’s toughest examinations – NEET and IIT-JEE – with coaching centres selling dreams of “success” to children and their parents. And the rat-race of marks and percentages with all its attendant repercussions is what led to more than 60 students taking their own lives in the past six years – an average of 10 suicides an year might not seem too high, but this then is with reference to just Kota. Do we not need to cherish the life of each of our kids?

A liberal education that would make them feel at home with their environment and with themselves, that would nurture in them aspects of sympathy, consideration, kindness even as it instills in them the endurance and stamina and grit to face the odds of life while they have the freedom to choose what they like, and do what they cherish – would this wholesome education not be of greater value? Would this not prepare them better “to meet this vast affair called life”?

It would be a cliché to say that we need to take a close, hard look at our system of education, though that, indeed, is what is really required. But that calls for monumental hard work which includes a virtual overhaul of our ways of thinking and viewing the world, a wholesale re-look at what we take aims of education to be and our teacher-education programmes – and lots more. The sad and disappointing – nay, tragic – part is that we have such wonderful documents as the National Curriculum Framework of 2005 that give a wholesome picture of the road we need to take – and yet fail to take heed.

Coming back to from where we began, lamenting and commiserating over the young girl’s extreme step, we do need to recall not just what J. Krishnamurti says about the obnoxious role of Fear and Comparison in education but also that ‘Without Goodness and Love one is not Educated’. Goodness and Love in and towards the student, and from the student back to this society and the world. And sorry, but career guidance cells are not the answer to this challenge.

Ramnik Mohan is formerly Associate Professor, now engaged in social issues including education)

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  1. Beautiful piece of writing. Your experiences are very valuable for learners and teachers .

  2. I also feel the same many times, but the way you have articulated your ideas is really wonderful. We, as a society need to have a larger perspective on the endeavor called education.

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