EVERY hour one student commits suicide in India, an average of Twenty-eight students commit suicide every 24 hours during 2022. India saw 1.3 Lac suicides in 2022, of which students made up 8%, while 10% of them were unemployed people.
Imagine a situation where you are fed with the ill-notion that your grades and percentage scored will determine the kind of person you will become in life. Imagine that your academic score will determine the courses which you can opt for and the ones you can’t, the colleges or educational institutions you will be admitted to or dropped out from. When the stakes are so high and when the entire course of your life seems to be determined by the examination you are sitting for, the reasons for getting stressed, anxious and even depressed are more than justified. It is not only about these facets of life that hinge on the pivot of grades, but to aggravate the matter, parental and peer pressure cumulates the existing stress and pushes students to the boundary, where, according to reports, “two-thirds (66%) of students reported that their parents pressurize them for better academic performance” and “every day, 6.23 students commit suicide due to peer pressure”. These are no empty numbers to be brushed under the carpet, they are instead the most vital indicators of social health and have relevance in pointing out the direction we are headed towards – and unfortunately the direction is one of self-annihilation and the creation of suicide regime. These figures clearly reveal that education, instead of bringing intellectual liberation and social emancipation, is positing our kids against anxiety, depression and a host of psycho-social problems. A study on the question of high grades reports that “rates of anxiety, depression and even suicidal ideation have spiked dramatically, and academic stress tied to grades is a leading cause of this escalation”. If human life has some worth and if it is agreed upon that life precedes and exceeds all grades, marks sheets and percentages, then the issues arising out of poor academic performance deserve a thorough revisit and in order to save our kids from the brunt of undue performance related stress, a deeper understanding of the students’ issues has to be gained and an ambience is to be created which addresses the issue at its roots.
The incidents of students committing suicide after scoring low grades are scattered all across the search engines, so are the studies investigating the correlation between psycho-social disorders of various orders among the students and their academic performance. A reference to these has been made above, but what concerns us here are mainly the remedial measures and a change of mindset which engenders these negative episodes among students. The concern for grades and percentage consciousness starts very early in our lives when we witness the classmates scoring high receiving special treatment, being accorded a special place, presented as an example to the entire class and his/her ability to score good grades presented as a feat of extraordinary importance. On the other hand those, who score low are infamously bracketed as back-benchers and are deprived from dignity, self-esteem and a sense of purpose. Here, at the very beginning, a tune is set which programs the minds to think in terms of grades and percentiles, to associate the meaning of life with the quantum of marks, to evaluate individual worth and merit based on the grades and percentages scored. It is but obvious that a scenario like this can only foster a mindset which stakes everything on good grades and where even a minimal fluctuation in grades amounts to spike in stress and other disorders already discussed. Are our teachers aware of this brute fact and do they understand the precedent and the consequences thereof they set by their words and deeds? If our teachers, the ideals and the most cherished figures in our academic hierarchy promulgate such a mindset and behavioural patterns, how is it to be expected that students won’t give undue importance to grades; that they won’t develop the physical and mental health issues on scoring low, that they won’t think of low grades as the end of life and the end of the world? What crops up in classrooms is only fostered and irrigated at homes, as parents are after kids to score high, so as to add to their social prestige and image, to enable them to boast of the success of their ward to their colleagues, neighbours and relatives. In the midst of all this, parents do not even bother to look at the stress levels of their children and the wreckage their expectations are causing to the health of the children. Figures to this end have already been given, but on the qualitative side, it turns kids into economic entities or the objects of order execution. It erases the traces of human empathy, love and fellow feeling and thwarts them into a system of competition, where the way forward is secured only by bringing others down and an academic version of the Darwinian “Survival of the fittest” is enacted in classrooms.
What is happening in Kota – the premier coaching hubs of India makes a regular round on news channels and the suicidal cases shakes everyone of us to the spine. Such incidents have now cut across the age barriers and students as young as 14 years are turning to suicides in order to escape the consequences of poor grades. We aren’t hereby pleading a case for poor performance or low grades, which if given ascent can undermine the performance and potential of students, and mediocrity will become the order of the day. But what our parents, teachers, students and society need to understand is that poor academic performance is not litmus test determining the rest of the students’ life. An academically poor student may have commendable entrepreneurial or other skills which may place him far ahead of his peers. A failure in mathematics may be genius at Urdu, somebody who failed to qualify NEET may one day be teaching and guiding thousands of NEET/JEE aspirants – these are all real life possibilities and openness to these possibilities is the beauty of life and the secret of keep going successfully. There are other aspects, much serious and fundamental on which stands the entire edifice of grading and this system has been for long now surrounded by controversies and criticism. Though we don’t intend to venture into the mechanics of this system, but it must be noted that the system is infested with inherent flaws and fallacies, which the experts have been decrying for long now. What follows is that the grades, despite their importance aren’t the moot axes of our lives and there are possibilities, beyond grade profiling, where people can excel and achieve the best in their lives. Education has come up as a full scale industry and has emerged as multi-crore business, but the fact is not lost to the readers that we have acute shortage of career counsellors, who could have trained students and parents as to how should one cope up with the ghost of poor percentage and what options are there, within the academia and beyond it, even for those who score low otherwise. Parents have to stop gambling on their kids and need to understand their propensities, predispositions and preferences in order to help them in making right career choices instead on thwarting on them their expectations and aspirations. Students themselves need to be resilient in putting across their life preferences before parents, so that much time, effort and guilt can be saved.
If the readers still think that the numbers on the marks-sheet will determine our prosperity, success and fortune , it is time to look around and see for yourself that the successful and rich don’t have much in their marks-sheets.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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