Will the Entrance Exam Rat Race Ever End?

I said goodbye to my niece yesterday.

She got admitted to class IX at one of Chennai’s most reputed schools – a boarding school which also prepares students for medical entrance examinations. As I waved at her, I couldn’t help reminiscing my own journey in coaching centres and schools.

For me, engineering entrance exams seemed to be a natural choice after class X. So, when my parents admitted me into a premier school in Kerala, I didn’t hesitate and went ahead with it without any reservation.

However, things went down south from there.

Most of my classmates were among the toppers from across the state. The competition, therefore, was immense in my new school. I, on the other hand, was only a below average student and faced a considerable amount of difficulty managing the syllabus. More so, the curriculum of coaching classes was only designed for top performers and the pace of delivery, therefore, was set to meet their requirements.

Students who didn’t perform well in tests were merely reduced to a means to generate revenue. The teachers, too, would put minimal effort into ensuring their well-being.

I usually didn’t do well in the weekly mock tests.

While my friends sulked about their rankings being low, I couldn’t even make it to those lists which were put up on the notice board every week. And this instilled a deep sense of devaluation in me.

Poor living conditions

The living conditions at the institute were also pathetic.

The classrooms were shabby and often packed with students. The quality of food was also memorably terrible, both in taste as well as nutritional value.

To make things even worse, our administrators went to every extent imaginable to break all our social bonds. We were to observe silence within the campus and any movement outside was severely restricted. Our lives were robotic because we had to follow a timetable set by others.

The hostel warden would even keep his eye on us during the study hours. Most of us would burn out by the end of the day due to the excessively long hours in school and coaching classes.

I remember, at times, I would try really hard to keep my eyes open while staring into my book. But the goon-like warden would keep us on a leash all the time. His role was to enforce discipline by physically and mentally traumatising us. The rules were strict and punishments severe. Once we had to stand out in the cold till 3 am in the morning just because we’d slept in the study room. Later, we had to apologise and also pay a huge sum as fine.

At another instance, I was suspended for a week just for talking at the dinner table!

No emotional support

There is often a lack of mental and emotional support, even from the family, which worsens the situation. My parents always held me responsible for my failure, citing my lack of effort. They would constantly remind me of how I had let them down.

Initially, I did try my best and worked hard. I used to wake up an hour earlier than everyone else to study. But, after a point, all of that seemed to be futile and I gave up.

My self-esteem had started plummeting day by day and my mental health began to deteriorate. The biggest hit came after my entrance exam results.

I couldn’t clear the IIT entrance exam, after which my parents verbally abused me for days. Finally, I gave away to depression.

Now that I feel my niece is about to go through the same experience at an even younger age, it makes me seriously concerned. The situation, unfortunately, seems even more difficult for her.

I went through her ninth standard textbooks the other day and found that the syllabus has some topics that are normally taught in the eleventh standard.

I openly discussed my concerns with her parents and, thankfully, they understood the gravity of the situation. They assured me that they will extend all the emotional support she needs to my niece.

Seeing how history repeats itself makes me think: what has changed over the past ten years?

Frankly, nothing.

Neither the demand for engineering has gone down nor has the quality of entrance coaching centres improved. Their regressive and profit-oriented methodologies are still the same while students continue to bear the brunt of all the emotional trauma.

News reports of entrance exam-related suicides are now frequent. But sadly, these are often ignored by our parents.

Funnily enough, nowadays, there are even local tuition centres which prepare students to get admission into the top batches of premier coaching centres.

All this makes me wonder, will this rat race for entrance examinations and the torture faced by children in its name ever end?

Akhil Nair is a 23-year-old software engineer from Bangalore.