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Young Lives Snuffed Out …Marks didn’t Add Up?

by Manisha Jain(more info)

listed in depression, originally published in issue 252 - February 2019

Nineteen-year old hangs herself in Chennai

17 year old boy kills himself by father’s revolver

Fails NEET, hangs herself

The headlines scream at you every morning. One dreads to switch on news channels  nowadays. Reason: Reports of students ending their lives over a few measly marks just hit you between the eyes, making your stomach churn.

Is this a complete failure of our educational system which sets such a store by marks, marks and only marks. Or is it the lack of love, care and attention by parents towards their children? Or is it bad schooling, negligent teachers, peer pressure or what….?

It’s all of the above. As this writer found out after speaking to parents, teachers, child counsellors, psychiatrists and psychologists.

Undue emphasis is laid on academic performance…..”No, how can my child opt for the vocational stream. I failed to become a doctor, my son must take up the science stream and fulfil my dream” asserted a father of a 17-year old. This, while all the poor son wanted to do was learn to play the guitar and become a professional musician.

 

Jain 252 Young Lives Snuffed Out

 

This Situation is far from Uncommon

An aggressive mother may want her daughter to become an engineer and score in the 90s (you can forget about engineering if you don’t),while the child would just want to quietly ride a pony in her spare time and do Home Science in order to be a successful homemaker.

The education system is completely lop-sided. If one carefully scans the academic and school curricula, one is hit by a Malthusian syllabus, a syllabus which is so heavy that it takes the joy out of learning. In fact, recently, educators have taken note of this problem and talks are on regarding the reduction of school syllabus.

Teachers are always under pressure to “wind up the syllabus” well in time for the boards to start.

Since the exams are not specific to a particular school and are pan-Indian, one can’t but focus on it, rued Ms Bindoo Gupta, Head of the Biology Department, Cambridge School.

The subject teacher hardly gets any time to engage in solving the problems of the students, they may have some interpersonal problems which must be addressed.

No, it is almost mindless, this mad race for marks, making it to the cut off lists and yes, “proving yourself”, she added. She suggested that some system of internal grading/assessment should be put in place.

Annu Kalra, counsellor and spiritual guide, asserts, there is so much hurt children have deep within which goes unaddressed.

There is so much parental pressure to perform, get top-notch marks and just get into a good college, that important issues like personality development, participation in co-curricular activities and personal problems get totally sidelined.

Parents like to boast about the marks of their children like prize trophies to be flaunted….as if to increase their own sense of personal worth. She adds “if as a parent I take a certain pride in my child’s performance, it is fine, but if it starts becoming something that defines me, then it is highly dangerous.”

Dr Samir Parikh, India Director ,Fortis Hospitals, stressed the need for public-private partnership (PPP) to arrest this fast growing phenomenon of student suicides.

He is of the view that most of the students ,who take this extreme step have undetected psychiatric conditions. They have either not confided in their parents or teachers about what they are feeling or parents/teachers have not been alert to any signs or changes in their behaviour.

Ironically, Treatment is just a Phone Call Away.

Mild depression or anxiety can be treated by counselling .If the problem is deeper, medicines can be taken. It is a myth that psychiatric medicines are exorbitant,

NGOs play a significant role in providing counselling to students in distress. There are several helplines, which dialed can stop possible suicides. Fortis hospitals have a 24X7 helpline to help anybody in distress (8376804102).

Dr Parikh stressed that the media plays a very significant role and that it needs to be responsible and curb its tendency to sensationalize such events.

Research has revealed suicide to be the 8th highest killer in the world

According to statistical data,90% of those who commit suicide, have an undiagnosed, untreated or partially treated  psychiatric condition as a root cause.

The rate of suicides among the adolescent population has quadrupled over the past few decades. Our whole social fabric is changing with smaller families, the almost disappearance of joint or extended families and little or no peer and parental interactions.

With the sharp reduction in support systems, loneliness  among the youth has become a grim reality, a reality  which really needs to be addressed urgently.

Societal pressures, the stress on a good job and good money as the only sign of success, makes it a no-win situation.

As Ms Kalra states, “Why is it that at a fundamental level you appreciate an engineer and not a gardener. Each has an occupation which is in sync with his own potential and calling. Why should there not be any dignity of work?”

The seats in vocational colleges need to be increased. We need to think of vocational training as an inherent training for leading a good life.

The problem lies not so much with the educational system as with people’s expectations of their own kids.

More than children, it is their parents who need counselling. They need to be told to be sensitive about a child’s needs. If he does not have aptitude for the sciences, then don’t push him .Let him study humanities….They should not have the “What will people say” dictum , dictating their moves.

First and foremost, said a parent, requesting anonymity, the taboo surrounding mental diseases like depression, schizophrenia, OCD and so on, needs to be completely wiped out.

She adds,” Why should my son, or me, his mother, be looked down upon just because he has schizophrenia, a perfectly curable illness? And if he has to go for psychiatric treatment, why is such a hoo-ha made about it?’

“I die a hundred deaths, each time some peer scorns my son or his mental condition. I know for a fact that if so much taunting and humiliation was not afflicted on my dear son, he would have been 50 % better,” she adds tearfully.

Decriminalization of suicide is really a big step and one that needs to be supported by creating the right environment for people with mental health problems

It is really high time that educators, parents, counsellors and peer groups, live up to the responsibility which they need take.

Ms Bindoo Gupta, Head of the Department, Biology, Cambridge School, Srinivaspuri asserted that parents often put too much pressure on their children.

This weighing of the merit or “goodness” of a child on the scale of marks they achieve is really very sad and dangerous too. Ms Gupta, who also counsels her students a great deal, added that when it came to parent-teacher meetings, parents could be quite cagey about their ward’s problems.

If the child is very stressed owing to board exams, they do not share it with the teachers and student counsellors, causing the situation to continue. If they had trusted the teacher with that vital information, the problem could have been nipped in the bud.

The media has a very important role to play in that it should to fair and objective in their reportage. A student killing herself is a very tragic occurrence; it need not be dramatized…… Such reportage has a negative impact on young readers/viewers

She added, “Parents and even NGOs can play a major role in understanding and addressing the problem of the child. Very often, I also need to counsel the parents on how to handle their children. They need to be told to keep their personal ambitions on hold and not put too much pressure on the child.”

Ms Jyoti Arora, Principal, Delhi Public World School , Noida Extension, observed that there has been a deterioration of values in society, both among teachers and among parents. Schools are no longer “temples of learning”.

She added that the PPP is hardly visible. The much-needed connect, the mutual trust between students, teachers and parents is missing. Eighty percent of the responsibility for the well-being and mental health of the children lies with the parents. They have to be alert to any changes in their child’s behaviour and watch out for any sign of depression.

Dr Parikh emphasized here, often a child who has less resistance to stress, finds it unable to cope. When exams come, he shows signs of confusion, insomnia, lack of concentration. These are all symptoms which should not be ignored. It could be the onset of mild depression.

As Ms Gupta stressed, “Parents need to be doubly careful about their child’s behaviour during boards. High cut-offs, cut-throat competition and peer and parental pressure make it tough going for the students. They should not quote the percentage of marks as a benchmark to judge their child.

Principal Arora said imparting life skills and raising the emotional quotient of children should be given as much stress as academics.

It is the all-round development of the child that should be the aim of education and not just an over-emphasis on marks.

What then is the Way Out?

All teachers, educators, parents, student counselors, neighbors and peer groups, must recognize that it is absolutely imperative to ensure a very deep connect between each other….It is all about relationships. One should strive to maintain a healthy and open relationship between parents, teachers , counsellors and classmates. There should be a spirit of joyful camaraderie and not cold –blooded rivalry among fellow students. Parents should not be over-critical of teachers and vice-versa. Once that all- important trust is achieved, only then can the goal of having healthy, balanced children be achieved.

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About Manisha Jain

Manisha Jain MA Eng Dip Journalism is an independent journalist based in Delhi, India. She specializes in social sector issues. She has completed assignments with Economic Times, The Statesman and Deccan Herald. She has studied MA English and holds a diploma in journalism.

Manisha may be contacted via Mob: +91 95827 01452;  majain52@gmail.com

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