Insights into Editorial: Preventing student suicides
The end of 2018 brought with it some deeply unsettling cases of student suicides.
The deaths of 49 students in Navodaya Vidyalaya schools in the last five years, and of three students preparing for the IIT entrance examinations in Kota in a span of four days, brings the issue of youth suicides to the fore again.
More youths are taking their lives due to the fear of failing in examinations, constant flak from teachers, bullying from peers, family pressure and a loss of a sense of a decent future.
These cases force us to recognise that youth suicides are ubiquitous, and the educational ecosystem must take the blame for this.
Depression and suicidal thoughts are two of the most frightening things a person can face in their lifetime. Unfortunately, acting on those suicidal thoughts is a far too common scenario for many across the world, including students.
Current scenario in society:
The Kota case (IIT coachings) is not an aberration. There have been frequent news reports of suicides taking place in coaching centres that train students for medical and engineering entrance examinations.
The causes of suicide among youth are complex and involve many factors. Reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors and resilience is critical.
Sociologist Emile Durkheim had famously hypothesised that suicides are a result of not just psychological or emotional factors but social factors as well.
With a loss of community and other social bonds, students in schools, colleges and coaching centres end up taking their lives.
Harsh Facts that need Immediate Attention:
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, between 2014 and 2016, 26,476 students committed suicide in India. Of them, 7,462 committed suicide due to failure in various examinations.
The rising number of these cases provokes a serious discussion on the way in which outcomes of education are perceived in India.
The instrumental value of education in India is its potential in generating socio-economic and cultural capital through a promise of decent job opportunities in the future. But the education system has not been successful in generating enough job options.
For instance, the International Labour Organisation’s World Employment and Social Outlook Trends Report of 2018 says that in 2019, the job status of nearly 77% of Indian workers would be vulnerable and that 18.9 million people would be unemployed.
With their job future being so bleak, students are put under constant pressure to perform. They have failed to learn to enjoy the process of education. Instead, the constant pressure and stress has generated social antipathy and detachment among them.
Government Schools and Colleges must be “Role Model” in Implementation:
Following the reports of suicides in Navodaya Vidyalayas, the National Human Rights Commission sought information from the Ministry of Human Resource Development on whether trained counsellors were present on campus.
According to Navodaya Vidyalaya Samitis, merely one or two training sessions are included to sensitise the teachers and principals regarding safety and security of the children and to prevent suicidal tendencies.
The framework for implementation of the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) recognises the role of guidance and counselling services to students.
In 2018, the government approved an integrated school education scheme subsuming the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the RMSA, and Teacher Education from April 2018 to March 2020.
However, without any significant rise in budgetary allocations for education, it is likely that there would be cuts in “non-productive” areas of education such as guidance and counselling.
The presence of resiliency factors can lessen the potential of risk factors to lead to suicidal ideation and behaviours. Once a child or adolescent is considered at risk, schools, families, and friends should work to build these factors in and around the youth. These include:
- Family support and cohesion, including good communication.
- Peer support and close social networks.
- School and community connectedness.
- Cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide and promote healthy living.
- Adaptive coping and problem-solving skills, including conflict-resolution.
- General life satisfaction, good self-esteem, sense of purpose.
- Easy access to effective medical and mental health resources.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among school age youth.
However, suicide is preventable. Youth who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress.
Parents, teachers, and friends are in a key position to pick up on these signs and get help. Most important is to never take these warning signs lightly or promise to keep them secret.
Parents are crucial members of a suicide risk assessment as they often have information critical to making an appropriate assessment of risk, including mental health history, family dynamics, recent traumatic events, and previous suicidal behaviours.
When all adults and students in the school community are committed to making suicide prevention a priority-and are empowered to take the correct actions-we can help youth before they engage in behaviour with irreversible consequences.
In the recently concluded winter session of Parliament, the HRD Minister said that an expert committee has been set up to look into the matter.
First, stop-gap solutions to setting up expert committees and counsellors in schools have not been able to solve the problem.
- The deep-rooted causes must be addressed. The government must undertake a comprehensive study on the reasons behind these suicides.
Second, the curriculum should be designed in ways that stress the importance of mental exercises and meditation.
- The Delhi government’s initiative on the ‘Happiness Curriculum’ may be a step in the right direction.
Third, with regards to higher education, 12 measures were suggested by the Justice Roopanwal Commission.
- One of them stressed on making Equal Opportunity Cells with an anti-discrimination officer functional in universities and colleges.
Finally, it is high time we seek to reinvent our educational ecosystem in ways that impregnate new meanings, new ideas of living, and renewed possibilities that could transform a life of precarity into a life worth living.