June 26, 2024


Will the UMMEED programme help tackle student stress?

The entrance exam realm has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the past couple of years. So many tenets of this space have been under the scanner, from the exam frameworks to the rise of coaching centre culture, and perhaps the entire education system too. Take the current UGC-NEET exam saga, which has reached a boiling point. Some states and opposition parties have also spoken out and protested.

Through all this, hundreds, if not thousands, of students and their parents have been put through the wringer as the prospect of exams and the intense competition has increased stress levels. We’ve seen dozens of reports of students taking their own lives. The government decided to do something and released the “Understand, Motivate, Manage, Empathise, Empower, Develop” (UMMEED) guidelines last October. Will it have any effect?


The current NEET controversy is the perfect example of the rising mental health crisis among students. The saga is the culmination of something brewing for several years. Paper leaks and incorrect results have become almost routine. This time, over 67 students got a perfect score compared to the usual two or three and grace marks were given to over 1,500 students.

As entrance exams became more competitive, coaching culture began to take hold. It’s a thriving industry that many say was born out of an indifferent, rote learning-based school education system, an uncertain job market, and parents’ unreasonable expectations.

No part of the country has been spared with neighbourhood tutors, teachers moonlighting as tutors, online platforms, and the ubiquitous coaching centres. Post-pandemic, it became bigger than ever, with revenues in the thousands of crores. If going to school and all that entails isn’t stressful enough, students spend plenty of time in coaching centres preparing for exams they’ll take years later.

There was a time when tuition was seen as a temporary solution. It’s now part and parcel of growing up. It’s also an added expense. The National Education Policy (NEP) was introduced to reform the education system and reduce the dependence on tuition and coaching centres.

Educationists and psychologists have been raising the alarm about how the current system affects kids and teenagers. The education system has become more crowded and competitive. That’s a toxic mess. Parents want their kids to be toppers, and training for that often begins at a young age. For many students, the toll was just too much, unfortunately.

Last October, the Education Ministry released guidelines for schools to identify and assist students who need help. “Every Child Matters” was the underlying concept. It involved setting up School Wellness Teams (SWT) to look for warning signs. Other aspects include nurturing partnerships between schools and parents and helping reduce the stigma around mental health.

Can these UMMEED guidelines work in the long run, or is something else needed?

VIEW: They can be effective

The introduction of the guidelines represents a crucial and necessary step forward in addressing the well-being of students. The SWT is an important aspect of suicide prevention in schools. At school, other students, councillors, and teachers are best placed to see how someone behaves and can take action. It becomes easy for someone to approach the SWT since it comprises the school management, teachers, and students.

The guidelines make it a point to state that SWTs alone won’t be enough to prevent things like self-harm or suicide and that the involvement of all stakeholders will be necessary. It also accounts for the fact that not all students are the same and come from different backgrounds with different learning and skill levels.

Students undergo multiple transitions in their school life – they move from home to school and school to college and face different environments and challenges. This comes with academic pressure, peer pressure, career decision-making, etc. The guidelines help navigate these moments with continuous refinement and reevaluation.

COUNTERVIEW: Underlying issues ignored

While the motivating factors behind the guidelines are right, they fail to tackle many underlying issues that plague the education system. But it also gets some of the semantics and verbiage wrong. The guidelines should explicitly mention a section for privacy in keeping with section 23 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, which affirms the right to privacy of those with mental health conditions.

There’s little to no mention of systematic issues and socioeconomic factors that could lead to students taking drastic steps. The problem is that students face pressure at school and coaching centres. The Kota scandals laid bare the toll academic stress can take on young people. The guidelines on coaching centres also failed to address the broader systematic issues at play.

What’s the guarantee the wellness teams can identify risk factors? Despite professional psychologists being employed by coaching centres, Kota continued to see suicides. The entire culture surrounding exams, coaching centres, and the education system should change. The current NEET saga is an unfortunate example of that – 24 lakh students competing for about 1 lakh seats. What can the UMMEED guidelines do in this instance?

Reference Links:

  • Education ministry releases draft guidelines to prevent student suicides – India Today
  • MENTAL HEALTH INITIATIVE: New hope for distressed students through UMMEED – Education Times
  • Ground Report Part 1: Why some of the lakhs of students who come to Kota every year never return – India Today
  • Will Centre’s ‘UMMEED’ help tackle the problem of student suicides? – Firstpost
  • Kota story redux: UMMEED will be hopeless without wider social changes – The Leaflet

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The UMMEED programme can help tackle student stress.

b) The UMMEED programme can’t help tackle student stress.


For the Right:

Hamare Baarah and the myth of India’s Muslim population ‘explosion’

For the Left:

Union Budget is not corporate India’s wishlist. Tax breaks can’t solely drive profit