I have a friend who works in the study abroad industry; she helps Indian students who aspire to study in universities outside of India with their application documents. She told me she comes across many students, especially undergraduate aspirants, who are not even able to write extracurricular activity essays, which are an important part of the application process. She thinks this is because Indian parents rarely encourage their kids to participate in extracurricular activities in school or outside. Such parents force their children to have a single-minded focus on their academics and such an approach can in fact be harmful.
This bullying by parents reaches dangerous levels once their kids reach tenth class. You will hear of parents cutting cable connections off as TV might distract their child. They will not go anywhere nor will they welcome any guests. They can straight away tell their relatives and friends on their face that we are not entertaining anybody for the next three years as it might disturb our child’s studies.
But there are parents who top even this stifling behaviour. They will send their kids who aspire to be in the top institutions of India to residential coaching institutes that start preparing them for the entrance exams which they will give at the end of class twelfth a good two years ahead. These kids might ace the entrance exam, but ask them anything outside the syllabus and they will stare blankly at you.
Many of you must have seen the OTT web series Kota Factory, which revolves around the rampant coaching industry in the city of Kota in Rajasthan and how young vulnerable youngsters are reduced to being prisoners of their parents’ ambitions and the greed of institute runners. In fact, the series promoted single-minded focus rather than discouraging it. Now, I am not against focus, be it in studies or any other activity or one’s choice, but then how much is too much?
Recently, I came across a post on social media by an IIT Bombay Assistant Professor, which reads, “So this thing happened which makes me positively furious that this exists and I can’t do much about it. I recently came across a young ug student who for years apparently was denied access to any kind of media, books, even his phone, for preparation for the IIT entrances.” The thread further reads, “The child had no idea about the world. None. He has not read books, nor seen movies, nor knows anything of issues which form our reality. He was utterly incapable of navigating college life. He didn’t have any ambitions or imagination aside from “getting a job in X”.
He further recalls, “And he did not know what X means. Just that his sister told him to take X, X gets jobs. I encountered this kid in a setting that makes it impossible for intervene personally, not that I would know what to do. I was also told his is not a rare case.” Finally he writes, “A seventeen year old engineer who does not know what Elon Musk, crypto, or Twitter is. Think about that.”
One can feel his disgust in one more of his tweet when he write, “Parents and coaching institutions which do this need to be prosecuted for child abuse. The coaching industry is rife with such nonsense and needs to be thoroughly investigated if not outright dismantled.”
Why is no one talking about the mental wellbeing of students caught in this web? Depression, defeatism, suicides, substance abuse are all the fallouts of being so invested in their aim that they forget reality, the fact that one can be unsuccessful, and that it’s okay to be fail sometimes- that’s not the end of the world.
According to National Crime Records Bureau data that was released in 2020, the rate student suicides in India saw a jump of over 21 percent in the said year from 2019. These statistics raise a major red flag asking for our immediate attention to the mental health of our students.
I agree that these coaching institutes exist because parents push their children to gain entrance in top technical and medical institutions. As one social media user pointed out, “This is common in India. And, it’s less about coaching institutions and more about parents. In fact, I know parents who feel proud that they have restricted their children from using smartphones or watching television because according to them these devices can ruin their kids.”
Why do parents push their kids to the brink? Why can’t they let them choose their own field? Is being an IIT graduate or MBBS graduate from a top medical college the only way for a child to legitimise their existence in the eyes of their parents? Do these parents actually care about their children’s future or do they simply want bragging rights in front of relatives and peers?
I think parents are more ambitious than control freaks in such cases. The cost of putting a child through such pressure however is evident later, when the child goes on to hold their parents accountable for losing on the golden years of their lives. All the trips with friends that they missed out on, all the pop culture references that they don’t understand, the friendships they couldn’t forge, the playgrounds they never played on- they will build up into a life long resentment. Eventually, the cost of single-minded focus will not only fall on the kids, but their parents too, sooner or later.
Views expressed are the author’s own.