Snip academic stress on IIT students

Students are dropping out in large numbers from India’s premier engineering institutions. According to official figures, over 4,400 students dropped out of the country’s 16 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the 30 National Institutes of Technology (NITs) in the last three years. Worryingly, the number of dropouts from the IITs has increased from 606 in 2012-13 to 697 in 2013-14 and 757 in 2014-15. The Union Ministry for Human Resource Development has attributed the dropout problem to students “shifting to other colleges/ institutions, personal reasons, medical reasons, getting jobs during PG courses, inability to cope with academic stress, etc.” Interestingly, the intensity of this problem is rather uneven among different institutions. While the IITs at Roorkee, Kharagpur and Delhi saw 228, 209 and 169 students dropout respectively; there were no dropouts from the IITs at Chennai, Kanpur, Jodhpur, Ropar and Mandi. Examining the levels of academic stress, teacher-student engagement, intra-student interaction, counselling facilities, etc at institutions with zero drop-outs would provide useful pointers to what the high drop-out institutions need to correct.

Entrance exams to the IITs, NITs and other institutions do not adequately test a student’s aptitude for engineering, her capacity to innovate or understand complex scientific processes. Rather, it is students who go to coaching institutes that train them to ‘crack’ the code to the entrance exams, who do well and secure a seat in the IITs. Many of them get into engineering under parental or societal pressure. Not surprisingly, once they are part of the gruelling IIT system, they are unable to withstand the pressure. They either collapse under the pressure or quit the course. Often students are reticent about taking medical or counselling support. The stigma attached to depression forces them to soldier on without emotional or other support. It sometimes culminates in students taking their lives.

This is a problem that authorities must address immediately. Current curriculums are difficult and the number of assignments and projects that students are required to submit each semester puts them under unbearable pressure. This needs to change. Examinations should test the innovative skills of students rather than reward their capacity for rote learning. It is well known that engineering colleges witness some of the worst ragging in the country. Several of the drop-outs are students who were subjected to humiliation, even violence. What have IIT/ NIT authorities done to halt the practice of ragging? Besides reducing pressure on students, authorities must take steps to strengthen their capacity to cope. Counselling facilities must be made mandatory in all educational institutions.
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