Panaji: Educational pressures, fear of failure, emotional problems and social inequalities were pushing a growing number of students in Goa towards substance abuse, gambling and even suicides, according to a top education official.
The revelations could form the basis for beefing up a recently introduced counselling scheme in Goa`s schools and colleges, where nearly 15,000 students have already been heard out and counselled for issues ranging from adapting at school, sexual and substance abuse, health issues, anxiety et al.
"The objective of the scheme is to spot and engage those students undergoing mental, physical-related stress and provide solace, safe vent to release their stress, anguish, grievances, guilt or feeling of unrest, neglect, confidential space through specialised counsellors in a supportive and purposeful manner and assist distressed students to think more clearly and positively," Education Director Anil Powar told IANS.
Several students committing suicide in the recent past and blaming stress in suicide notes has been debated in the legislative assembly during the last two sessions. Last week, St. Andre legislator Vishnu Wagh even demanded that bridges be made suicide-proof, claiming that jumping off the structures into the fast-flowing monsoon-swollen rivers was being "favoured" by the suicide-prone.
According to Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who is also the education minister, Goa this year became the first state in the country to formally recruit counsellors for students, when the state enrolled 55 trained counsellors in the recently concluded academic year.
And their assessment of students in Goa, carried out by them across the state`s schools, has thrown up interesting results.
Of the 15,447 students they interacted with, 1,296 had a learning difficulty, 1,317 had an emotional difficulty, 943 were affected by relationship issues, 203 were addicted to substance abuse, 52 had suffered sexual harassment and 42 had suffered physical abuse.
Then, 1,155 suffered from trauma stemming from social behavior issues, 438 were grappling with health issues, 317 had trouble coping with emotion, 251 suffered from low self-confidence and 56 had attempted suicide.
Parrikar now claims that 55 counsellors weren`t sufficient enough and another 100 are likely to be hired by the state government to widen the reach and make the scheme more effective.
"The diverse socio-economic and cultural levels of the students and the increased competition at school for achieving higher academic grading play havoc with the young minds, more so with the vulnerable sections of society, thereby falling prey to alcohol, tobacco, drugs and at times gambling," Powar said.
"The fear of failure also makes the mind lose self-confidence and leads to psychological imbalances and suicides amongst the susceptible youth," he added.
Powar said that the counsellors had tried to improve the psychological attitude of the affected students in the secondary and higher secondary schools.
He, however, blamed "changing lifestyle", a factor beyond control of the incumbent government, which had led to the swelling in the number of issues which conflicted students.
Goa has a population of 1.5 million, of which over 200,000 are students spread across schools, higher secondary schools and colleges.