Yet another young life was snuffed out this week when Mehak Hashmi (17), a Class XII student in Bhopal ended her life by hanging herself two days before her Chemistry Board examination.
Somewhat curiously, she was a topper in school and had scored 85 per cent in her Xth Board examination and was expected to do well in her XII Board exams as well.
Peer pressure is being cited as a possible reason as family expectations were apparently high. Her father Habib Hashmi, takes coaching classes in Physics and Maths and his elder brother (Mehak's Tau) teaches Chemistry.
But Mehak’s suicide is not an isolated incident. Every year school children, even class VIII students are ending their lives because they feel they are unable to live up to their families’ expectations.
Several such suicides by teenagers will once again be reported in the next few months as 31 lakhs students take the CBSE Board examination alone. The number will be a lot higher if other Boards are also included.
An exaggerated importance attached to the results in Board examinations appears to have led to this situation. The Board result determines admission in educational institutions and failure to secure high enough marks, most parents believe, adversely affect their wards’ career prospects.
No Government has been able to break the nexus between the teaching community and coaching institutes as parents pay through their nose to put their wards through medical and engineering coaching institutes.
As many as 40 students are said to have ended their lives at Kota, which continues to draw thousands of students for coaching. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) after a visit to Kota has taken note of the unending series of deaths by hopeful students.
Priyank Kanoongo, Chairman of the NCPCR, has called for a regulatory body for coaching institutes like at Kota which he found were crammed to capacity with no criteria for teachers and a severe shortage of counsellors.
Many of these children realise half way through coaching that they are unable to cope with the course. Some of them prefer death over returning home or failing at entrance exams.
Coaching institutes have responded to the suicides by installing
new ceiling fans that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for students to hang themselves. The ceiling fans are designed in such a way that they would come down if weights of more than 20 kilograms pull at them.
The Kota Hostel Association has decided to make it mandatory for every student hostel registered with it to attach a secret spring equipment and a siren sensor to the ceiling fan of the hostel rooms. This fan, predictably has been manufactured by a firm in Gujarat.
Brings us to a very fundamental question. Is education the only gateway to success? The reality is shocking. The most successful and richest personalities in the world are drop-outs. Some of them like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates (called the most successful Harvard drop out) Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg have set bench marks in excellence and wealth making.
Indians are not far behind either. To begin at the very top, we have Mukesh Ambani, Azim Premji,, Gautam Adani and Subhash Chandra of Zee TV, not to speak of our Dhonis, Tendulkars or Smriti Iranis.
Interestingly, there is a Thiel Fellowship established by billionaire technology innovator and investor Peter Thiel in 2011 who is co-founder of PayPal, which encourages students under 22 to drop out of school (of course the brightest among them) and offers 25 to 30 scholarships of $100, 000 each to encourage them to set up start-ups, research and launch social movements. Under this scheme the students all over the world are encouraged to apply for the grant given to them for two years to establish themselves.
People were sceptical of the scheme in the beginning where being a school drop-out is compulsory but the success rate of his students has been so impressive that students are waiting for the opportunity to drop out of school and lead an independent line of pursuing their dreams without going for a routine educational system.