A dire Kota scenario calls for out-of-the-box solutions
It’s a problem of seat scarcity that we could address via a lottery after a basic test of competence
The news from Kota is grim. This is the coaching capital of India for students seeking admission to engineering and medical schools such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The students are prepped to crack entrance exams. But these days, the coaching industry is more focused on preventing suicide than instilling advanced calculus or Newtonian mechanics. This year, there have been 23 suicides, the highest in eight years. Hostel rooms are now mandatorily fitted with spring-loaded fans to prevent death by self-hanging. High-rise buildings are fitted with anti-suicide nets made of steel. Alarmed by the spate of suicides, there is now a temporary ban on tests. The local police have a special student cell dedicated to this issue. There are hundreds of counsellors on the rolls of all coaching institutes to look for early signs of stress and depression. There are clinics running 24-hour helplines for crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Suicide prevention is complicated, but its proximate causes are well understood. These are the burden of expectations, often from parents who may have mortgaged family wealth for paying coaching fees, long hours, depression and homesickness. Kota has a majority of students from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Behind each suicide, there may be hundreds or thousands of other disheartened souls that didn’t end in suicide. Yet, enrolment in Kota has doubled in the last three years. More than 200,000 aspirants clock up to 18 gruelling hours of study, seven days a week. Such is the power of the lure of the lottery that are these entrance exams.