Jaipur-The distressing surge of 22 student suicides within a mere 8 months has prompted Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to confront the undeniable shortcomings within the education system. Acknowledging the urgent need for change, Gehlot has taken a decisive step by directing the establishment of a committee consisting of stakeholders and parents. This collective endeavour aims to dissect the systemic issues at hand and develop effective strategies to tackle the distressing rise in student suicides.
In the most recent case, an 18-year-old boy, identified as Valmiki Jangid from Bihar’s Gaya, committed suicide on August 15. He was studying in a coaching institute for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Main examination for admission into Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). This is the fourth suicide in August in Kota.
The repeated student suicides in Kota have been a matter of concern. Kota recorded average 3 suicides monthly in 2023. As many as 22 coaching students have committed suicide so far. These suicides have raised concerns about the mental health of students.
Despite the presence of helplines, dedicated counselors, and a plethora of support mechanisms, Kota's battle against student suicides remains an ongoing struggle. Amidst the pervasive advertisements of coaching centers, the city is adorned with 24x7 helpline numbers and police booths exclusively for students. Furthermore, coaching institutes have enlisted the expertise of professional psychologists. However, this comprehensive approach has not been able to prevent the recurring and tragic instances of student suicides in the city. According to data available with the district administration, 15 students died by suicide in 2022, 18 in 2019, 20 in 2018, 7 in 2017, 17 in 2016, and 18 in 2015.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot convened a comprehensive meeting with coaching operators and education officials to discuss strategies to curb student suicides, which have claimed the lives of over 13,000 students across the nation. In the wake of this crisis, the Government of Rajasthan has taken proactive steps to safeguard student well-being.
Gehlot emphasized the gravity of the situation during the meeting with coaching operators. He highlighted that the tragic toll of student suicides has surpassed 13,000 across the country. Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Odisha have been particularly hard-hit, with 1,034, 855, and 834 students taking their own lives, respectively. CM Gehlot expressed his deep sorrow at this distressing reality, emphasizing that the loss of even one young life to suicide is a collective tragedy that affects us all. The Chief Minister expressed his concern over the changing dynamics even among IIT graduates, who are now prioritizing political activities over their professional careers.
The Chief Minister did not shy away from addressing the commercialization of education, particularly in the coaching sector. Pointing to the pervasive advertisements flooding the landscape, Gehlot questioned the motives of coaching centers that appear driven by profit rather than the students' welfare. He called for a renewed sense of responsibility and urged the imposition of regulations on exorbitant fees, ensuring that education remains accessible to all.
Gehlot's concern extended to the practice of admitting Class 10 students into dummy classes in Kota. He asserted that this practice is not only questionable but potentially criminal. Stressing the importance of stringent checks, he emphasized that the well-being and future of these young minds must be safeguarded at all costs.
In an effort to comprehensively tackle this issue, CM Gehlot instructed the Education Department to establish a committee chaired by the Principal Secretary of Education. The committee will formulate and implement strategies to prevent student suicides within 15 days. To ensure a holistic approach, coaching operators and parents will also play pivotal roles in the committee's discussions and decisions.
Gehlot further stressed the importance of fostering a supportive environment for students who come to Kota for coaching. He urged coaching operators to create a home-like atmosphere for these students, who are often separated from their families. He advocated for celebrating festivals together and making students feel embraced by their surroundings.
During the meeting, Education Minister BD Kalla proposed innovative solutions to address the underlying causes of student suicides. Kalla suggested encouraging students who struggle academically to explore alternative interests, such as sports like cricket and football. He emphasized that today, individuals like Virat Kohli have achieved remarkable success without being engineers, illustrating the diverse avenues for success beyond traditional career paths.
Meanwhile, more than 3,200 hostels in Kota have already implemented a unique preventive mechanism to address student suicides. These hostels have installed fans equipped with spring devices that come down when a weight exceeding 40 kg is applied to them. This mechanism ensures that any person attempting to hang themselves from the fan will have their feet touch the ground, preventing tragic outcomes. Additionally, an alarm system has been incorporated to alert others in the vicinity.
Kota Hostel Association President Naveen Mittal shared that there are around 3,500 hostels in Kota, and the installation of these life-saving devices is well underway. This initiative comes in response to the Kota Collector's recent directive to install these fans in hostels, indicating a proactive stance by local authorities to address the issue.
Education Minister BD Kalla, UDH Minister Shanti Dhariwal, State Ministers for Education Naseem Akhtar, Zahida Khan, Principal Secretary School Education Naveen Jain, Chief Secretary Usha Sharma gave their suggestions to alleviate stress among students and combat the suicide issue. Some were as under-
Equal Attention for All: Eliminate the practice of prioritizing only the top-performing students in coaching centers. Ensure that every student receives adequate care and support.
Age-Appropriate Coaching: Avoid subjecting young children to intense coaching schedules that can contribute to stress. Tailor coaching approaches to the age and developmental stage of the students.
Balanced Study and Rest: Establish a system that provides for regular weekly off days, allowing students time to rest and recharge.
Effective Implementation of Guidelines: Move beyond superficial adherence to guidelines and focus on their practical implementation to truly benefit students.
Combat Profit-Driven Mindset: Acknowledge the issue of coaching institutes becoming profit-driven entities. Prioritize the well-being and educational needs of students over financial gains.
Pre-Admission Evaluation: Introduce a pre-admission evaluation process to assess a student's readiness for coaching and gauge their capability to handle the demands.
Shared Responsibility: Hold coaching, paying guest (PG), and hostel operators accountable for the well-being and mental health of the students in their care.
Incorporate Relaxation Activities: Introduce music and yoga classes within the curriculum to alleviate stress and promote mental well-being.
Foster a Supportive Environment: Promote a friendly and supportive atmosphere within coaching centers, encouraging open communication and reducing performance pressure.
Stress Reduction Strategies: Develop strategies to reduce academic pressure, including setting realistic academic goals and organizing stress management workshops.
Early Identification: Train staff to identify early signs of stress, anxiety, or depression in students and provide timely intervention.
Awareness Campaigns: Conduct awareness campaigns about mental health, stress management, and the importance of seeking help.
Regulated Admission Age: Re-evaluate the practice of sending children away from parents for coaching at the age of 15, considering its potential impact on their well-being.