Stress, Coaching Institutes, Capitation Fee and World Hunger!

This is a follow-up post to Reduce stress, really?

Dear Mr. Sibal,

I am back earlier than I thought. What could I do? Once I started thinking about your revolutionary ideas about engineering education in India, my mind went on a overdrive.

Let’s continue by talking about stress on students. Yes – I said that single, messed up entrance examination does not reduce stress. But does that mean that when there were these multiple examinations, there was no stress on the students? No. There was and there is an immense stress that students face. According to National Crimes Records Bureau, in the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 the number of people committing suicides due to failure in examinations was 2189, 2010 and 2479 respectively. And these were only the recorded numbers. The real ones are definitely much higher. Plus suicide is not the only sign of the stress. Even those who are not driven to the extent of suicide are suffering from stress. So, there is indeed a lot of stress on the students. Good news, Mr. Sibal. Your concern about stress on students was very valid.

And now the bad news. You can’t tinker with engineering entrance examination and solve the issue you have so sensitively recognized1. You have to do more meaningful things. When I was in +2, getting into an IIT or at least some engineering college was a do-or-die situation for me. Because otherwise I would be doing graduation from Mahila College in my hometown and well… Okay, I was from a really small town. But I am in touch with a college going student in Lucknow these days. She is pursuing her BA from Lucknow university, but wants to do some IT courses. Why? “Ye to sirf graduation hai. Isse kuchh hoga thode hi na. IT is where the opportunities are.” (Translated: This is just the graduation. It is not going to lead me anywhere. IT is where the opportunities are.) I can imagine that she or her parents would have wanted her to study Science after 10th and become an engineer or doctor after +2. I don’t know what made her choose Arts, but if she was not under immense stress and pressure then, she is under that now. Because BA is “useless”!!

And that is the problem you have to solve Mr. Sibal. As an IIT alumnus, I am one of those people who look at IIT systems most critically. And I am harsh on them for things that are not right. But compared to the rest of the educational institutes in India, IITs are heaven. Unfortunate part is that only IITs (and a handful of other institutions elsewhere) are those heavens. So, everyone wants to get into them. They are seen as the ONLY road to success available for a large number of students in India. THAT is the reason of the stress.  There are very few opportunities. How you select people getting that opportunity is a minor point and definitely not the reason for stress. You need to increase the opportunities, not tinker with the process of selection.

And what are the opportunities that need to be created? Not opening more IITs and engineering colleges indiscriminately. But creating quality educational institutions in all walks of life. Can you see that I have stressed quality and all walks of life? Yes – I have. A students doing BA is Psychology should not feel that her education is useless. She should know that the society does not need only engineers and doctors and IT people, but also the therapists and psychology researchers (who will hopefully save the young lives currently lost to exam pressures!), sociologists and historians, scientists and linguists.  And she should feel comfortable even if she has not become an engineer. She should be assured that not having an aptitude for engineering or not becoming an IITian does mean that the roads to success in her life are closed. That she can get good education even in psychology and make a great career out of it.

In short, to reduce stress, you need to ensure two things I had mentioned in my last post, and ensure it in a wider context.

  1. People should have multiple chances to succeed. One exam, one opportunity, one career path should not become a do-or-die situation for them.
  2. They should have different avenues to succeed. The system should  welcome people with different aptitudes, skills and abilities. Not just engineers and doctors.

Yes. I know you are cringing, Mr. Sibal. Because this is not something that can be achieved by flashing a magic wand. This will require years of hard work and will not be sexy enough to make you appear in the newspapers the next day. Not like tinkering with IITs and IIMs and some other well-known names does. It won’t make a great pre-election year campaign either.

So, I know you are not going to do anything about the real problems. Just do us a little favor. Learn from a certain former railway minister, and LEAVE EDUCATION ALONE. Whatever little we have has taken a lot of effort by a lot of people to build. Please don’t tinker with it and mess that up as well.

And while we are at the problem of not having enough opportunities, let me tell you something about coaching classes as well. The reason coaching classes exist is because students live a hyper competitive life. Since they see IITs as one lifeline they have, they (and their parents) will give their all to get in there. It doesn’t matter how you choose students to go there, there will be people available to coach them and promise them to help get ahead of the lacs of others in the same race. If you include board exams in the selection criteria, there will be ‘counselors’, who would advice people to take admission in a particular board to increase their chances of getting selected. And what is so special about board examinations and schools, anyway? Don’t you know how wide-spread the tuition culture is for helping people perform well in these examination? Are they any lesser evil, or less stressful for students or financially easier for parents? No, Sir. And if you come up with a complicated formula for selecting students for IITs with five different things considered, there will be people who will figure out how to game the system and will coach the students to do the same. Hell! If you decide to surprise the students every year, where they do not know how they are going to be selected to get into IITs, there will still be people coaching them on what all ways they can expect to be surprised and how to be prepared for all. Dear Mr. Sibal, so long as there are limited opportunities, there will be coaching classes – in one form or the other. Period!

Capitation fee? I can’t even fathom how a single exam is going to uproot that? Do colleges charge capitation fee because they DO NOT have a good, unified way to judge students??? Is that the reason they turn to money to make the decision? Honestly, I do not know how to object to your solution, because I can not see any link between the problem and solution at all. (I had an All India Rank of 88 in JEE. I was the topper of my class at IIM Lucknow. Yes – I am not dumb.)

And world hunger – well even you know better than to solve that problem through JEE or by doing away with it.

How about you take a chill-pill and get through the rest of your term peacefully? Or if you can’t sit still, tinker with something in the law education and then, hopefully, your own people will know how to take you to the courts. Leave IITs and engineers and everything else you do not understand alone.

And yet, if you are hell-bent upon fighting the evils of (higher) education system, here are three places to get started.

  1. Create quality opportunities
  2. Create quality opportunities
  3. Create quality opportunities

Thank you
Yours sincerely
Jaya Jha

1. Most of those suicides are not likely to be due to engineering entrance exams I am pretty sure. Board exams and other regular exams are bigger culprits!


7 thoughts on “Stress, Coaching Institutes, Capitation Fee and World Hunger!

    1. Oh yes! Super annoyed, Kads. All our HRD ministers are like those middle managers waiting for their next job switch. They have to appear busy, yet they won’t really invest themselves in long term, real problems. So, they will keep tinkering with some highly visible products/projects within the organization. JEE and IITs are their favourite projects for that.

  1. +1 Creating quality opportunities is important and the government should actually not be involved in creating them. They should create a good fair market for education and let the private sector run institutions. Sure the government could pitch in with subsidies in the form of education coupons etc but they should not be in the business of running schools or colleges. Once there are enough opportunities ‘stress’ should reduce automatically.

    The Birds and the Shivering Monkeys

    Once upon a time on the banks of great river Ganges in India, there was a hugh Banyan tree. On one of the branch of the tree a bird couple made their nest. They were very happy there because hugh branches of the tree sheltered them from the sun and the heavy rains. They were living there with the other birds and animals in harmony.

    It was rainy season and one day it rained very heavily. Since it rained very heavily there was flood and water broke the river banks and overflowed. A group of monkeys who were playing on the nearby tree got drenched and came to this tree for the shelter. It was raining hard and it soon became very cold, so all the monkeys were wet and shivering with the cold. On seeing their condition one of the birds said, monkeys look at us. We are comfortable here because we made our nests. We keep food in it and even though it is raining so hard outside we are safe and well fed. When we can make our nests with our small beaks, why can’t you make your home when god has given you arms and legs. If you built your home then you won’t have to suffer like this.

    Monkeys got very angry hearing this and they decided let the rain stop then we would show them how to live in comfortable houses. So when the rain stopped, the monkeys climbed the tree and broke all the nests, broke eggs too and threw down their young ones. Poor birds were helpless and flew here and there in misery. They were full of regret that they gave advice when it was not asked for and thus they would only give advise only when asked in future.

    Moral: Never give advise to fools.

  3. Hi Jaya,
    This is an awesome, awesome article. You have done an excellent job in putting in strong words the problems of the present education system and the lethargy in the attitude of the government to improve it. Although I didn’t agree to some points of your previous article, but this one is exquisite.
    I am also a co-IITK alumnus and was dejected by the HRD minister’s new policy. I wrote on the similar topic some time back. Please read it at :

  4. Dear Jaya,

    The mistake was made long years back when the founders of the nation created IITs, IIMs and what not, totally removed from the mainstream universities. In the process universities were destroyed. You’d agree that IITs, IIMs and national law schools can be no substitute for the liberal education and thus creation of opportunities you are advocating.On reflection you’d find that in West even the institutions for specialized learning like Institute of Advanced Studies (where Einstein worked till his last breath) was purposely situate inside Princeton University (though it is not at all a constituent of Princeton) so that a symbiotic relation is fostered between the universities and such specialized institutions. This led to the development of multi-disciplinary areas of study and thus an inquisitive society.

    The director of undergraduate admissions at Yale once told aspirants that for the first two years of their undergraduate studies they should not even think about specializing in any particular subject. Can you imagine any Indian institution of higher learning taking such a risk by advising its students in this manner?


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