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“My family has been spending a lot of money on me. I am a burden for them. My studies are a burden. But I cannot live without my studies. I have been contemplating this for days. I think that suicide is my only resort.” These were the final words of 19-year-old Aishwarya Reddy, who died by suicide recently. An undergraduate scholarship student of mathematics at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Reddy had been living with her daily wage workers’ family in Telangana since March when the national lockdown was put in place.

She did not get a room in the hostel and had to search for an accommodation which would range between Rs 12,000-18,000 per month. She also faced a lot of difficulty attending online classes because she didn’t have a laptop and had to use her phone instead. In addition, she didn’t have a good internet connection and had to buy additional data packs to attend lectures.

The strict hostel policy, the limitations of online classes, her family’s poor financial health and that she didn’t receive a single penny of scholarship in spite of the fact that she was eligible, led Aishwarya to take this drastic step.

Such shocking incidences, born out of pressures of education and its systems, are no longer uncommon in India.

Kota city, the education hub, 2nd name to JEE and NEET coaching, a dream destination to be for any IIT or medical aspirants; but all of a sudden has turned into the suicide capital. When you arrive at Kota, you will find thousands of students competing fiercely to make their mark. More so, periodic test results are communicated to parents with warnings or consequences, which an average student can't cope up with the embarrassment due to bad test results. And then, as your test performance decides your batch and as soon as your test rank deteriorates, a student is pushed to lower batches, which hurts the social status of the student and hence push them in deep depression. Last but not the least, the parent’s pressure on their kid to crack JEE or NEET, irrespective of his/her past history of liking, delivers a double whammy. Teenagers can't see themselves losing in front of parents and hence they kiss the hanging rope or sink in to the dark realm of drugs.

My very dear friend’s daughter was in 12th standard two years back.Not heeding to his daughters request to put her in to arts stream, he forced her to take science stream. Their house was turned in to an impregnable fortress for the entire year. They did not go out anywhere nor were any guests welcome. They sacrificed their vacations, weekly entertainment and dinner outings, festivals, birthday celebrations, television… Kid would go to school in the morning, come back in the afternoon to immediately rush for the JEE classes. Come back later in the evening to finish off school and coaching class’s homework. Classes were proudly functional on Sundays as well. She lost more than 10 kilos and had dark circles around her eyes,somewhere begging her parents for some sleep. Eventually the D-day came and she managed to get only 62%. Grief enclosed the house; they stopped picking up any one’s call and did not step out of the house till I went to meet them after a week or so. I took with me some Motichoor ke Laddu and congratulated everyone in the house, especially the kid for such a marvellous performance. Maybe I communicated what I had to even without saying a word.

Today’s education system makes student’s knowledge and understanding of the world bookish. They will always go by the book and would never think of an alternate way to do things. Their creativity is always constrained in a box. They cannot innovate nor improvise. This kind of a bookish education is good for developing people who can follow. This system would produce copy-cats. Not innovators. Not Leaders.

What we need in today’s age and time is a practical and hands-on education;where students are required to understand everything by learning through experiences, look and feel, and not by cramming textbooks. Thinking differently, innovation, improvisation, sportsand extra-curricular activities must be the key to get grades.

But the most important of all is to counsel the students to pick up the career path they are genuinely interested in and provide them full support to fulfil their educational and career dreams.

Will you wear a black or white shirt for your entire life just because they epitomise ‘classy’? Obviously,not. You will want your clothes to reflect your individuality and will select the ones you like the most. Similarly, not everyone is born to become just an engineer or a doctor or what everyone else is chasing (case in point – every one as of today wants to become a coder). So,let them reflect their individuality by choosing a career they love. What is wrong if your son or daughter becomes a magician, theatre artist, painter, copywriter, you-tuber, footballer, chef, product designer, historian, geologist, anthropologist, ornithologist…? Trust me, if they pursue their career in what they really love, they will never have to work for a single day in their lifetime. Their passion and love for work will never wane out and they will have much greater chances of becoming successful. Wouldn’t you, as parents, be proud of your son or daughter then?

Rural education has different plethora of issues. Lack of infrastructure, good sanitisation, library, books and stationery, computers, connectivity, good teachers, access to schools, finance and drop-outs…the issues are endless. This has created a big rural-urban divide in terms of educational capabilities.

Someone has to change the education system.

The onus should come from the industry, especially large and credible corporates. First of all, adopt schools in rural areas and give an equal opportunity to those underprivileged kids to realise their dreams. Normally, if you are to recruit someone, you look for credentials in terms of education and pedigree of the institution. So secondly, start recruiting someone who is good with logic, is street-smart, confident, extrovert, a team player, has common sense, has no stage fear, has future potential to grow…

Then parents will not only focus on bookish education and degrees, but will also focus on the all-round well-being and development of the child. Maybe then, no student will have to take that gory step of ending their lives or succumbing to drugs. And every student will have equal right to education and more so, the education they like.

Credits for some information – Indian Express, Quora

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