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“The Condition Is Similar To Kota”: How Kerala’s Coaching Centres Pressurise Students

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By Sreya Salim:

As 16-year-old Farheen (name changed) waited outside her psychiatrist’s clinic, her parents were fighting back tears. Farheen was the topper of her school in the Class X board exams and was enrolled in one of the most prestigious residential entrance coaching centres in Kerala. The girl could not cope up with the stress and high competition there and succumbed to depression. In less than six months, she was sent home after a failed suicide attempt, severe weight loss and sleeping problems. Farheen is now gradually recovering with regular counselling sessions and medications. Her parents have decided to let her pursue literature after graduation.

However, not many are as fortunate as Farheen. Sylvia, a third-year student of Government Medical College, Calicut remembers many classmates who went through terrible bouts of depression and anxiety while studying for their entrances. “I was lucky to get through and my parents were quite supportive. This is not the case in every other student’s life.

It has been estimated that there are more than two hundred entrance coaching institutes in Kerala. With the rise in the number of aspirants every year, the industry is fast growing. About 6.3 lakh students sat for the All India Pre Medical Test in 2015 and around 12.07 lakh registered for the JEE (Mains) in 2016. The medical entrances have a selection rate of about less than a percent and the competition is extremely high.

Students are selected in colleges after appearing for joint entrance exams which test their ability and aptitude through multiple choice questions (MCQ). Entrance coaching institutes provide special training in the tips and tricks needed to solve these MCQs. Students follow a rigid timetable and there are often restrictions on meeting and talking to parents and other students. The workload is even higher when entrance coaching is juggled with studies at school. Many prefer to drop a year after their higher secondary studies to train themselves for the exams.

Medical and engineering entrances are elimination exams. Apart from hard work, determination, intelligence, success depends on the study pattern as well,” says Mr Zakir, who runs an entrance coaching institute in Perinthalmanna. Apart from getting admission, a student is often judged by the rank he/she scores in the entrance exams in various spheres of college life as well. Toppers of the entrance exams have their faces printed on billboards with the rank and marks displayed alongside. Many institutes have seating arrangements that allow only the top rankers to occupy the front seats in classes. Even the hostel room and classrooms allotted is based on the marks scored by the student.

There is tremendous pressure on the students going through such training for the entrances. Depression and anxiety disorders are fairly common,” says Mr Aju, a psychologist who has helped a number of teenagers cope with failure and stress. “The cases often go undetected and these students suffer from mental health problems later in life.” With very few institutes providing options to seek psychological help and recreational facilities, most of the teenagers have no option, but to suffer in silence. Stories of suicide attempts and students trying to elope are not rare in most of the institutions.

Suresh Kumar, who runs an entrance coaching centre in Thrissur and is a teacher himself, believes that students perform best when allowed to be themselves. “We don’t impose draconian regulations on the kids. We also advise parents to let children follow their own dreams.” He is of the opinion that it would be wrong to put the blame on coaching centres. “Parents have to teach their children to cope up with failure. We try our best to be supportive.” However, he is worried about the rising number of money minded people entering into the field. “When education turns into a business, the students are affected the worst,” he says.

A survey conducted by the 2015 magazine committee of Calicut Medical College showed that a good proportion of the students joined the MBBS course against their will. In India, where a professional degree is seen as a direct ticket to better social and economic status, it is not uncommon to encounter students who take up medical or engineering courses only to please their parents. “It is the system that has to change,” says Sabitha, a mother, and teacher. “Let children select their paths themselves.” She also expresses her disagreement with the present system of selecting students based on MCQs.

I asked a few students at an entrance coaching centre about their thoughts on Kriti Tripathi’s suicide and her five-page letter. They nodded their heads silently. For most of them, the name sounded strange as they have been keeping themselves away from social media and newspapers. “The condition in many of the institutes here is very similar to that in Kota. I wish the exam system would change“, says one of the students. “I would very much like to take up commerce or arts, but my parents feel that being a doctor or an engineer is better,” says another one with a smile. A poem I had scribbled long time back echoed in my ears.

“He returned home after six long years,

With a proud prefix to his name,

The stethoscope dangled around his neck,

A doctor was born and an artist died.”


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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