Cases of suicide in Kota, Rajasthan, in recent times have had a cascading effect in Delhi, forcing institutes to take measures to reduce chances of depression among students. But there still remain worries as aspirants continue to study under severe pressure to perform.
Janakpuri, which is one of the hubs of coaching institutes for IIT-JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) or NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) exam with thousands of students moving here to realise their dreams every year, welcomes visitors with buildings selling dreams of success. There are posters of rank holding students pasted on these, including the one which is the tallest. There are students who wear shirts and hold umbrellas with names of their own institute. Some even have Bollywood stars in a bid to attract gullible students.
Despite the heavy advertisements, there is a feeling that all is not well in a system that encourages neck-and-neck competition and race.
“After the latest incident of suicide in Kota [of a 16-year-old aspirant, who hung herself for failing to clear NEET] our coaching institute conducted a ‘fun week’, where teachers had fun activities with students such as poetry sessions. Also, they cancelled extra classes to reduce pressure,” said a student from a prominent institute, who was studying with three other friends near a mall close by.
He also said that there are counsellors to help the students.
“If anyone is disturbed, the counsellors conduct a conference with parents.”
Private coaching for entrance exams like JEE and NEET has become a business as lakhs of aspirants compete for a few thousand seats every year.
According to data published by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in 2016, almost 26% of the total number of students in the country are enrolled in tuitions, which is over 7 crore.
According to Infinium Global Research, a Pune-based consultancy firm, the coaching industry in India currently generates a market revenue of Rs 58,088 crores. It can reach an estimated market value of Rs 1,33,995 crores by the year 2028.
Students spend lakhs and often migrate to other cities to prepare for exams.
Stress due to high competition and disruptions in their education take a toll on students’ mental health, increasing anxiety levels.
Two girls, undergoing coaching at the institute’s branch in Kalu Sarai, which is another hub of coaching centres, confide about the stress caused by irregular classes.
“Our institute’s building gets sealed every now and then, which is why the classes have not been taking place regularly for over two months now. It has affected studies. We took a drop year to prepare for exams. But this is stressing us out, and it will only rise as we play catch-up,” said one of the girls while the other nodded in affirmation.
But irregular classes studies is just one of the problems.
There is a concept of creating a sub-group that separates the cream from the remaining students. The students left out often feel disheartened.
“They conduct a test every 21 days. On the basis of marks in these tests, they create a sub-group of students who score well. They then focus mainly on this batch. All good teachers teach this batch and don’t give much attention to the others,” said one of the students from institute in Janakpuri.
“It is possible for others to get depressed once they are separated. That can lead to depression and suicide. Maximum number of suicide cases in Kota come from the same institute,” he adds.
Students also complain about competition and overcrowding in classes and want the government to intervene.
“There are 30,000 seats for NEET in government colleges but more than 20 lakh students appear every year for it and it will only increase as we go ahead. So, there is a very tough competition,” said one of them.
No personal attention
He complains that the institutes have turned classes into a chicken coop.
“When we took admission, they promised us that there will be only 40-50 students in each class. However, there are 70-80 and sometimes even 90 nowadays during lectures.”
Interactions with the students revealed that there is no pathway provided to the students in case of failure and that can draw them to the thought of suicides.
“Teaching should be easy and for education, not for making money. Students should not be isolated at any cost. We only know that we have to succeed at every cost. Not what we have to do after failure. So when students don’t achieve success according their expectations, they commit suicide,” said a student, who did not want to be named.
As per reports by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), student suicides saw an increase by 4.5% as compared to 2021 with around 35 reported each day, which is an all-time high.
Kota has already seen 26 cases of suicide this year, including that of the 16-year-old mentioned above.
On September 18, a minor girl from Kota’s Vigyan Nagar died by suicide.
The relationship between students in classes is built on competition and not camaraderie.
“During times of failure, students need the company of good friends because they can’t share everything with teachers and parents. But there is a lack of friends due to competition among students in the class. Most students don’t want to help others because everyone wants to crack this tough exam,” said a student who wants the government to take action and increase the number of seats in colleges.
“If anyone feels morally down in this condition, there should be a process to make him come back on track. So, the government should also take some steps like increasing the number of seats in government colleges. This is most important,” he added.
Not as bad as Kota
Despite complains, there are some students who provided a brighter picture.
A student from an institute at Kalu Sarai said that things aren’t as bad in Delhi as it is in Kota.
“The competition is very high but the cases of suicide are in Kota, not in Delhi. The coaching teachers here in Delhi are very friendly. Also, there is a counsellor available for students who face mental problems,” said the student, who is preparing for IIT-JEE and will appear in 2024 for the first time.
She didn’t want to reveal her identity but stressed on the importance of family support.
“Family support matters a lot at this stage. Students who live in PG, in particular, need a lot more support. If anyone feels any mental or psychological problem, they should discuss it with parents or mentors. I also faced some problems in class 11th due to the environment in the class. I told my parents and left regular school and completed class 12th privately,” said the student, who attends a four-hour class at the coaching centre daily.
A student of Physics Walla Vidyapeeth in Janakpuri, who is preparing for NEET exam since April, said, “Their coaching is good. They have a helpline for depression and do counselling offline and online for disturbed students. They also conduct doubt classes for weak points.”
But he laid the blame on students for not being able to cope with the tests marks.
“Many students give up or become depressed after the test marks which are conducted every three weeks,” said the student, who hails from Bihar.
An aspirant of NEET, studying in Sri Chaitanya Institute, Janakpuri said his experience has been good.
“If we have any doubt, then teachers clear it helpfully,” she said about the Hyderabad-based educational group which has branches in Delhi.
Two members of the staff in their Kalu Sarai branch said that none of their students suffer from depression or other such issues.
Having lesser number of students is the right way.
Khushi Madan, centre head of Edu Rain Institute, Janakpuri said, “We have only 50 students in our coaching class. We know them personally, and are in touch with them. We are easily available to our students. But in [other] institutes, where the classes are crowded, many of the students don’t even know the name of their teachers.”
Madan says that students go for brand name and that is what creates the problem.
“We also conduct a motivational lecture once a month. We have no need for a psychologist because we provide psychological support to students. I also speak to our teachers and do counselling. Counselling and monitoring are very important. We deal with students accordingly. Actually, we need to consider the entire activity of students, otherwise it becomes difficult to keep a track of their mental health,” she said.