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In the Kallakurichi case, the suicide note apparently left by Srimathi fleshed out by the police throws light on a region where schools boasting good infrastructure and facilities place a premium on academic performance. Though the growth of these schools is attributed largely to aspirational parents wanting to give the best possible education to their children, someone, somewhere often pays a price for it.

The note written on a piece of paper in Tamil but phonetically in English alphabet talks about pressure from Chemistry and Maths teachers. She says her teachers find her not paying enough attention to studies.

This may be par for the course in any school. But, Srimathi, a girl from a village in Cuddalore and staying in the hostel while facing Class 12 exams, apparently found it overwhelming.

Schools like Sakthi Interntional are a common sight along the highways in the central region of Tamil Nadu. Large campuses with grand welcoming arches and buildings that give the appearance of a college and signboards that say CBSE or International are highlights of the stretch. International is a marketing term for CBSE in these parts. The Kallakurichi case is not just a story of student suicide but a larger account of the striving for good education and its downsides.

Large campuses with grand welcoming arches and buildings that give the appearance of a college and signboards that say CBSE or International are highlights of the stretch

Sakthi International school too is just off the NH to Chennai. Kallakurichi schools, however, are only a spillover effect of what started in Namakkal.

In the distant past, Tirunelveli, Virudhunagar and Kanyakumari districts topped in board examinations. Namakkal started to spring surprises only a few decades ago. A booming economy fed by the poultry business put cash in the pockets of many people here but their educational status was not high. A concerted effort was taken up to improve education.

A retired government school teacher P K Venkatachalam told inmathi.com that the gounder community that dominates these regions may be prosperous. “But they were weak in education,” he said.

Recalling the days when the community was classified as forward caste, about four decades ago, Venkatachalam said many couldn’t pursue their higher education dreams. “We started studying higher education only after bringing our caste to BC (backward caste) during the Karunanidhi regime,” he recalled.

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Several poultry farmers started schools on their lands to provide quality education to their caste folk. “Many woke up to the importance of education and sent their children who scored well and moved up in life,” Venkatachalam said, adding Namakkal then became an educational district.

With money available with many to pay fees to study in these institutions, more private schools opened. What was a community effort became a competitive business. And the product advertised was the scores by students in board examinations. Exam performance became a mantra, the end-all. Parents were willing takers. Today there are some 400 to 500 such schools in the Salem-Namakkal region.

The marks culture seems to have spread to government schools, too. E Bharathi, a parent of a Class 11 girl student in Salem, said that her daughter is studying in a government school in the city. “However, the class teachers keep on putting pressure on my daughter as she has taken Maths-Biology group for NEET examination,” she said.

P Elayaraja, an educationist, said that the government should come up with guidelines to schools, especially private ones. “Board examinations should be conducted only to evaluate teachers’ proficiency, not of students’,” he said.

The teacher should be evaluated on how good he or she is in the classroom. How they teach will reflect on student performance. “Many private schools employ teachers at less pay and those teachers don’t have much experience in handling students,” he said.

On Monday, a Class 12 girl student in Mecheri in Salem district, jumped off from the third floor of a government higher secondary school. She sustained multiple bone fractures. District collector S Karmegam said that she had taken the decision over family-related issues.

Salem district collector has ordered the education department to conduct counseling classes for students especially to teenagers

After that incident, the district collector has ordered the education department to conduct counseling classes for students especially to teenagers. He also stated that teachers should closely move with the students with a soft heart and they should not thrust their expectations onto the students. Elayaraja said that the state government should mandate psychological counseling students in each school.

With the Union government shifting focus to entrance exams that require much concentrated effort in a few subjects, the trend towards cram schools will only strengthen. The Kallakurichi case shows that schools and parents may need to ask themselves what price is worth good scores.

 

 

 


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