In the city of Kota in northern India, coaching centers are facing stricter regulations following a rise in student suicides. Many students travel to Kota to receive tuition in preparation for entrance exams to elite colleges, and the intense pressure to succeed has taken a toll on their mental health. Students face high parental expectations, cut-throat competition, and long study hours.
The city is known for its educational centers, with 12 large coaching centers and numerous smaller ones. However, the cost of these institutes, which can exceed 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,200) per year, is a financial burden for many families. Failure to secure a place in a top college is seen as a disappointment, and the fear of disappointing parents can be overwhelming for students. The pressure and stress have led to a significant number of student suicides in Kota, with over 100 suicides in the past 10 years, including at least 25 this year alone.
The story of Vijay, a student who failed the medical entrance exam three times, highlights the struggles faced by many students in Kota. Vijay felt immense pressure to succeed and even contemplated suicide after his second failure. However, he was inspired to seek help after hearing Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone speak about her own struggles with depression and the negative impact of overworking. Vijay is now receiving psychiatric treatment and taking each day as it comes.
Other students also face hardships such as living alone, peer pressure, and the expectations of their parents. The situation is particularly challenging for boys under the age of 18 from low-income families in remote areas of north India. The high number of suicides has prompted the Rajasthan state government to introduce stricter rules for coaching institutes, including guidelines to not encourage admissions below class nine and to not make test results public. The government is also focusing on mental health workshops and programs for students and increasing the visibility of student support helplines.
The Covid-19 pandemic and multiple lockdowns have exacerbated the situation in Kota. Students have had limited interaction with their peers and teachers, and their capacity to handle stress has been affected. Some teachers in coaching centers have classes with up to 300 students, making it difficult for them to know each student individually. The commercialization of coaching in Kota has also contributed to the current situation, with classes becoming impersonal and students feeling isolated. The city’s economy heavily relies on the thousands of hostels and private rented places that accommodate students, further emphasizing the pressure to succeed.
However, there are efforts being made to address the mental health challenges faced by students in Kota. The new guidelines include mandatory training for wardens, staff, teachers, and institute managers. There is also a provision for an “easy exit and refund policy” for struggling students. But according to Vijay, a complete culture change is necessary. He believes that children should be encouraged to follow their passions and that their lives are more important than academic achievements.
The rise in student suicides in Kota serves as a reminder of the importance of prioritizing mental health and well-being, especially among young students facing intense academic pressures.