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They need help

education Updated: Mar 14, 2012 14:50 IST
Rahat Bano
Rahat Bano
Hindustan Times

After a student took his life at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) recently, the authorities are scouting for solutions that can act as support and safeguards for aspiring doctors who may need help, including those from rural, non-English-medium, and/or reserved class backgrounds. Following students’ protests after the tragedy, the director issued a letter appointing Sukhdeo Thorat, former chairman, University Grants Commission, as head of a committee that will give suggestions on “academic and welfare enhancement” of undergraduate students at AIIMS, particularly those from the reserved categories. (See box for details)

Meanwhile, AIIMS’ remedial English course calls for a review. The course with weekly classes was started about three-four years ago on the Thorat committee’s recommendation, said Rakesh Yadav, sub-dean, AIIMS. A few students say it focused on spoken language and was not well-publicised on campus. The deceased MBBS student who had studied through the Hindi-medium in school though described as talented (he ranked 500 out of 50,000 AIIMS entrance test takers and second in the ST category) reportedly had problems with English lectures. Medical students do not just have to have a good command of the English lexicon and grammar, they have to also learn scientific terminology in English.

While AIIMS director RC Deka says there are “a lot of” support systems for students including English tutorials, he adds, “Some of the classes were not regularly held. That is my suspicion.” He says that they have held discussions on putting technical terms in Hindi script.

The course is not compulsory. Yadav says they realise “it’s not sufficient.”

“We are now thinking why not have a one-month crash course. We are encouraging faculty to speak Hinglish. We are trying to contact a lot of NGOs and are planning to go in the same direction...of a structured English language course,” says Yadav. AIIMS is considering roping in Centre for Research & Education for Social Transformation (CREST), an autonomous entity under the Kerala government, which has organised enrichment programmes for IIT Delhi students.

Authorities insist that there are “in-built mechanisms” for psychological cases as well, the majority of which are reported to the academic section. “There are clinical psychologists in our psychiatry department. Students are given psychological advice when they come in the first year. There are classes on stress management embedded in the MBBS curriculum. We’ll be enhancing those things,” says Deka.

Is the faculty sensitive and proactive in spotting and reaching out to students in distress? According to Deka, it is, and the teachers “should” report a student, if, for example, he is absent for a long time. “Sometimes senior students help and report the student to the psychiatry department. In this (suicide) case, there was no reported ailment.” But a reserved category student said they have to have a psychologist because it’s a medical college. Moreover, “he runs his OPD.” Among the things the students wish for is interaction with the faculty, mentorship, notifying students about their attendance record after every semester and a committee which redresses grievances in a time-bound manner. New proposals are on the cards and the committee has to suggest more solutions. We hope it’ll usher in change for the better.

Will this panel on student welfare help?
AIIMS appointed a committee headed by former chairman, University Grants Commission, to advise it on “academic and welfare enhancement” of its undergraduates, particularly those from SC/ST and OBC categories. With one month to finish the task, the committee’s brief is to:
* “Examine the extent of implementation of the recommendations of (a previous) Thorat Committee by the institute
* Identify gaps and recommend short-term and long-term measures to be implemented in a time-bound manner
* Propose the creation of a permanent oversight mechanism for ensuring that the support structures for UG students do not become dysfunctional
* Suggest further measures for the welfare and academic enhancement of UG students, particularly those from the SC/ST/OBC categories”

It is also expected to examine if IIT-Delhi’s support structure can be replicated at AIIMS