Young people fade away when there is no vision

Entrance examinations need to be revamped, helping every student understand that she/he has a worth beyond just marks

Updated - May 15, 2024 12:19 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2024 12:16 am IST

‘Let us tell our young people that they are important and that our policies and practices will keep them first’

‘Let us tell our young people that they are important and that our policies and practices will keep them first’ | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Last month, a young person decided to end his life. And days before this, another young man committed suicide. Both incidents were in Kota, Rajasthan, the “coaching capital” of India, and these young people took this desperate step as they were unable to cope with the stress of entrance examinations. Across India, every year, there are several suicides that are related to competitive examinations, the pressures of entrance examinations and the compulsions of social pressures, including those from family — often openly stated in suicide notes. Why are our young people perishing? We must pay attention to this alarming development, because if we do not, our young people will continue to perish. It is not as if this is a recent trend. I fear we will become immune and insensitive to this great tragedy among our young people if we do not act immediately. But why are our young people taking such a drastic step to end their lives?

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

While some negative forces such as family pressure can only be mitigated by a better sense of priorities and awareness, there are definitely some other elements which can be controlled by the examination boards and regulating authorities. If our vision so far has been clouded by other priorities, let us correct this by putting our young people first, rather than examinations or marks. Let us tell our young people that they are important and that our policies and practices will keep them first.

The rise of coaching institutes

The fact that the National Testing Agency has the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)/Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) syllabus as the basis for entrance examinations for entry to medicine, professional courses, the Indian Institutes of Technology and undergraduate and post-graduate courses is a very good thing. However, the rise of coaching institutes, and the often “inhuman” methods adopted at these centres, prove to be too much for young people to cope with. Often, those students who make it through these extremely competitive examinations have “lost out” on a normal adolescent or teenage life.

Such “winners” become walking machines who lack social skills and/or the abilities to communicate in a healthy manner beyond the requirements of objective-type questions related largely to subjects that they have been preparing for at these coaching institutions. Often, these sweat shops are housed in unhealthy and unsafe buildings. In extreme cases, I have also come across residential coaching institutions which register students from Class 10 or even lower under a State board or CBSE school but takeover the lives of these students, depriving them of a normal childhood. It has a regimen which begins at 5 a.m. with a cold water bath, a functional breakfast and an intense study routine of up to 10 hours, and ends at 10 p.m. or later, all with the sole aim of “preparing” them for the entrance examinations. And these are children! Why have schools then if coaching centres are going to make them zombies?

After school

A case worth looking at is the recently-introduced Common University Entrance Test (CUET) for entry into undergraduate and post-graduate courses. Delhi University recently adopted the CUET as the basis for undergraduate and post-graduate entrance after having decided to ignore the school-leaving board marks or the undergraduate marks. Over the past two years, I have had teachers complain to me about the poor quality of students who join the undergraduate and post-graduate courses, their inability to think properly, their inattention to basic concepts and, sadly, their disregard for social proprieties. Numerous coaching centres have sprung up in the vicinity of the University and in the rural areas, trying to outdo each other in assuring a student the promise of entry into undergraduate or post-graduate courses.

I know of several parents, including those of first-generation learners, who have been taken in by these advertisements, often taking loans they can ill-afford in the hope of securing a seat for the undergraduate or post-graduate programme. Such a move has not been effective and the two years of depending solely on CUET scores tell a sad story. This is only a sample case. The National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE) are more severe cases. In the end the casualties are our children. The future of India. The future of the world.

Students spend a good 12 years in school. Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, government schools should be strengthened by recruiting good teachers and having better infrastructure. Private schools can take care of these requirements. The National Education Policy’s focus on schools is a good thing, but school education should be made to matter. State, CBSE and other boards should be brought on a par instead of negating the 12 years of effort put in by students through an examination like the CUET. If necessary, a common entrance exam can also be considered, but only if required.

Focus on the personal interview

Entrance examinations should encourage the personal interview component where students are encouraged to talk about things that they are good at. The academic scores that they work on for 12 years should not be negated or nullified with a CUET or a JEE taking sole precedence. The Class 12 board examination should be granted sufficient weightage as also every student’s personal talents and abilities through a personal interview. The JEE or CUET or NEET can be an addition, but only an addition. The personal interview is the crucial element where such a meeting offers the student an opportunity to express herself/himself to an interview panel which respects each candidate. St. Stephen’s College has had a personal interview for over 70 years now and has proven results to show that such a method of examination and entry to college has averted desperate/tragic measures. We have even had students who smile at the end of a personal interview declaring that they are happy to have attended the interview, and are more aware of their abilities, knowing fully well that they will not make it to college. If it can happen here, why cannot it happen all over India?

The personal interview is not easy. It is time-consuming. It calls for attention and sensitivity from the members on the interview panel. The personal interview offers every student the ability to understand that s/he has a worth beyond just marks. The personal interview as a part of entrance examinations can help our young people from perishing.

Let us all, teachers, parents, policymakers and parliamentarians, beginning with those from Kota, help our young people with a vision which tells the future of our country and young people across the world that they matter the most… otherwise, our young people will continue to perish.

John Varghese is Principal, St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi

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