“Stress, depression and anxiety are caused when we are living to please others.” – Paulo Coelho
When the pressure to get a score of at least 96% in school examinations is at an all-time high (pressure that is only getting amplified each time Universities & colleges in India come out with outrageous and unrealistic cut-off lists), it’s not an understatement to say that school students are stressed out completely. In fact, grim and alarming statistics help quantify this disturbing trend – every hour, one student commits suicide in India.
No, you didn’t read that wrong! According to a 2012 Lancet report, India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates for youngsters aged 15 – 29. This statistic is further reflected in the number of student suicides that occurred in 2015 – an alarming 8,934. Even more depressing is the fact that around 40,000 students killed themselves from 2012 to 2015, and none of this takes into account the much higher number of attempted suicides (many of which end up being unreported).
In fact, one only needs to talk to a school counsellor to understand just how much pressure youngsters are in these days. Be it the difficulty to cope with a long and challenging syllabus, the stress of dealing with failure in examinations, the tension regarding one’s career, and the constant fear of letting down one’s family, there is no dearth of reasons why students are taking such a drastic step in such alarming numbers. Adding to this problem, is the grim fact that around 87% of India faces a shortage of counsellors and mental-health professionals who can help aid students combat early signs of depression and overwhelming bouts of stress.
I bring this up to emphasize the point of our school students being under enormous pressure, and, this cannot be taken lightly anymore. There are many ways to reduce this pressure and syllabus change is one of them. The curriculum must be evaluated regularly, and relevant additions & deletions must be made, to keep academics robust. The decision by the Human Resource Development Ministry to reduce the NCERT syllabus by half from the 2019 academic session is a much-needed respite. In fact, the HRD minister summed it up perfectly when he said that the syllabus of school students was actually more than that of college students pursuing BA and B.Com courses. The minister also stated that if a student were to fail his examinations in March, he/she would get another chance to clear those exams in May (yet another commendable decision). Furthermore, his emphasis on all-round development and improving the quality of teaching is exactly the type of approach that the HRD Ministry should be taking vis-à-vis education in India.
In addition to what the government does, a more important change has to come from schools and parents and aid in decreasing the stress of the students. For instance, parents and teachers can begin by creating an environment that doesn’t give academic scores a disproportionately high value – this can mostly be achieved by reinforcing the notion that academic scores and school grades are neither the most important, nor the only barometer of success. Additionally, teachers can go one-step further by prioritizing extra-curricular activities (and not just as a gimmick!) and their importance, whereas parents make their kids feel more at ease by letting them know that their dreams are valid and that they should never shy away from following the careers they want to.
India is a developing country that happens to be home to one of the largest and youngest population in the world. In fact, the youth of our country are not only paramount to our present-day development, but will also play an instrumental and decisive role in our country’s future development. As such, for our future innovators, entrepreneurs, inventors, athletes and job creators to be so stressed-out in school that committing suicide actually starts seeming like a viable alternative reflects on our failure as parents, teachers and educators. We have a powerful potential in our youth. We must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we direct their power towards good ends.