The Lede
Pushing Students To The Brink
Andhra Pradesh

Pushing Students To The Brink

GS Radhakrishna

The coaching factories of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are severely impacting students negatively but no government is ready to act

Come May and September, every year, students preparing for competitive exams in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, are a harassed lot. Dollar dreams of their parents and the rank greed of their coaching centres or school managements are engines of torment.

According to the AP and Telangana Education Departments, over 50 students took their own lives last year in both Telangana and AP, unable to keep up with the harsh study regimen and the dreams of their parents. Since 2001 when the IT boom began and the concept of junior colleges preparing students for competitive entrance tests began, at least 1320 students have succumbed to the ambition of parents and institutes.

With the EAMCET (Engineering Agricultural and Medical Common Entrance Test) and NEET scheduled for May 2018 in both states, the pressure is on and teens in the 16-17 age group are already facing grinding stress in studies and weekly tests.

This is the outcome of a huge private education economy in the Telugu states – an industry worth Rs 4800 crore, as per the AP Affiliated Junior Colleges Management Association.

“It is rather a dreadful period for us, parents, till he (our ward) gets into an institute of his choice,” said Saraswati Goud, a Telangana government employee whose son got admission into a prestigious engineering college in Bangalore after three trials. Whenever he appeared for entrance tests (both EAMCET of state government and NEET of Centre) the entire family spent restless days, avoided festivals and visiting relatives, she says.

“It was as if we were writing exams and under heavy pressure, perhaps more than our ward,” she added. She also defended the Narayanaguda coaching schools when her son complained of the 17 hours of study and no time to relax for months. It was only when their neighbour’s daughter in the same school cracked under pressure and hung herself that Saraswati asked her son to defer the exams that year, scared about what would happen to him.

This is more or less the story of parents of thousands of students that appear for entrance exams for professional colleges every year in AP and Telangana where private education has mushroomed into a parallel educational system. With the boom in the IT sector, parents dream of their kids landing fat salaries in IT jobs.

Of the 3264 junior colleges in AP, 1749 are in the private sector. In Telangana, there are around 3047 of which 1845 are in private sector, the majority in and around Hyderabad. These are figures from the AP and TS Socio-Economic Survey of Budget 2016-17. Admission in corporate schools such as Chaitanya or Narayana are seen as a status issue for parents who are ready to pay capitation fees of at least Rs 50,000 – Rs 1 lakh.

Prominent private institutions such as Vignan, Chaitanya, Malinda, Narayana and Avanti have set up coaching centres cum junior colleges. “It is such dreams of dowry and NRI jobs that lure parents who put their children under stress to always study, study and study,” said Padmavathi Pamarthy, principal of her own school in Secunderabad.

In September 2017, 56 students had succumbed to peer pressure and the crushing challenge to excel in the entrance exams which earned them seats in prestigious engineering institutes. This surge in suicides was seen since 2010 when both states had to abandon state-run entrance exams and adhere to All India entrance procedure – NEET.

According to the official data, 35 of the total suicide cases are reported from Narayana and Sri Chaitanya group of colleges in both the states. An official report submitted by the Regional Inspection Officer Educationists and students bodies lament that other than registering a case and putting the blame on stress, the managements of these private schools are allowed to go scot–free without any punitive action being taken.

Andhra Pradesh’s Member of Legislative Council (MLC) and educationist V Balasubrahmanyam says the statistics dished out by government of just 35 suicides in 7 years is hogwash. He blames it on the nexus between managements and government. He charges that this nexus is responsible for such ‘hushing up’ of students suicides.

Incidentally, AP Education Minister Ganta Srinivasa Rao’s daughter is married to minister P Narayana’s son and is chairman of the Narayana group of institutions. “Of the 12 groups with over 350 colleges in AP, seven are owned by politicians (three MLAs, two MPs and two MLCS of both the ruling party and YSR Congress),” said educationist Anuradha Reddy of Visakhapatnam.

Strangely though, after a student commits suicide, no punitive action has been taken against anyone. The police register a case under Section 174 of IPC (Unnatural Death) holding no one responsible for his/her death and the management is let off the hook. Vijayawada police commissioner Gautam Sawang says that cases were first filed under Section 174 of the IPC (Unnatural Death) and later altered to Section 306 of the IPC if any shred of evidence is collected. But this rarely happens.

Unusual competition among institutions is also cited as the cause of such stress-building among students. Experts say that they are also emotionally blackmailed in schools and at home. Daily tests, weekly appraisals and constant monitoring by parents and faculty drive the students to despair, says Achuta Rao, president of AP Balala Hakkula Sangham. He also blames the parents who want their wards to succeed and get ranks irrespective of their wards’ potential.

What Government Is Doing

In 2001 the Chandrababu Naidu government set up a commission under Neerada Reddy, then Vice-Chairperson of APSCHE (Andhra Pradesh State Council of Higher Education). The committee report and recommendations went strongly against private institutions and was subsequently shelved by the government.

Both governments are still playing dumb to the magnitude of the issue. AP Human Resource Development Minister Ganta Srinivasa Rao put the blame on the parents. “Parents who put their children in corporate colleges want their children to live their dreams,” he had said at Vijayawada in October 2017.

The Telangana government set up a committee to study the reasons behind the spate of suicides under Ghanta Chakrapani, chairman of Telangana Public Service Commission. The AP government also set up another committee. But reports of both are in cold storage thanks to the influence of the corporate lobby. “It is time for both government and the corporate schools to review their systems and protect young minds from collapse,” said MSR Anjaneyulu, president of AP Affiliated Junior Colleges Management Association.

The educationist also wanted the authorities to focus on the environment inside residential and coaching institutions. Students, he says, are herded into prison-like buildings and subject to corporal punishment even for looking out of a window, or cracking a joke in class or if seen talking to a girl.

Separate canteens and separate study rooms are set up and boys and girls live in a army-like regimen from 5 am to 10 pm without any time for rest or play. Parents constantly remind students of huge capitation paid and urge the child to study. “There are no sports, TV or even yoga for the students, though all of them are on the brochures of corporate institutes given to parents before admissions,” said psychiatrist Dr MS Reddy.

In the non-corporate sector of education, the creation of study spaces has become a seasonal enterprise in Hyderabad and Vijayawada. In Hyderabad’s Ashok Nagar, RTC cross-road, Narayanaguda, Hyderguda, Vengalrao Nagar, Ameerpet, Panjagutta and SR Nagar, hundreds of ‘study halls’ can be found where students appearing for competitive exams from district towns study and are charged on a daily or monthly basis.

Function halls, marriage halls and library space is hired by operators of these study halls who provide chairs, drinking water, light and fan or air-cooler or AC as per the student’s capacity to pay. These are run on a seasonal basis for the purpose of competitive exams purposes.

Lingaiah, an advocate of Ashok Nagar runs three such study halls and plans for two more in 2018 owing to huge demand.

“This study culture and commercialisation for competitive exams is deadly as both parents and management are part of the manipulating exercise on students and they should be booked first,” said activist Achuta Rao.

In Telangana, the Chakrapani Committee recommended that the institutions which held 17-hour study hours for students should be denied licenses in future. It also recommended that government should run more coaching centres for competitive exams at subsidised costs so that students could study without pressure.

The report opposed night classes and early morning classes at coaching centres which harmed the students’ sleep and eating habits. An in-house counselor in residential colleges was also recommended. But the Telangana government too slept over the committee’s suggestions.

Congress, TDP, and ABVP called for a statewide bandh in Telangana in November last year over increasing student suicides. YSRC did the same in AP. “Political parties used students for agitations but had no interests in their academic growth,” said J Dileep, Hyderabad city secretary of ABVP.

Some recent student suicides in AP and Telangana
T Samyuktha, 18, from Nizamabad district was preparing for her NEET exam at Sri Chaitanya Junior College, Narayanaguda, Hyderabad. After returning from Dussera vacation, Samyuktha hung herself in her hostel room on 11 October 2017 and left a two-page suicide note indicating her inability to cope with the academic pressure.16-year-old P Eswar Reddy, 1st year Intermediate student of Narayana College, Gudavalli in Krishna district, AP committed suicide on 17 September 2017 in his hostel room. Witnesses and classmates said he was shamed after the college vice-principal insulted and beat him up in front of other students for scoring poor marks in a weekly test.

16-year-old Bhargava Reddy hanged himself in his hostel room at Sri Chaitanya College in Nidamanuru near Vijayawada. Her story is more or less same. She hung herself as the hostel warden warned her that she would be disqualified and hall ticket denied as her score in weekly tests was low. She was asked to skip this year’s NEET and prepare well for next academic year and that her parents have been also advised.

K Pavani, 17, native of Bakrapet in Chittoor district, a 1st year Intermediate student of Narayana Junior College killed herself by hanging in her hostel at Krishnapuram in Kadapa town. Students said she was upset after the college issued a review of her score in weekly tests. Parents were not allowed to enter the college and asked to take the body directly from the hospital.

Editor’s note: Suicide is never an answer to any problem. It is important to know and understand that you are not alone and that there is help at hand. If you feel depressed or lonely, please do contact the numbers below to speak with trained experts who can offer help.

Andhra Pradesh: 1Life Foundation: 78930-78930

Telangana: Roshni Foundation: 040-790 4646

Tamil Nadu: Sneha Foundation: 044-2464 0050 and 044-2464 0060

Kerala: Maithri Foundation: 0484–2540530

Karnataka: Spandana Helpline: 65000111 and 65000222

Mind Game Say, Students

“From the day we enter corporate colleges, it is a mind game,” said Sai Bhargavi, 17, who is gearing up for a medical seat in Telangana. “Parents want us to get good ranks and get free seats so that they can avoid paying capitation fees. Junior college managements use our name and photos for publicity and marketing so that they get more students each year,” she added.

Teachers contend that the private managements’ only worry is that their institute should get more ranks and crack the whip on both faculty and students every year. “Teachers who advocate against such corporate gimmicks are suspended or even dismissed summarily,” said Padma Reddy, a science teacher at a prestigious junior college in Ameerpet.

Parents contend that the purpose of getting into such institutes is to train their kids for prestigious national institutes. “We try for seats in IITs of Kharagpur, Pilani and others. That is why we put them through such a regimen,” said Shilaja Sita Mudigonda, a government employee at Hyderabad.

Dr Madhusudhan Reddy, a psychiatrist in Hyderabad says that the issue – student suicides -will remain burning as long as parents–corporate managements’ greed continues. “Though the IT boom initially kick-started this trend, now that the dollar dreams have burst, it should stop at least now,” he said but only with fingers crossed.