Equal Access, Fear: What’s Behind TN’s Student Suicides Over NEET?

Five students have died by suicide in Tamil Nadu in the last one month.

Published
Education
3 min read

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“I studied well but I am scared that I will fail. I won’t fail but I am scared. What if I don’t get a seat?”
Madurai NEET Aspirant

NEET, the entrance exam to undergraduate medical courses, has been a contentious issue in Tamil Nadu for years now, but it has become a major cause for concern in light of the recent spate of student suicides.

Five students have died by suicide in Tamil Nadu
in a month’s time.

“These students want to become doctors to save lives. So please issue a ban on this exam and save their lives,” appealed Palanivel, uncle of the Namakkal NEET aspirant who ended his life in early September.

‘Fear of Failing’

Several protests have been held asking for NEET exam to be scraped or for the state to be exempted from it.
Several protests have been held asking for NEET exam to be scraped or for the state to be exempted from it.
(Photo Courtesy: The Quint)

“After studying hard, he attempted NEET twice but couldn’t get enough marks. He was studying very earnestly this third time. He is not a coward to kill himself. He is a very confident boy. He couldn't stand the stress due to NEET,” said the uncle of the 21-year-old.

For another 19-year-old girl from Madurai, who ended her life after she had taken a year off to study for NEET, her father said, “She had studied in state board syllabus in a government school and she later studied in Velammal for a year and was even scoring well. Even for her sample test exam, she scored more than 550. Maybe she was depressed over the fear of failing.”

Why is NEET a Problem in Tamil Nadu?

The Quint spoke to experts to understand why Tamil Nadu has been raging over the exam.

  1. Is the State Board Syllabus Not at Par With Other Boards?

“It is not about the syllabus at all but equitable access to education. Aren’t students studying in coaching centres from CBSE or ICSE boards also?” asked Prince Gajendra Babu, General Secretary, of State Platform for Common School System, Tamil Nadu.

Dr K R Maalathi, Founder CEO of Auuro Educational Services said the problem lies in assessment and not the syllabus. “Lesson planning in Class 11 and 12 for the CBSE and state curriculum is at par with each other. But the state board students are not trained for higher order thinking skills and tested only for memory recall,” she said.

2. Has NEET Ensured Transparency in the System?

Gajendra Babu argued that NEET has not abolished commercialisation. He also asked how the state government could lose confidence in its own form of testing which is the board exam.

“Prior to NEET, out of the 150 seats in each private college, 15% would be given to the All India Quota, 42.5% goes to the state government, where they run their own tests and the rest 42.5% was given for capitation fee. Post NEET, the 15% of the All India quota still remains but the 85% is based on the meritorious NEET students,” Maalathi argued.

3. Is Lack of Access Pushing These Students to End Their Lives? Or is This Mere Politics?

A few experts argued that it is not the question of fear of the exams, but the lack of access to coaching classes and quality education.

“If they are from the affluent section, they go for private tuitions. In government schools, there is a study hour, there will be a teacher to help the child and to some extent you can create a level playing field. And for a child studying in a government school, she is coming from a very difficult, socially oppressed, economically disadvantaged space,” said Gajendra Babu.

Maalathi, however, said that NEET is being politicised and “This is typical vote banking happening and they are playing with the minds of the children.”

There has been a 12.4% decline in registrations in the state this year. Opposition parties have blamed the AIADMK government for the suicides. The state government has appealed to the Centre to cancel the exam or exempt the state from taking the exam.

The Tamil Nadu Assembly has now passed a bill to approve 7.5% quota within the existing reservation for government school students – a move that aims to benefit poor students.

Opposition parties too have joined in protests across the state.
Opposition parties too have joined in protests across the state.
(Photo Courtesy: The Quint)

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