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School kids in India not coping with parents' expectations

Pressure for children to succeed can lead to tragic results

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Updated: June 23, 2017 11:29 AM GMT
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School kids in India not coping with parents' expectations

A file image of Indian students at a Catholic high school in Hyderabad. India's Catholic educational institutions recognize the dangers of pressuring children too much in their studies. (Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP)

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Kavita Sharma has just finished her final year of high school and is waiting for her exam results. She hopes her grades will be good enough to be accepted at a premium college to pursue her studies in New Delhi.

Even though Sharma is expecting good grades, she does not want to disappoint her parents by failing to be admitted to one of the capital city's leading colleges.

"I have to do well. I do not want to disappoint them. They have planned so much for me," she said.

Studying hard to live up to her parents' expectations, she worked 18 hours a day and did not watch a movie or socialize with friends for the two months leading up to her examinations in March this year.

"It has been stressful but I feel that if I receive good marks, it would all have been worth it," she added.

Sharma is not alone. The list of children trying to outdo each other because of parental pressure is endless, leading to unhealthy competition, so much so that some even commit suicide.

Soma Dutta, principal of the Aryavart public school in Greater Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, points out that the feeling of being "useless and not able to satisfy targets set by parents creates an inferiority complex among the children."

"Parents create pressure on the children and sometimes even insult them when they do not perform well in their studies. This hurts the dignity of the children. They may withdraw themselves from everything, often leading to depression," she said.

Some children do not have the aptitude for academic studies so they should not be forced to achieve unattainable grades. Instead, Dutta said, they should be encouraged in the subject that motivates them, "whether it be sports or art."

Dutta added that if this is not brought under control, the child may often feel forced to take extreme steps.

Echoing the same views, Usha Asthana, a retired teacher based in Greater Noida, told that parents these days want to force their own dreams on the child.

However, parents view it differently. Poonam Vashisht, mother of student from New Delhi told that parents are bound to be concerned about grades because students have no future if they don't excel. 

Lack of adequate seats for higher education makes competition necessary and tougher, she said adding that blaming the parents alone is not fair. "The whole education system needs to be revamped. The pressure on the parents and children will go if the students have to study without the fear of getting rejected," she said.

It was a similar parental pressure that led 18-year-old Prithvi Wavhal of Mumbai, India's commercial capital, to take his life on May 28. He had just learned that he failed two subjects in his 12th grade exams.

The boy left a handwritten note saying, "Sorry mother for disappointing you."

Suicides by at least 12 students were reported in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh May 13, hours after exam results for years 10 and 12 were declared by the state education board.

Earlier this month, 23-year-old medical student Kirhi ended her life after not performing well in her exams in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau's 2015 data, nearly 40,000 students committed suicide in the 5-year period 2011-2015, with over 8,500 cases in 2015 alone.

Indian youth take part in a basketball camp at the Don Bosco School in Mumbai. Run by the Salesians of Don Bosco, the school aims to provide a balanced education of academics, sports and culture. (Photo by Punit Paranjpe/AFP)


Activity-based education

Father Joseph Manipadam, secretary for the office of education of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, feels that the real pressure starts in higher education and doubles where there are overambitious parents.

"Children will only be able to succeed in life when they are supported to pursue the subjects they enjoy toward a career in that field," Father Manipadam told

The priest said parents need to embrace their children's genuine talents which are different for every person.

There are about 30,000 schools, 400 colleges, six medical colleges and five universities run by the Catholic Church in India. The priest said that they are focusing on reducing the pressure on children in the Catholic educational institutions.

The schools provide a guidance counselor and "we also encourage activity-based learning and a more scientific way of teaching," he said.

He also highlighted the efforts to raise awareness about reducing pressure on children and providing more guidance to parents to help shift their attitudes.

Daughters of the Cross Sister Lovenia Almeida, former principal of St. Joseph's High School in Mumbai, told that students "need to go at their own pace" otherwise the child's own thinking that he or she is not capable of doing performing well in school "leads to such incidents" of suicide, she said.

Besides parents, Dutta said she believes the problem lies in the country's education system as well. She said critical thinking and creative learning is not encouraged enough in schools but should be.

Responding to the alarming situation of student suicides in India, many schools have begun introducing activity-based learning that includes child-friendly educational aids. They hope to foster self-learning and provide support to the children that recognizes their individual aptitude and skills.

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