When Thota Samyuktha visited her family in Ranampalli village in Nizamabad district during the Dussehra vacation, she gave no hint of the storm that was brewing inside her. Three days after returning to Sri Chaitanya Junior College in Hyderabad where she was undergoing long-term coaching for the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) to gain admission to a medical college for MBBS, Samyuktha committed suicide on October 11 in her hostel room. She left a two-page suicide note that said she was unable to cope with the academic regimen.
Her father Rajender, who works as a bus driver, finds it shocking that Samyuktha who got 950 marks in her Class 12 exam was not able to take the pressure. “Parents should understand what their children are going through after you put them in such corporate colleges,” says Rajender.
Two days later, 16-year-old Bhargava Reddy hanged himself in his hostel room at Sri Chaitanya College in Nidamanuru near Vijayawada. This came exactly a week after another Intermediate student Pavani had killed herself at Narayana junior college hostel room in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh.
Samyuktha, Bhargava, Pavani are not mere statistics, they are a pointer to how a significant number in the generation next in the two Telugu states, are seeking an accomplice in the noose. According to the Board of Intermediate Education in Telangana, as many as 50 students have killed themselves in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in the last two months, 30 of them reportedly since mid-September. The Andhra Pradesh education department pegs the figure low, admitting to four deaths since September. It is a shocking statistic but not a surprise if you know the kind of daily schedule that students preparing for medical and engineering exams have to go through.
The day begins with classes at 430 am and ends at 11 pm, with just a lunch break of 30 minutes and two 15 minute breaks during the day. This translates into a 17-hour study regimen for the students. There is no TV or yoga or sports. A Sunday is most often, not an off day.
But it isn’t the academic pressure alone that pushes the students into a state of fatigue and depression. It is the psychological warfare employed by the college management that the students have to endure that pushes many a weak mind over the edge. Psychological counsellors are alien to such institutions despite the fact that the students as well as the teachers, under pressure from managements to produce results, need counselling the most.
Any student who scores low marks in the first semester or the first series of tests is demoted into another section that consists of the not-very-bright ones. This puts pressure on any such student to push himself or herself to merit a promotion. It is this ‘caste system’ that managements pursue that makes many who are unable to make the grade, feel worthless. Insults are part of the game and any student who is not top of the game is targeted.
“It is all a mindgame,” says Supriya*, who is studying at a private college in Hyderabad. “The tactic one needs to employ is to take success and failures with the same reaction and not get affected by either.”
That is easier said than done given that verbal and physical assault, often meted out in front of the entire class, hurts the self-esteem of the student. A video of a teacher assaulting a student inside a private junior college in Visakhapatnam came to light this week, highlighting that many coaching institutes are in reality, schools of hell.
But teachers, who too are under pressure from managements, say they are left with no choice but to crack the whip to produce results. Parents, who have shelled out a huge fee to ensure their wards get marks to secure admission to top-notch engineering and medical colleges, go by the glitzy promotions the coaching institutes undertake. In fact, institutes also undertake door-to-door campaigns to net the best students after Class 10, so that they have a better chance of success two years hence.
“What’s wrong in pushing the students in order to achieve excellence,” asks Shailaja*, a parent. Such parents are in sync with managements for whom ranks are all that matter in an extremely competitive sphere. It is this attitude to excel, they say, which has ensured that the maximum number of seats in the top engineering colleges in India like IITs and NITs are bagged by students from Andhra and Telangana.
Alarmed at the number of students taking the extreme step, the governments in both states have pressed the panic button. This week, education ministers in Telangana and Andhra have asked for framing of fresh guidelines to run these coaching institutes. They have suggested that 17 hours of study time is inhuman and asked for it to be reduced to eight hours. Advocating a strict no-no to verbal and physical assault, the governments have asked the departments to inspect colleges and hostels for hygiene and ventilation.
The question is whether the teaching shops, owned by powerful politicians on either side of the Andhra-Telangana border, will fall in line. More importantly, whether the governments have the method and the will to enforce the rules is to be seen. The Chakrapani Committee report that made these recommendations after examining the running of these private institutions, submitted its report in May this year. It is tragic that it has taken so many young lives for the government to clear the dust off the report.
(*Names have been changed on request)