Saturday, March 5, 2011

Attempting to Prevent Suicides in India’s Education System

Here is this morning’s headline from an article in The Times of India:

“Patna student commits suicide after failing in exam”

Patna is an area of Bihar, India in the northeastern area of India, which is where the 19year old student in the headline above is from who committed suicide this morning. I lived in Pune, a city in western area of India, for two years and studied at an all girls school there. I was there when I was seven and eight years old but I witnessed the stress that was put on the students by their families even as seven and eight year old girls.

Here is how the India education system’s exams and schooling works. There are exams for ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ colleges, which means there is an entrance exam in tenth grade and another in twelfth grade. Most students take tutorial classes outside of everyday class as a means to better their understanding. The tutorial classes do not ease their stress of expectation but are simply used as a means to make sure to receive a higher score on future exams. The scores come out in a few weeks after the exam has been taken, which leads to the real problem in the right for these students to have a health mental state. The scores of these exams are stepping stones to college, so I understand that they are important but not important enough for students to feel as though they should commit suicide when they receive low scores. The families and students are holding their breath in hopes of a high scores. In certain instances, this expectation stresses out the students enough , from elementary through college, leading them to commit suicide after they have received their test scores.

The stress on education is a part of the cultural ideology in India. Nevertheless, I think it is a human right of the students to have a healthy mental state but I am not sure if there is anything that can change this system expect for the people themselves. I am not saying that India is the only country that has such a stressful system of expectation in regards to education- it is simply the one that I have been a part of and seen firsthand; if such a suicidal norm occurs in other countries then that is all the more reason to intervene to universally help students to have a healthy mental state- one with minimal stress and no motivation to commit suicide.

Thus, do you think the students having a healthier mental state is even a matter of human rights? If so, do you think the Indian government or the UN should intervene to change this sort of system of stress on the students to lessen or prevent future suicides? If not, do you think it is the responsibility of the people to work towards creating a healthier mental state for the students?


  1. Nicely put, Manali. While I've certainly heard of mounting stress in the Indian education system, I had no idea it was of this caliber. I agree that it is imperative to maintain a system that promotes mental health, but it seems to me that much of the stress in this situation comes from the students' families. It is certainly the case that these standardized, double-entrance exams is more conducive to a stressful environment, but when a student returns home after receiving their test scores, s/he should be able to escape this environment. To me, this is a parenting problem rather than an educational error, but to truly fix the problem, both issues need to be examined.

  2. Yes, I think that having a healthy mental state is a human right. As your example illustrates, mental health issues can be just as debilitating and life-threatening as physical illnesses. Article 25 of the UDHR states that "everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself." I agree with Rush in that methods of intervention for this case can and should come through multiple forums. Perhaps there is another way that scores can be delivered. For example, scores for all students could be given out during one-on-one meetings with the school's guidance counselor, or someone else from the faculty who would be able to advise the student about options and next steps. Then, the score becomes a way to have a conversation about how to improve or where to look for options that one may not have considered, rather than a permanent number or label that seems to dictate one's future.

  3. This is a really interesting post. This issue causes me to wonder: Can the fulfillment of one human right (in this case, education) be carried out to such an extent that it actually infringes upon other human rights (in this case, that of mental health)? Your question at the end brings up a good point; Who is responsible for this tragic trend? When it comes to issues like genocide, we feel pretty confident in asserting that the right to life has been violated and calling in the UN to address the wrongs being done. In this example, however, I would find it hard to imagine that anyone would support intervening and restructuring the Indian education system. What's the difference? Is it because one right is "more right" or "more human" than the other? Or, as is often the case, is it simply a game of politics?

  4. Shannon, I agree with your suggestion for one-on-one meetings to explore a student's options. The problem seems most to stem from parental pressure to excel. Indian parents push their children especially hard to rise the ranks. I think the issue deserves serious investigation for all parties involved. Sometimes people must also be taught how to enjoy life and make the best it while you can. India has such rich spirituality, its a travesty to see this beautiful lifestyle so victimized by capitalist demands.


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