Obviously the answer to the provocative title is a strong NO. However, your reply in negative does not exonerate you of the charge of causing stress, anxiety, and even depression. And yes, this can on a few occasions even lead to him/her taking the irrevocable final step.
Yet another young life with a bright future will be lost. Yet again, the media in the country will ask what are the top educational institutes in the country doing to ensure that these things don't happen on their campuses (with the obvious implication that it is alright to lose a young bright life outside these few campuses). The curriculum, the pedagogy, and everything else be scrutinized with a fine comb. Suddenly, the press will become expert on everything related to education.
IITs have tough competition. What does this mean, and who is responsible for it. Is having five courses a semester too much load (if yes, then close down all engineering colleges, they all have more courses than this). Is having an assignment every other week too much. Or should we just do some theory in lectures and ask questions in the exam from a set of pre-defined important questions. No, that is not what brings stress to the people. What brings stress to the people is their relative position in the class. And ANY system you create, if students are going to be worried about their relative positions, they are going to be stressed.
People say IITs put too much focus on academic performance, on this one number, CPI or CGPA. Shouldn't an academic institution worry about academic performance. And what is this too about too much focus. Yes, there are some academic decisions based on academic performance. But by and large, the institutes invests huge resources in creating avenues for non-academic pursuits. If there are awards for academic performance, there are also awards for projects, awards for sports performance, awards for leadership, and everything else. How many faculty members in an IIT will ever consider you less than a human being just because you are not in the top half of the class. The chances are that it never happens. It is the parents, the neighbors, the relatives, who worry more about your CPI and CGPA than IIT faculty. And they are the cause of stress and even depression, and not IITs.
The goal of most students in an educational institution is to get a good job. Who puts that focus in their mind. Certainly not the institute. Almost no faculty in IITK would tell students that the goal of IIT education is to get a 50 lakh or even a 10 lakh job. Most will actually tell them that they should think beyond placements, may be go for higher education, do what is their calling, be entrepreneur, and so on. So why do people get depressed when they don't get a job on day 1 of the placement. It is the parents unfortunately. Students are scared of calling up parents and telling them that their friends have a job and they don't. Even if they have confidence in themselves that they will get jobs on day 2 or later, they don't know how to get their parents off their back.
When a student falls sick, particularly depressed, the counselor tells us that the student needs family care and affection more than anything else, and we suggest that s/he goes home. It is the parents who don't want him/her home. He will manage, is always the statement that we hear. Do they know more than a professional counselor. But to them, the worry is not child's health, the worry is, what will people think, and the financial loss of a delayed graduation. Has anyone in an IIT ever said that you must finish your under-graduate in 4 years. We have a credit based system, and everyone is free to take 5 years to complete. No, the pressure does not come from the Institute, it comes from parents. For them, their own position in society and the money is so important that they are willing to play dice with their ward's life. (And of course, less than 0.01 percent of the students will die. So they can all say at the end, we told you so. Except that we can't tell that one parent, we told you so.)
I will get about 1000 calls/emails/messages in the counseling season asking for advice on what college/program to join. 900 out of these 1000 will ask me directly - which places have good placement. Out of the remaining 100, most are not asking the question only because they have read my blogs and know my strong view that quality of education is more important than placement statistics, and it is easier to find out about the quality of education than to find out about the placement statistics. These parents are guilty of pushing their wards on the path that will certainly have stress and anxiety and may have depression as well. Only very few will commit suicide and everyone else will believe that they are better parents, they knew how much to push, the other parents perhaps didn't, or even that the Institutes are responsible. But sorry guys, you just got lucky. You tried your best, but your ward survived, just because 99.99% will survive. It didn't have to be that way. All of them could have not just survived but enjoyed the college life.
And many of those students survived because IITs helped them survive. Because the counseling system works there. Because the other students are more compassionate than parents. Because the faculty works hard to help the weak.
When people say that parents left the child in your custody and parenting now is faculty duty, they are just passing the buck. First, they have not left the child in our custody. They call up every day, ask the score in every exam, ask for relative performance, and interfere in every aspect of student life. They don't realize that the student is now an adult. Second, faculty members can not be parents, should not be parents. That is not their job. By doing that job, we are being unfair to the tax payers. Being a faculty member is a very expensive proposition, and it is wasteful to use such an expensive resource for parenting, something that they may not be greatly skilled in. They should better do teaching and research in their time.
So, the next time you ask me about the placement statistics of this college or that college, think about it, you could be pushing him/her to take the extreme step.
Please focus on quality of education, and stop blaming IITs for every suicide.
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