The fact that this coaching city has seen student suicides rising from 15 last year to 23 this year, shows that there are tectonic challenges in our education system. Infact, this Kota-like high pressure culture is very much part of a ‘national problem’. The 2021 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report said that 864 people below 18 years died by suicide in 2021 due to ‘failure in examinations’, which is 1% of the total suicides in the country.
The Union Ministry of Education had told Parliament this year that 61 student suicides were recorded across top educational institutes — IITs, NITs and IIMs — since 2018 and more than half were in the IITs.
The ‘excessive exam coaching’ is a natural corollary to the desire of students to make it to the most prestigious institutes and follow the most-sought-after professions in the country — engineering and medicine. Parental pressure is a key factor as many parents still feel that the IITs/NITs/medical schools alone can ensure a secure future for their child. Loans are taken and children shipped off to coaching centres from class 9 to prepare for the big higher education entrance exam.
The biggest exam — the JEE Advanced — is often termed the ‘toughest exam in the world’. It is the passport to the famed IITs and a bulk of India’s coaching industry across several cities, including Kota, coaches students for this exam. The NEET exam race amplifies it even further.
Pune-based consultancy firm Infinium Global Research pegs the Indian coaching industry at over ₹58,000 crore in 2023 and growing, as India’s Gross enrolment ratio for higher education increases and more students aspire for the academic institute. The perils of the high-stake board exams and the coaching culture have been pointed out in the National Education Policy 2020, which has recorded that: “The current nature of secondary school exams, including Board exams and entrance exams, and the resulting coaching culture, are doing much harm, especially at the secondary school level, replacing valuable time for true learning with excessive exam coaching and preparation.” It reads recommending a more flexible board exam system.
DEMAND VS SUPPLY
These institutes of academic excellence are still fewer than required in India. The 23 IITs in India admitted just 17,300-odd students in 2023, from among 1.89 lakh applicants. Similarly, against over 20 lakh applicants, NEET 2023 admitted about 1.4 lakh students to medical seats. The huge number of applicants have led to these entrance exams turning into tests of ‘elimination’ rather than selection, a former IIT director points out on condition of anonymity. “The demand-supply skew forces the test to become more difficult as lakhs are vying for a few seats. This obviously creates an imbalance and high pressure on students, leading straight to the coaching centre. This cycle is unlikely to change unless more quality institutes are created,” he said. Even after 76 years of independence, the 23 IITs and a clutch of medical schools, hold the highest place of honour in the Indian educational system, the former director points out. Short of funds and without any robust financial model backing them, these have not been able to expand and increase student intake as they should have.
Faced with decades of neglect, the state university system, which caters to the bulk of students aspiring for higher education, is unable to bring in quality differentiators. The elephant in the room is the quantum of government funding spared for education — which is stagnating across dispensations at the 3% range of total GDP, sums up an academic, who was involved with India’s education sector for years.
STRONG POLITICAL REACTIONS
Strong political reactions have followed after the suicides with BJP leader and MP Sushil Modi asking if Kota had become the ‘suicide capital of this country’. “Two more students killed themselves yesterday, taking the toll to 22 since January. Something concrete has to be done by the government”, Sushil Modi tweeted. He had taken up the matter in Rajya Sabha in Monsoon session pointing to the ‘relentless academic pressure’ and mental stress put on students in Kota and similar coaching centres, driving them to commit suicide.
“We are concerned about thesituation. Our CM has conducted two meetings in tlast ten days, one with coaching owners and other with police personnel, discussing the situation. We have issued guidelines for the institutes and going forward, we could make a law to regulate this. Young lives are precious for the country and state,” Subhash Garg, Rajasthan minister for higher education told ET.