By Shantanu Guha Ray
A number of schools in Delhi have happily used jammers — some even proudly informed the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) — to clog handsets they suspect could be smuggled by students for board examinations which started on Monday, 29 February.
Parents accompanying their children to examination centres found it a case of total paranoia, complaining they had to walk for at least a mile to get their handsets buzzing.
If this was not enough, across many centres, students were frisked twice, sometimes thrice as if they were boarding flights at airports.
Many found the search totally unwarranted, only adding to what many claim is an insurmountable parental pressure to garner an aggregate of 96 percent plus marks, the borderline for getting into top colleges in Delhi and other parts of India.
The country’s HRD minister, Smriti Irani, now in the news for her feisty speech in Parliament following controversies over the death of a Dalit student in faraway Hyderabad, has not found time to address this growing “pressure of marks” which has already forced an estimated 35 students to commit suicide in just the first two months of 2016. Those who consumed poison, set themselves ablaze, jumped from buildings or hanged themselves were unable to handle unrealistic ambitions of their parents, poor teaching standards in schools and the country’s fiercely competitive college admission race.
As per information with the National Crime Research Bureau, almost 4,000 students committed suicide because of examination pressures in India in 2013, the last computed official data. The numbers, claim many, has increased manifold since then. Police say thousands more suicides go unreported because parents keep the cause of death a secret.
“No one is letting the steam off the system. Every year is a repeat of the previous year,” says social theorist Ashish Nandy.“Children are being put into a pressure cooker,” adds Nandy, reminding educationists that India has one of the world’s highest rates of suicides. Each year, between 30 and 40 people per 100,000 Indians aged between 15 and 29 kill themselves; one third of the country’s suicides is made up of students.
“Test preparations are nightmarish. Gruelling schedules, frequent testing and round-the-clock stress are taking a deadly toll,” says Dr Rakesh Aggarwal, a top psychiatrist.
Recently in Kota, a small town in Rajasthan that is considered India’s capital for examination training centers, a young student hanged himself from the ceiling fan. His suicide note read: “I am responsible for my suicide. I cannot fulfil papa’s dream.” His parents, the cops said in their report, had put extra pressure on their son, calling him a “doctor” when he was in school.
“This was totally unnecessary, it only adds up intense psychological pressure,” adds Dr Aggarwal.
Education counsellors have routinely blamed schools for sending results of bimonthly tests to parents via text messages but the practice has not stopped. Some schools have special coats for meritorious students; rest wear generic ones.
Approximately 1.5 million students take the joint entrance examinations for engineering, medicine and a few other specialised courses every year, while fewer than 10,000 are accepted.
“This creates a class difference, keeps students perpetually on the edge” says Ashok Lahiri, a retired principal in Kolkata. He says sales of memory pills are highest in India during examination times, many companies even sell “brain food” and newspapers run special supplements advising how to tackle stress. “Many parents push their unfulfilled ambitions on students.”
Almost a decade ago, a study by the University of Mumbai showed students were more frightened of examinations than earthquakes, accidents or explosions.
Recently, a top government official in Kota urged students in the town to stop studying and watch squirrels play on branches, and visit a riverside. “Clearing an exam or two is not everything,” he wrote in his letter.
But India refuses to change. Last week, Army chief General Dalbir Suhag was asked by Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar, to explain why candidates for an army examination in Muzaffarpur, the biggest city of north Bihar, were made to strip before handing over question and answer sheets for an examination where fitness was the overriding criteria.
Parrikar is yet to get an answer, like many parents in India.