Don’t let any more lives perish in Kota

It’s the city of dream chasers. It’s the city of nightmares. Kota’s mercurial character was reinforced again this week when three students enrolled in private coaching institutes were found dead with the police suspecting deaths by suicide.

The crushing competition among hundreds of thousands of students for a once in a lifetime shot at prosperity has claimed scores of lives in the past decade. The risks are well known. A report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 2018 found many students in India’s coaching capital depressed, ill, anxious, and unable to deal with the breakneck pace that can barely be described as studying. Still, parents from across India’s hinterland pour into the Rajasthan town every year with the hope that their sons — and yes, it’s still mostly sons — will succeed at some of the world’s toughest exams, score a seat in one of India’s handful of world-class technical and medical education institutions, and pull their families out of low-income drudgery. Any compromise seems worth it, any shortcuts practicable.

To fix an intractable problem is tough. As a start, independent oversight over the centres will help ameliorate immediate concerns such as food, environment, teaching and the ways students are treated. But laws can do little to reverse aspiration. It is here that bolstering India’s schools can help. A hollowing out of the school system has made coaching indispensable. Better school education and smartly designed tests can make a difference. But most of all, parents and families must step up. Some young people thrive in high-pressure environments, some wilt. It is up to the people closest to an adolescent to see that they are not burdened with unreal expectations, and not pushed to the breaking point. It’s not worth it.

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