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Entrepreneurship education at an early age holds the key to curbing suicide rates among youth in India

India has one of the worlds’ highest suicide rates in youth aged 15 – 29. According to a 2015 report by the National Crime Records Bureau, every hour, one student commits suicide in India. Failure to cope with exams, fear of disappointing their parents and a general sense of hopelessness was a commonly stated reason for the suicides.

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India has one of the worlds’ highest suicide rates in youth aged 15 – 29. According to a 2015 report by the National Crime Records Bureau, every hour, one student commits suicide in India. Failure to cope with exams, fear of disappointing their parents and a general sense of hopelessness was a commonly stated reason for the suicides. Expert opinions in various articles stated a lack of awareness about mental health issues in schools as one of the causes of the rising number of suicides. While there is merit to that statement, it seems to focus on catching and alleviating the symptom rather than eliminate the cause of disease. This urges us to ask why a 15 year old would feel these extreme feelings of fear, disappointment and worst of all, this sense of helplessness to end their lives. 

Too many Indian kids grow up deriving their sense of self worth from their grades because they are taught from the time they can (barely) speak, that it’s a shame if they don’t get a better grade than their neighbor’s son or daughter. With this single, seemingly innocuous comparison, we successfully crush the seeds of a child’s innate ability to blossom into a wholesome human being who strives to be the best version of himself instead of a close enough version of someone else. No amount of motivational talk and praise will bring back this child’s loss of self esteem the moment they fall short, because their sense of ‘self’ worth is now defined in reference to the next person. Instead of rooting a child’s sense of identity in his own strengths, we amplify their weaknesses in comparison to others, as ‘areas of improvement’, which is logically flawed to begin with. This sets in motion a vicious downward spiral of unmet expectations, made slippery by a paralyzing fear of failure and an eventual resentment of the ‘self’ upon failing to live up to the unrealistic standards virtuously set by well meaning parents. The sarcasm is intentional because a part of me is enraged. We need to realize that unless we stop this madness at home, no amount of suicide hotlines and mental health awareness in schools will have a real impact on the mental well-being of these young kids. 

This brings me back to my original premise of the importance of entrepreneurship among young people. There exists an ambiguity around the definition of entrepreneurship, so we’ll just go with the working definition set forth by the World Economic Forum: entrepreneurship is the ability to turn ideas into action through the pursuit of resources not directly in our control.  This requires entrepreneurs to have certain traits that set them apart, that build them to survive the odds. Here’s the good news: according to the experts at Stanford University, entrepreneurship can be learned. Like the late Peter Drucker, one of the leading thinkers of our times, asserts: “The entrepreneurial mystique? It’s not magic, it’s not mysterious, and it has nothing to do with the genes. It’s a discipline. And, like any discipline, it can be learned.” In my humble opinion, entrepreneurship education is one of the first and arguably the most important step in imbibing a strengths-focused, purpose driven outlook in life at any age, and certainly when we’re at our most impressionable years during our teens. The beauty of entrepreneurship education is that it celebrates an individual’s entire range of abilities, and does not reduce anyone, to simply to an exam score or a class rank. During my MBA at Johns Hopkins, we interacted with high school kids in the Washington DC area through entrepreneurship workshops they attended, and the drive and confidence these kids had in their abilities was all I needed to witness, to understand the power of entrepreneurship education at that age.[SS1] One of the tenets of a good entrepreneurship education is that through experiential learning, it forces you to uncover your own strengths. The moment an individual is aware of what they are really good at, that becomes a source of tremendous inspiration in everything they do and view themselves as. I don’t have to think twice to say, that had the kids we talked about in the beginning of this article been exposed to some level of entrepreneurship, their lives would have turned out differently. 

Not everyone needs to become an entrepreneur because of entrepreneurship education, but an entrepreneurial mindset is a key competence that benefits everyone in any setting.

Entrepreneurship instills a sense of empowerment driven by a sense of purpose, not to mention the hard skills learnt that can directly impact the community around us and the economy as a whole, but that’s a separate conversation.  As a society, we face massive 21st century challenges at the national and global scale that extend beyond economic growth, like the environment, energy, sustainable development and advancing human welfare in general. It behooves us as a nation to empower the next generation of change makers as active participants in shaping the next era of this country’s future.

 [SS1]Rephrase. Too long sentence

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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