One can’t say for sure when exactly this academic topper frenzy began, but every Indian millennial is familiar with the unfair academic pressure they had to go through in their school and college days. Parents would often feel helpless because in their defense, they want the best for their kids, so they invest as much as they can afford, even if it means taking big financial risks, in “coaching” for their children. Also, in countries like India, where everyone is interested in what everyone else in the neighbourhood does and where a parent sends their kids to school is a matter of personal pride, the typical hard-working middle-class parent does not have many choices.
The world is getting smarter and smarter. The education their parents gave them feels outdated and almost useless today, and the only way for today’s parents to convince themselves that they are being “responsible parents” is by ensuring that their children get the best education they can afford. School children don’t have any choice either but to go with whatever choices their parents make for them – they would love to go out, relax, play with their friends and have fun, but they can see how much their parents struggle to provide for them, so they are compelled to give in to the pressure as well. This is how coaching centres in the country know how best to exploit these circumstances to make money!
The pressure is very real
One can’t fully blame the parents because the cost of living is continuously increasing. The only way to keep up with the ever-increasing demands is to have a secure job and the good, old-fashioned way to get a secure job for a student from a middle-class family is to perform really well academically. So keeping their children’s best interests at heart, parents enroll them in coaching centres that promise them great returns and rewards. To live up to the promises they make and to ensure that they get more business, these coaching centres put their kids through an unbelievable amount of pressure, and kids feel stuck in such spaces. Kota, known as the coaching capital of India, witnesses the worst side of this reality. In 2023 alone, 27 children from the city’s coaching institutes killed themselves.
Recently, news that a 12-year-old boy from Bangalore ran away became viral; he was a student of the popular coaching centre called Allen, and it is believed that he took this drastic measure because he was humiliated by the staff at the coaching centre.
A few days before, an 18-year-old girl at Kota took her life by suicide, leaving behind a note apologising to her parents, stating that she can’t do JEE, stating that she is a ‘loser’.
New guidelines for coaching centres
Following the alarming number of student suicides, to combat this problem that students face in coaching institutes, the Education Ministry has issued new guidelines for coaching centres in the country.
Coaching centres are now prohibited from enrolling students who are below 16 years of age. Also, only those students who have completed secondary school examination can be enrolled in coaching centres.
These are welcome changes because this way, young children, adolescents and those below 16 years of age don’t have to go through the nightmare of studying up to 18 hours a day, and parents can’t enroll young kids even if they want to.
Some of these new rules are pretty basic and should have been enforced a long time ago. For example, from now on, it is mandatory that tutors in these coaching centres have to be at least graduates (one would think that for the huge amounts that parents are charged, teachers would be at least graduates) and that the qualifications of tutors must be updated on the coaching centres’ websites (of course, parents and children have the right to know who will teach the students and how qualified they are).
Preventing overwhelm and reducing stress
Another important measure is insisting that classes be spaced out well enough so that students get to relax and do not feel overburdened. Weekly offs are now made mandatory for both students and tutors, and no exam or important test can be held on the day after the weekly off either. This is a welcome measure because anyone following a demanding routine, especially children deserve weekly offs.
Focus on the mental well-being of students
While many professionals have been insisting that professional counselling support must be made available for students, according to these new guidelines, unfortunately, these are not made mandatory. The report says that Coaching centres are encouraged to involve counselors and experienced psychologists to counsel and provide psychotherapeutic service to students for the resolution of mental stress and depression.
Will just encouraging these business owners to take such important measures suffice? Also, what does “encouraging” mean? And what gives us the guarantee that this encouragement will make sure that students are not put through overwhelming pressure and they can access help when they need help? If the solution were so simple, wouldn’t these institutes have taken these steps themselves a long time before?
A new framework has been suggested for mental health promotion of students in coaching centres in the country, but how effective that will be practically is something we will get to know only with time.
What really is the cause of these problems?
What the rising number of student suicides brings to light really is that we need more than reforms for coaching institutes to prevent these problems. It is good that the education ministry is now committed to bringing about some much-needed changes, but what really brought us to this situation that we are in today? Why are millions of parents still under the belief that engineering and medicine are the only promising fields? Why are parents and students made to believe that getting into IITs or IIMs or clearing NEET alone would be life-changing? Is it not high time that the government looked into unemployment and the cost of living for the average citizen and ensure that to lead a normal life, one does not have to go through significant mental distress?
Kids are already compelled to learn a lot in the typical Indian school – is it fair to expect the average kid to consume so much knowledge and learn a variety of skills in their youth, which is also supposed to be the best period of one’s life? Also, there remains the stigma surrounding mental health – even highly educated youth still feel shame even today to talk about feeling depressed or suicidal to their near and dear ones. Without making these socio-cultural problems disappear, without actively promoting mental health awareness in every city and village in the country, without taking measures to erase the deeply-held beliefs that a student’s future is doomed if they do not become class toppers in science and math, is it really possible to fully solve these problems?
Let us hope that with this new set of guidelines, at least some changes will be seen in Indian coaching centres and the student suicide rates will significantly reduce from this year on.