One more suicide of a young student aged 16 from Hyderabad has been reported. In his suicide note, he has written the cause of harassment by the administration. Some videos have come out where the student is seen being beaten up by the college officials in class.
I have studied in these schools and faced similar harassment which is not surprising for any student who has passed out of these institutions. The two infamous chains of schools almost have a monopoly over the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The way these schools treat their students is deplorable.
Private Schools Cash In on Dream Education Trope
Among these schools are the Narayana Group which teaches 600,000 students across 23 states, and Chaitanya, with 550,000 students all over India.
Once the academic year ends, and the results are out for IIT, NEET, and other state-level exams, their advertisements are blasted 24*7 across channels. They sometimes exaggerate, inflate their results & sell the IIT dream so effortlessly. The societal mindset is that if you are not joining one of these institutes, you are not worthy enough.
As an alumnus of both institutions, I urge that we—and particularly the parents—ask questions.
What do parents get for their money: My hostel room at a Narayana school in the Krishna District a decade ago was typical. It had 11 students packed into a small area with unhygienic washrooms. Classrooms were on the same floor, a few steps away.
At the age of 15, children need to explore different subjects, learn new skills, and widen their horizons, but here on these poultry farms, it's either IIT or nothing. In two years, there was not a single day when we were allowed to play a sport. Most of these places don't even have playgrounds.
The worst part of this experience is that one is almost cut off from the outside world. You are punished, sometimes mercilessly beaten, if you are found to be possessing even a newspaper page, magazine, radio, or mobile phone.
A Torturous Hostel Life
My day started at 5.30 am when the warden blew a loud whistle into our ears. What is this, if not third-degree torture? Do you remember those movies where the prisoners are kept awake for days by splashing water onto their faces?
Yes, welcome to the detention centers. In the 18-hour day, there were only two 15-minute breaks and three 45-minute breaks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The day ended at 10 pm or sometimes 11:30 pm if there were an exam the next day. The schools boast about having exams every Monday and justify it by saying they don't want children to waste their Sundays. Every single day we were pressurised to study.
Then the marks were posted, causing further humiliation. No concept of resting, sport, or physical activity exists, and holidays are a distant dream. Children are herded like animals and monitored every single minute. Human rights are a distant utopia inside these walls. Our practical examinations were college-sponsored cheating. A junior lecturer passed on chits during the exam in front of an external invigilator well-fed by the management.
They kill creativity in children and traumatise them for life. Forget about personality development; these places will bury any personality you had before entering. What happens here in these two years is nothing short of a theft of time and intellect.
Competition Pressure Sparks Alarming Suicide Rates In South India
There have been several suicides over the years. Professor Neerada Reddy's committee in 2007 called these institutes 'concentration camps'. Reports say around 500-700 students have attempted suicide in Vijayawada from 2012-2017.
National Crime Records Bureau data show that 333 students committed suicide in 2016 alone. In 2017, 50 students died within two months. In 2019, 426 students took their lives in Telangana, and 383 were reported from Andhra Pradesh. Narayana and Chaitanya dominate this list. There is no support system; nobody tells you it's okay if you don't make it to an IIT. For the few who do make it, who will teach them how to survive there? We need more research on the long-term effects on an individual after leaving these institutions.
Why would parents tolerate such conditions for their children? Are they so obsessed with the prestige and potential earnings associated with the few who reach the top colleges? Even if it means their children are miserable and even suicidal?
And why does the government tolerate such conditions? It's high time these institutions start acting like educational institutes instead of money-making factories. The only way out is to scale down from those monstrous residential models and return to a healthier schooling environment.
Children need not cram for 18 hours. Let them build their futures of choice. Appoint mental health counselors across all branches of your institutes. Help children build a personality of their own, create avenues to learn different things, and participate in extracurricular activities. Teach them how to deal with pressure.
Lastly, let children read newspapers inside your campuses; nobody ever died of reading a newspaper, for God's sake.
A warning to these institutions: reform or perish.
(Waseem is pursuing his Master's in public policy from Kautilya school of Public Policy, Hyderabad. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)