In India, demands of ambition and demography collide with a shortage of desirable schools.
Parental pressure in India is among the worst in the world, with most parents seeking top performances which make for proud living room discussions. Only a handful can defy this pressure, the rest claim the system can never change. And so they join the deathly rat race, right from the day their child walks into a preparatory school.
Let's illustrate this with an example of defiance. Some months ago, a top corporate honcho in Delhi, J Anthony, was called by his daughter's class teacher. Among other complaints, the one that stuck out was the fact that the student, Preetika, was "a dreamer, living in her own world". And then, haltingly, the teacher added, "She is average in her studies."
Anthony said he was happy that his daughter was not among the top students in the school, and that he was happy that she was a dreamer. "My daughter is in a group which is the biggest in India. She may not get chance in a local college, but she could be in a small college abroad, living with four students in a room, learning to share and care. I am happy she won't be in the rat race, and happy that she is a dreamer, because this is the time to dream.
The teacher found Anthony bold. It was a rare conversation between a father and a teacher. But those who heard the story shuddered, ostensibly because parents in India live under a perpetual fear of teachers, of their whims and fancies, so much that it all adds up to the much talked about term "parental pressure".
"But that's an exception. In most cases, the parent would have collapsed, and the pressure shifted to the child," remarked Sudha Sadanand, a senior editor with Amazon-Westland.
Sadanand says Indian parents pick up these pressures from schools where they see top students wearing special blazers or badges, and sitting in what are called "scholar classes".
"Ordinary students suffer the most, because their parents do not have the galls to seek an alternate career for them. Students marks have a strange co-relation with their parents' decibel levels in drawing room discussions. Better the marks, higher the pitch," he said. "Every parent wants his/her child to go to high-flying schools, get big scores. It's a changed society today."
It is clearly taking a big toll, as statistics would tell. Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says one student commits suicide in India every hour. The NCRB has figures pertinent to 2015, when the number of reported suicides of students reached 8,934. In the five years leading to 2015, 39,775 students killed themselves. The number of attempted suicides is double the figure. This apart, there are also many unreported suicides in India, notorious for having the highest suicide rates in the world for youth aged 15-29. They account for one third of all suicides in the country. A 2012 Lancet report said there's now serious need for urgent intervention in India's education system.