When one student, across the country, commits suicide every hour, it is clear there is a crisis that needs to be tackled on a war footing—according to home ministry data, 9,474 student suicides took place in 2016 and 75,000 in 2007-2016. The reasons for a suicide are too complex to afford any simple solution, but according to the home ministry, a quarter of the suicides in 2016, and 23,000 of those between 2007 and 2016, were due to “failure in examinations”. How much of the tensions students face is due to ragging is not clear, but this is seen by many mental health experts as a significant causal factor. The bulk of ragging cases go under the radar, and a study by the University Grants Commission (UGC) found that nearly 84% of ragging victims had never reported it to the authorities. So, apart from the fact that college/university authorities need to be very vigilant and take tough action against ragging, the government needs to urgently relook the academic curriculum. It is good to hear that NCERT plans to reduce the students’ load by half, but it is not clear what this actually means. If the curriculum is reduced in the lower classes, but the class X and XII board examinations have the same curriculum, no real purpose would have been served. So, the class X and XII examinations will also need to be restructured, especially with a view to do away with just learning by rote.
While the pressure to perform and increasing competition are undoubtedly the reasons for the jump in students’ stress levels, this comes at a time when there are far more education and career options than there were in the past. Apart from the plethora of new colleges/universities, there are also a host of online courses available, both from Indian as well as foreign universities. In which case, it has to be mandatory for all schools and colleges to offer in-house counseling and for the counsellor to be completely up-to-date with information on all offline-online courses as well as non-conventional employment options that better match the personality of students—ideally, instead of being a trained psychologist, the counselor should be an academic.
A related problem is that, despite all the time and effort the government has made when it comes to skilling, the progress there has been quite poor—a good skillings initiative is an integral part of reducing pressure on students, particularly those who face the prospect of unemployment. Indeed, even in the case of formal education, the poor quality is worrying—Aspiring Minds found that nearly 95% of engineering graduates didn’t have the requisite skills to be employed in engineering jobs. Having more mental health professionals would help—India has 0.6 mental health professionals per lakh people compared to 1.7 in China and 125.2 in the US—but this is, to begin with, a problem India’s schools and colleges have to deal with.