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Over 20 Students Died by Suicide After Failing an Indian State Board Exam

An investigation showed that ‘poor academic performance’ was the common factor in the suicides.

by Shamani Joshi
30 April 2019, 12:46pm

Students giving exams at Mahatma Gandhi Seva Ashram in Jaura, India. Photo: Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons

UPDATE (9/5/2019): An earlier version of this story ran with the headline '25 Students Died by Suicide After an Indian State Board Exam Wrongly Failed Them’ and stated that the suicides were a direct result of the incorrect exam results. However information released on May 5, 2019, related to an investigation by the The Telangana State Board of Intermediate Education has stated that the 22 students who died by suicide and three who attempted it failed because of ‘poor academic performance’ and not due to technical errors in evaluation. The analysis indicated that of the 25 students who died by suicide or attempted to, 10 had failed in one subject, 12 in more than one subject and three despite passing. VICE apologises for any confusion caused.

At least 20 students have died by suicide in the last 10 days in the Indian state of Telangana possibly due to poor performance in intermediate exams. These exams are also shaping up to be a massive blunder and alleged scam, with 3.28 lakh out of 9.7 lakh students—or 33 percent of the students—being failed in the state board's intermediate exam held in March 2019, conducted by a private agency.

This year, the local government offered a company called Globarena Technologies Pvt Ltd the contract to provide technical support for evaluating the papers of intermediate exams of Class 11 and 12, as part of India’s State Board examination system. However, after the results were announced on April 18, students and parents claimed that there has been gross incompetency and inexperience on the part of the agency in handling exam results of this scale.

What ensued was a tragic situation that saw several students slipping into depression, some going missing from their homes, and some deciding to die by suicide through self-immolation, or hanging themselves. A three-member committee was appointed by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao to investigate and remedy this case. Following this, the Telangana state board suspended a teacher who incorrectly gave zero marks to a student who had actually scored 99 marks, while a fine of Rs 5,000 was imposed on another who made the same error. This comes after activists have been asking for teachers to be given 30 papers a day to correct, as opposed to the current 100.

In their report, the committee also acknowledged that there had been an error in the process of calculating results, but said: "Its magnitude, scale, and nature doesn't vitiate the result." It also accepted the fact that because of an error in circling the Optical Mark Reader sheet—which contains answer bubbles and timing track sensors—the software that calculated results messed up the students’ marks and even marked some students who had given the exam as absent. VSN Raju, the CEO of Globarena Technologies, responded to this with: “These kinds of errors happen every year, but this year it got politicised.”

In my personal experience as a product of the Indian Intermediate Education System, the pressure from family and society to perform well in these exams can get quite intense. There’s a lot riding on it, and the perception that your entire future lies in the hands of these exam results is quite common. What makes it worse is that educators and tutors often ask you to focus more on the exams by rote learning answers instead of actually allowing yourself to understand the concepts.

So, when a state board’s personal fuck-up and lack of judgement is the reported reason for the highest number of suicides recorded after the declaration of exam results in the state, it’s more than a major cause for concern.

Under the pressure of protests across the state, the government has now been compelled to announce free re-evaluation of answer sheets of these students, and has assured that the lapses would be rectified.

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This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.