Kota Factory: The Toll of Academic Pressure – Is it worth it?”
Kota, once a quiet industrial town, has, over the years, transformed into a global education hub. As local industries shuttered, the town evolved, becoming a beacon for quality education. Renowned schools, including prestigious convent institutes, dot the landscape. This shift in Kota’s economic landscape gravitated towards education centres that sprouted up to coach local students for IIT and medical entrance exams. Bansal Classes led this change, and soon, other institutes and IIT alumni joined the ranks as professors or promoters of coaching centres funded by local businesses. Today, a significant part of the town’s economy hinges on these coaching enclaves, selling dreams to eager parents and their children.
However, there’s a poignant narrative behind this academic pursuit – 25 young lives have been lost in Kota in 2023 until now due to the relentless pressure of securing high marks and gaining parental approval.
The question arises: are all children cut out for the same path, or should they be encouraged to explore their unique strengths and interests? Aditi Misra, Principal & Director of Delhi Public School Gurgaon, suggests, “Let children explore their inner world and strengths, with parents guiding from the background. A new world of opportunities has opened up; it’s time for parents to broaden their thinking beyond just medical, engineering, or civil service jobs and allow their children to follow their true calling.”
While offering academic rigour, coaching centres often cultivate a high-stress environment that prioritises grades or rankings over students’ mental health and holistic development. Dr Roma Kumar, a senior psychologist and consultant at Sir Gangaram & Max Hospitals, highlights students’ challenges: “Students grapple with constant scrutiny and comparisons, burdened by unrealistic expectations set by parents and themselves. They suffer in silence, as there’s often inadequate support from families and society. This adds another layer of stress, impacting their self-esteem and leading to anxiety, depression, and burnout.”
Whirling of bicycles
The lives of these students begin early, with mornings marked by a rush of bicycles heading to coaching centres from various “hideouts” across the town. Homes are transformed into PG accommodations for these students, with boards advertising PG facilities hanging on gate of every third house. Breakfast is a quick ‘dona’ of ‘Poha,’ bread Pakora, or ‘Kachori.’ After this food fuel, the day at the academic ‘factory’ commences – from one class to another, solving endless test papers and vying for attention from professors who are often treated as local celebrities. The city’s malls bear larger-than-life posters and outdoor media featuring these revered professors, regarded as messiahs or life-changers by students. Pursuing academic excellence robs these young hearts of the joy of a regular school life. The well-rounded education, camaraderie, and freedom of a traditional school environment are replaced by the confines of coaching centres, where students find themselves in isolated cells with thick walls of expectation, competition, and pressure of families, societal conditioning. All this creates an inability for students to voice their struggles.
The question arises: are humans inherently wired for constant stress and competition? Should we measure success by 100 per cent marks or prioritise the happiness of achieving 99 per cent?
Dr Roma Kumar advocates for a balanced approach, emphasising that students should not be defined solely by their academic achievements. She suggests, “A well-rounded perspective is essential, where students are counselled to recognise their worth beyond test scores. Parents must prioritise their child’s mental health, shifting away from an unhealthy obsession with academic performance. The immense pressure experienced by students in coaching centres is a grave concern that requires immediate attention. Mental well-being should supersede examinations and the relentless pursuit of excellence. It’s time to redefine success, destigmatise failure, and establish realistic and attainable goals that align with students’ capabilities and facilitate their growth.”
Changing narrative of success
In conclusion, the concept of success should not be fanatic or one-size-fits-all. Success is subjective. For students, the freedom to make choices aligned with one’s values, desires, capabilities, and interests is paramount, whether pursuing unconventional career paths or lifestyle choices. In the quest for success, let’s not lose sight of the importance of happiness and well-being, acknowledging that life is more than achieving 100 per cent marks or passing a competitive exam. It’s about finding fulfilment, purpose, and balance.