It seems that your article is pointing mainly towards the most recent suicide, so I'll only talk about that.
It is good to know that termination clauses have been changed in the institute. But the question still remains - "why termination?" on the basis of academics. Especially, why termination in the very first year! Terminating a student simply means that the institute is considering him/her a lost cause rather than dealing with the problem and finding a solution.
Now, you are personally taking the cases of handling the students under warning and AP, but what about other departments? I don't know if there are some set guidelines provided to the departments from the institute regarding how to deal with these termination case students. All I know is there will be a formal mail from HOD/DUGC requesting student to meet them. If the student goes then well and good, else he remains stuck with the problem. You need to realize that the communication gap between the HOD and student will be so huge prior to this email that the student would rarely reach his office. Why not introduce professional counseling or rather involve students. The following is what I shared recently on a social media -
"One solution that came to my mind was the concept of Departmental Student Guides - like the ones we see at the time of orientation. I am sure seniors will definitely volunteer to help their juniors. Even if there is one from each dept, he/she can talk to the under-performers and help them out."
PS : A technical doubt - Are the new policies also applicable to students who were admitted before introduction of policy?
Also our education system emphasizes on individual performance, while the industry needs people to work in groups.
Thus, the institutes should encourage and have several activities where students have to work in groups on projects. This will force them to interact/network with other students. And even better if the teams are changed with each such group activity. Put focus always on group activity and group performance.
This could to some extent address the loneliness as well as what industry needs look for.
I agree that counselling plays a major role in making people accept failures, small or big.
I wrote this three years ago. Unfortunately still holds true - https://jayajha.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/iitk-two-concerns/
>> "...to look at it from a wider perspective"
That's how you end the post. However, right while going through the very first paragraph, I (really) happened to get reminded of that other issue to do with suicides. It happened to receive a whole lot of spin in both political circles and media outlets a few years ago. I mean, the issue of farmers' suicides. Then, recently, some last year or so, somebody pointed out (and I forgot where I read it, but do remember that a pretty reliable source was cited) that the suicide rate among farmers, throughout the period of controversy, has actually been lower than that for the comparable bigger population groups (e.g. rural population taken as a whole or so).
So, first of all, I would like to know if the suicide rate statistics could be had for other comparable groups like UGs in programs like medicine, NITs, general undergraduate programs (like BA/BSc/BCom), MBAs, etc. Perhaps, it will help us place this issue in a better context.
Apart from that one bit, I don't seem to have anything further to contribute to this topic. The post, however, did shed a lot of light on quite a few recent developments. Thanks for sharing these.
The basic problem with excessive media coverage about IIT suicide is that students think that dying is an acceptable escape from misery. They forget Feynman's last words: "I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring."
This paper by some of the alumni proposes some interesting things. I specially like the idea of separating counselling staff from academic staff and more communication with parents.
On an unrelated note, Dr. Sanghi, could you please consider disabling the captcha on comments if possible. They no longer make captchas for humans!! :) I am trying for a while to post this comment.
Let us not assume that poor grades causes stress causes suicide. There are other hypothesis, like being depressed causes poor grades causes suicides. According to me, a much stronger and concrete way forward is, get a hotline/helpline - publicize it , remove stigma associated with mental health and let trained psychologists be made available. There is a lot going on in a 20 year old's life - studies, relationships, sexuality etc. Let us not confine this to academics.
How right you are when you say "The difference between stress due to competition and stress due to curriculum/academics-in-general is to be understood, and handled properly. If we do not understand this difference and keep reducing academics, we are only going to reduce the quality of education in our top institutions, without improving the experience of our students, and without making any dent towards solving the problem of excessive stress.
I really appreciate you discussing such issues. You have really pointed out a lot of important points. I have a suggestion and a comment about this issue:
Students in India, unfortunately, are accustomed to coaching institutes from childhood. The environment of IITK being very different from high school, students sometimes find it confusing to deal with the situation. Having professional tutors/extra (informal) discussion classes held by people trained for such purposes, for those who are not performing well academically may be a good idea.
Apart from that, there may also be opportunities provided for group discussions with a chosen group leader. The group leader can be a student as well. The group leader may be given incentive to get official recognition from institute and maybe declare award for best group leader. The group leader may not be academically the best, but he/she should be understanding and compassionate by nature. The important point here is that this way students feel part of a group, and get a moral support apart from the academic support.
I have myself had group discussions with friends in my department (Chemistry) near exam time. The exam pressure that develops really gets eased when we are all sitting all in group studying with fun. Also after exam, we know that we are out there for each other.
A comment to which I do not have any concrete solution: In some instances, professors are not very considerate of the weak students. I do not mean by going slow in class for them, or not giving F grade for bad performance. These measures are required to maintain quality of education.
In strong sense, I am referring to situations where a prof. publicly humiliates a student. For that, I feel there should be some mechanism in place where a student can go and complain against the professor.
In a weaker sense, if the prof. shows some compassion and tries to reach the student not performing too well, that may go a long way. If a student, who is considered eligible by the system to do a course is not doing well, there should be sincere effort put in understanding the reasons for it.
I feel that peer pressure of friends plays an important role as you point out. But such pressure from faculty also plays some role.
I am really glad about some of the reforms introduced in IITK academic system. Measures like withdrawing from a course, not having the whole series of F on your grade sheet are really good.
And finally, I understand the reason why DUGC keeps asking you to do repeat the course that you failed twice. I agree with the reason in principle but again, the result will be dependent on the individual and perhaps DUGC should explain the reasoning. See the blog post http://alumniconnect.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/by-the-time-i-graduated-i-had-10-as-and-11-fs/. The student's F in TA101 and B.Tech. project was result of what went inside him, rather than his ability. It would have better to listen to him and let him finish TA101 in his final semester. But again, that is an exception rather than the norm.
In relation, any person (not just IIT student) is most vulnerable when the TRUST breaks. No one can do anything in those moments, except his close friends and that is if he is willing to share it with them. The 1st 24 hrs are crucial and if you are supported by family/friends, then your survival instincts kick in. You still need support, but unlike 1st 24 hrs, you are less vulnerable. Again this is a personal opinion and only experience I have is being party to a triangular love affair breakup at one point in IIT.
I do agree with the rat race. The reason for depression isn't the tough curriculum or academics and not even the huge Fs sometimes your professor hands out. It is comparison with others. You compete against some of the best in India and even if you are giving your best performance, you may end up getting a C. What is important is that you must give your best and learn, rather than focusing on just the Grades. I have had courses, where I learned more from a course, in which I had a C than a A. Same way, it is important for professors to focus on teaching rather than announcing at large to class about grades. (Though I agree that lot of times student just cares about grades).
Finally, really thanks Dr. Sanghi for explaining in detail the measures taken by IITK in terms of academics. These are news that doesn't get published by media at all.
It is important to note that people who can cope with such heavy competition present in the IITs and can perform based on their natural talent and not on repetitive magai in the coaching.
And another major point I want to make is that these people do not and cannot take their academics seriously but still expect themselves to pass in the courses because they have no interest to learn the course or excel in a given field and all that they want is a high paying job (mostly non core) to which IITs unfortunately seem to be a shortcut and which seems to be the root cause of the rat race most of the parents are subscribing to without knowing anything about the real interests of their kids.
I realised that people think that IIT preceeded by coaching for IIT is an easy and guaranteed returns path for all those who do not have their path still decided! (but the goal is $$!)
For interactions, something of the sort of student confession courts could be created where a selected few could go out and express their grievances.
Also there could be specific places in campus where students could shout and vent out their emotions. Maybe, some sort of shouting rooms could be build on the campus.