On 28th April, 2016 a 17-year-old IIT aspirant jumped to her death from the top of a five-storey building. Just the day before, she had cleared the first stage of the IIT entrance exam. She is only one of the several students in Kota to have ended their lives but her story was different from most others: She wasn’t led to suicide because of failure or the fear of it.
“Sorry for being weak, and not showing courage, but I am tired now, no strength left,” She wrote in a five-page suicide letter that exposes the emotional cost at which the Indian middle class chases its biggest status symbol–a seat at one of the prestigious engineering colleges.
This is the sad plight of the nation’s young bright minds in this cut throat competitive world. As per National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data, a total of 2,403 suicides due to failure in competition and examination were recorded in 2014. Over a million students face immense pressure every year to secure a seat in the nation’s top premier institutes, be it Engineering, Medical or IIT colleges.
Every year, more than 450,000 students aim to crack the competitive exams like IIT-JEE, AIPMT, SSB SSC, Bank PO, CAT exams hoping for entry to the hallowed public institutes located across India.
In this race to get into the premier institutions, multitudes of students suffer from sleepless nights and depression due to fear of failure and disappointment. Along with the students, the parents also burn the midnight oil in order to support their ward in achieving the so called pinnacle of success.
Unfortunately the best time of the life that students are supposed to enjoy and cherish, is the time they are pushed to extreme levels which can be overwhelming for many and they end up taking extreme measures.
What causes students to take such extreme steps?
Stress of achievement- The performance of a student at the competitive exams determines the choice of college or university they’ll get admission in. For many families it becomes a matter of pride and prestige as well, which further puts undue pressure on the child along with the rigorous preparation, time & effort invested in coaching institutes. The fear of disappointment that students undergo comes mostly due to parents who go to extreme levels to push their children.
Unfulfilled parental expectations – Many parents knowingly or unknowingly push their children to pursue their own unfulfilled dreams which unwittingly make them discount the pressure that their child undergoes in chasing a dream that is not his/her own
Label of failure- Fear of failure to do well might lead to burnout among students which has substantial negative effects on their academic and social success. We live in a society where the self worth of a student is determined by the academic success and grades, be it 10th and 12th Boards or scores on competitive exams and not on the basis of individual qualities and talents they possess.
Peer pressure- The pressure of not being at par with peers, be it from our social circle or coaching institutes is also another factor that might lead to students being overwrought with worry.
All or Nothing Approach- We have a tendency to employ a pattern of thinking that there are only limited pathways to success and if we fail to follow them we’ll be branded as failures. While it’s always good to have a focused, dedicated approach towards our goals but having a Plan B is always wise so that we don’t feel like a deer caught in the headlights if in case our initial plan is unsuccessful due to a myriad of factors.
Mental & Physical Fatigue- “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”. This adage holds true for aspirants as well. Long hours of inactivity and rigorous preparation should be balanced with adequate rest and recreation, be it listening to music, going for a walk ,painting or pursuing any hobby that would help in . This helps to lighten our mental load and breaks the monotony as well.
Bullying/Harrasment- Bullying is a grim yet common phenomenon in coaching institutes which becomes an additional source of frustration, anger or stress along with the burden of studies, expectations and competition.
Scarce opportunities in future- In many families Engineering, medical or law are considered as conventional career choices which makes the exams even more daunting as failure is not an option for such students. Some students who are not able to make it to the cut off marks might have to pick another profession while others might have to settle for Tier 2 colleges.
How to help students get rid of stress?
Aptitude Tests- There are many students who know from a young age what they would want to become. Then there is the majority that might not have clarity as to what career path they would like to pursue and in this confusion they might adhere to their parent’s directions or follow the crowd and opt for conventional career courses which they might not be cut out for. In order to achieve that clarity and also be aware of our potentials, talents and capabilities, it might be beneficial to seek the guidance of a career counselor or take aptitude tests. This would aid in the decision making process for a fruitful career.
Recreational Activities– Students should have a structured schedule that helps them study smartly. The schedule should incorporate short breaks so that students get the time to indulge in recreational activities to rejuvenate themselves
Support System – Having a strong support system helps to weather the stress that one faces while preparing for examinations. When we know that we are being encouraged and appreciated by our parents, friends and mentors then it gives us that additional boost and motivation to work harder towards achieving our dreams.
Change in Perspective– We need to remember that at the end of the day it’s just exams, not the end of the world and the success of an individual should not solely be judged on the parameter of securing a seat in top tier institutions. There are several examples of people who followed unconventional paths and followed their passions instead of following the herd. Palash Sen, the founder of Euphoria studied medicine and received an M.B.B.S. degree but he pursued his dreams and is now a renowned musician.
Bill Gates & Steve Jobs were not considered conventionally good students, neither were Albert Einstein or Thomas Alva Edison but they are considered geniuses and masters in their field.
Ambition, focus & dedication are admirable traits that help a person make a mark for himself/herself but when channelized in a misguided direction then it can become a slippery slope.
Every person is born with unique talents and capabilities that need to be celebrated and not allowed to be sidelined due to unrealistic expectations, lack of direction or competition.