Hacker News

gordaco said 6 months ago:

This is horrible, but it's clear to me that this is just more than "a software error". Is being a student so hard in India that failing an exam causes people to commit suicide? In that case the problem is way bigger than "a software error".

Don't get me wrong, I understand that these deaths could have been prevented if the software errors hadn't happened; but the serious problem that should be addressed, in this case, is not the presence of these errors.

DarkCrusader2 said 6 months ago:

> Is being a student so hard in India that failing an exam causes people to commit suicide?

The problem here is definitely bigger than a software error. For students from small towns or poor family, education is their only shot at a better life for them and their family. You grow up in an environment where failure is simply not an option. I was once one of them. The cost of failing is incredibly high. Kids at this age should not be under such pressure.

inapis said 6 months ago:

This. It is a massive cultural problem which the Indian society has perpetuated over the past couple of decades. This competition was so intense that kids scoring 94/95% were also not good enough. 98/100 or bust. Colleges in this country had cut-off lists at 99% for the first 4-5 lists. A vast majority of Indians who grew up and were schooled, till atleast as late as early 2010s, have faced this. I've seen kids as early as 5 taking extra classes after school to get ahead of others. I've heard of parents enquiring about "what" to do for their kid who will write a competitive exam 20 years later. Yes, they are panicking/preparing for something which is going to happen 20 years later.

Fortunately, winds are changing directions. Young Indians have come around to the prospect that engineering, medicine, law or civil services are not the only career options. Success of companies like Flipkart, Paytm have played a massive role in turning students towards entrepreneurship. People in major cities are open to pursuing unconventional careers on Youtube, Instagram, Blogs etc.

But there's still a massive way to go. I'd estimate it will take another generation or two to bring about this cultural change that marks are not everything.

If you need to grasp the intensity of the problem, be aware that multiple prime ministers have made multiple remarks over the years, telling the kids that the exams are not the end of their life[1]. Movies have been made to emphasize that skills/passion is way more important and valuable[2]. To see the after effects of such an education system, read The Made-In-India Manager[3]. Some positive effects are that you get really ambitious and competitive people out of such a system. On the negative side, you'd see that many Indian workers do not really have a hobby or life beyond work.

[1] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/board-exam-is-not-...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3_Idiots

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42611062-the-made-in-ind...

jfk13 said 6 months ago:

> People in major cities are open to pursuing unconventional careers on Youtube, Instagram, Blogs etc.

Given the inane (at best) nature of most of what appears on youtube, instagram, blogs, etc., I'm not sure that's especially positive.

readme3 said 6 months ago:

For "general quota" , cut off can be 100% to get application forms (https://www.quora.com/How-could-the-cut-off-at-Shri-Ram-Coll...)

dccoolgai said 6 months ago:

Not sure I'd say it's all bad. They could definitely take a more balanced view of things, but comparing the things that they glorify and cultivate (intelligence, academics) vs. The US (throwing balls around a field or looking/dressing attractive) it makes you think...

said 6 months ago:
mariuolo said 6 months ago:

Does this mean something like this happens every year even when grades are attributed properly?

qball said 6 months ago:


Remember: the purpose, or at least the effect, of an education system like this is population control. In fact, general education isn't even the primary purpose of an education system like this.

Everyone knows that hinging futures on a single test means that success comes down to 3 things: how well a given person can take a test, how much money it's possible to funnel into tutors/the qualities of one's home support network, and luck. It's not about how well a given person will do in a knowledge-based position- by spending so much time teaching to a test the ability to think critically and collaborate with one's peers is severely curtailed, and selecting for good test-takers does not lead to selecting the best people for a particular job.

And the economy is too small to have enough high-skill jobs for the number of potential applicants. Contrast the US, where while applications to knowledge-based education are competitive, are certainly not matters of life and death- there's typically enough money, positions, and second chances to go around. That said, the situation was much better 30 years ago when low-skill jobs were still highly available, and the signalling war is starting to become more prevalent as the economy contracts.

By ensuring that people who will be dissatisfied by their position in society are removed from it (or to be precise, remove themselves from it with minimal effect), the system remains stable. If they do not do this, and refuse to settle for a life of poverty and abject waste of their innate abilities, they begin to act in ways that damage the stability of the society responsible for failing them (gangs, random violence, etc.).

Of course, the people who are killing themselves aren't typically the people who would do the former, so the society also selects for those who would do it harm. But that's fine, because when they act outside of the law society "becomes" justified in killing them; so in effect those who choose to kill themselves are just accepting their society's sentence of death in advance.

anherome21003 said 6 months ago:

Jeez they just need to learn to relax and talk to their counselor

blackoil said 6 months ago:

What counselor? Schools in villages are lucky to have rooms that don't leak in rains. Though things have improved a lot over last couple of decades, dedicated counselor is in super expensive .01% schools.

blreng said 6 months ago:

Limited resources and a huge population means that everyone has to compete very hard to grab those limited medical, engineering, or civil services' admissions that have long been considered to be a ticket to a better life.

That is changing now though. India now is much more bold than it was 20 years ago. More and more young people are taking the unconventional path and creating their own startups. But most of the country still has a long way to go to overcome this problem of high-pressure high-competition culture.

gingabriska said 6 months ago:

People play population as a big thing, it's not in India's case.

More people means more demand.

The biggest problem is that those people do not have money which can't drive economy through demand.

And there is definitely something that can be done about it.

Population is large sure, but population density is similar to some middle populated European countries.

As a thought experiment if population of India halves over night, the situation will still not improve!

kranner said 6 months ago:

I don't understand why you think overpopulation is not a problem.

If the population of India halved over night, there would be half as many mouths to feed; there would be much less unemployment people could afford to charge higher wages for unskilled jobs (because there would be less competition to drive prices down.) How would that not be an improvement?

gingabriska said 6 months ago:

Let me ask you, why you think India is overpopulated?

>If the population of India halved over night, there would be half as many mouths to feed; there would be much less unemployment people could afford to charge higher wages for unskilled jobs (because there would be less competition to drive prices down.) How would that not be an improvement?

There will also be less demand for goods, ask those countries which have negative population replacement rate. Where will the demand come from if population halved that means half as much demand for your wheat, rice, and all other necessities.

kranner said 6 months ago:

> Where will the demand come from if population halved that means half as much demand for your wheat, rice, and all other necessities?

How does it matter if there is still enough demand for these goods to be sold out? Remember prices are controlled by the government for basic necessities such as these.

> Let me ask you, why you think India is overpopulated?

How is this relevant to overpopulation being or not being a problem?

gingabriska said 6 months ago:

>How is this relevant to overpopulation being or not being a problem?

Looking at population density of India, I don't think it's population issue. You mentioned overpopulation in your response to India's problem. I assure you, India can grow as rich as US even at 3 billion population.

India has many problems but population at present in not one of those, maybe it will become a problem if population growth is kept uncheck. But don't blame slow development in past and present to population.

Population being accumulated in few cities is a problem of government and their failure to understand how market works and how they can better it.

None of the political party in India have any viable development plan.

kranner said 6 months ago:

You should look at the population density of Indian cities, not the mean population density all across India. Metros like Mumbai and Kolkata are insanely densely populated. When all the good jobs are in cities like these, overpopulation does become a limiting factor.

kranner said 6 months ago:

You keep changing your comments after I've replied to them. Please mark any edits or addenda separately once someone has replied to that comment.

mayankkaizen said 6 months ago:

Education is of paramount importance in India. The competition is fierce. I don't have data but you can frequently read in newspapers about so many teens committing suicide over failures to clear an exam or because of intense pressure to perform.

These days so many kids start preparing for IIT entrance exams at least 2 years in advance. Even though there are may be 10,000+ engineering colleges in India, only around 30 are just good enough. I once read a Quora post in which a mother asked for guidance as to how she should prepere her 6 year old kid for IIT!

Getting admission in medical colleges is even worse. There are even fewer colleges and I've heard that people pay very very large sum as donation to get lateral entry in medical colleges.

Education in political science/art is considered waste of time and money. Degree in commerce (if from non premier colleges) is for mediocre jobs.

The situation is far worse than I can describe here. Far more worse.

mayanksatnalika said 6 months ago:

Yeah, the headline is kinda clickbait. The state of education here isn't the best and there is a huge scope for improvements, but also with given volumes unfortunately it's the only system which works and very high competition becomes inevitable. Read this for an insight on why the system is how it is. https://www.quora.com/What-is-wrong-with-the-Indian-educatio...

sbmthakur said 6 months ago:

Yes, that's the issue at the core. Indian students are under a lot of pressure due to intense competition and expectations of parents (and other relatives). Attributing these deaths to an "error" trivializes a complex problem.

k__ said 6 months ago:

Yes, I have the feeling that people from India are very work/success-oriented.

Here in Germany it's the same, but somehow we manage a bit better to don't over burden our children.

sersi said 6 months ago:

Germany isn't the same at all, there are multiple paths for kids to have a decent life. A kid who is not admitted to a Gymnasium and goes to a Realschule can still hope to get an apprenticeship and have a decent life.

In india, because of the poverty, for a lot of kids getting good results is their one ticket to a good life. You just can't compare the pressure in a first world country to the pressure of a third world country.

k__ said 6 months ago:

Good point.

That would explain why people from Idia always seem a bit more focuses and harsh about work, for the there has always been much on the line. In Germany we are also work focused, but overall a bit more chill, at least in my experience...

sumedh said 6 months ago:

You cannot compare India with Germany, Germany is a welfare state, in India if you cannot get a good job then the next question you have to ask is will there be food on the table tomorrow.

k__ said 6 months ago:

You're right.

It's hard to fathom such countries.

On the one hand I see very industrious and smart people from countries like India and Nigeria online, on the other hand people are starving in those countries.

said 6 months ago:
n_ary said 6 months ago:

> Is being a student so hard in India that failing an exam causes people to commit suicide?

It actually is & not limited to India but all neighboring countries. Most parents make it very clear from early childhood that if a child doesn't have "best grades", they are worthless. Some children are actually beaten at home for not getting top grade in poor families or given other traumatizing treatments so they learn to avoid failures/shame in the future(the result of which you see in this news). There is actually no concept of children psychology, so traumatizing children is a normal activity.

The issue stems from the fact that, number of educated people in that side of the continent is much higher than number of "good jobs"(doctor,engineer,scientist,government employee etc.) available, so everyone competes for that small piece of the pie. Also, lots all government funded educational institutes are off-limits to a student if they are not top of their class to which alternative paths are very expensive(private college/universities) which can't be afforded by general families, so it is do or die situation overall.

nobrains said 6 months ago:

It's a problem of numbers. Population. Competition.

From the article: Vodnali Shivani, 16, woke up at the crack of dawn every morning to study. She wanted to be an engineer and she would often say to her father: "Wait for five years and our lives will change."

DjangoR said 6 months ago:

Was just about to say the same thing. They should be blaming a culture that would create such a stressful environment where kids would commit suicide for failing a test.

gingabriska said 6 months ago:

>Is being a student so hard in India that failing an exam causes people to commit suicide?

Yes because there are limited opportunities.

Instead of spending money in creating more opportunities, government likes to spend money in forcing students to compete against each other for limited opportunities and this creates a dynamic where you neither trust others and are always eager to throw others under the bus including yourself.

Surprisingly, the parents of these students cheer these competition inducing practises to prove how their kid is better than other kids.

Instead India will benefit from opening centers where anyone can go and learn whatever skill they want to learn.

Anyone should be able to learn how to build a bridge then have his skills and knowledge tested when he actually wants to build bridge for other people.

But in India first you compete for learning how make bridge, then you compete for job then you compete to stay in job.

b_tterc_p said 6 months ago:

I don’t understand how these ideas can mix. If schools are super competitive and the good economic opportunities go to only the top x%, where x is smallish, then most people do not get x. I can’t see it being suicidally bad if this the most common outcome.

What do people do if they don’t succeed?

gingabriska said 6 months ago:

>I can’t see it being suicidally bad if this the most common outcome

Other opportunities do exist but mostly it means being dependent on your parents (to get more education) and they are not going to be very nice and always going to call you out how you have failed them. Sometimes, you might even have PhD from lowly ranked institution and you don't get job. There are simply so many institutes offering degrees where you pay per semester $5000 (obvious way to find it through loans from family and friends or bank loan) and might end up with a degree getting you either no job or stuck for years in $400 job.

If you are well off, you may become part of your Dad's business in which case it's not a big deal or your dad may use his contacts to install you in some company.

But if you've no connections, no money and you bid everything on this education, you might be left win nothing at the end.

Internal demand is very less in India so even if you try to do something else, like small time manufacturing or owning a shop (it's bloody battle). Often the ones who have actual shops are sort of mafia types who won't bat an eye to burn your shop or murder you outright this comes after you manage to convince anyone about giving you money for bootstrapping (which is also very rare)

If you are small time business owner in India, either you've very good connections or you use muscle force to stay in business and demand for whatever you produce or sell might simply not be there.

These are my observation as a foreigner in India.

Maybe in South India it's different but i am in North India.

kranner said 6 months ago:

> Often the ones who have actual shops are sort of mafia types who won't bat an eye to burn your shop or murder you outright

This is a bit of fanciful exaggeration. There are a lot of small shopkeepers in India. There is no reason to believe they've been stabbing and shooting their competition.

gingabriska said 6 months ago:

>There are a lot of small shopkeepers in India. There is no reason to believe they've been stabbing and shooting their competition

Have you ever owned a non IT business? I am in India and my friends who have successful shops received death threats many times. One even sold his hotel because his son was getting kidnapped all time.

kranner said 6 months ago:

> One even sold his hotel

When I say 'small shopkeepers', I don't mean people who are rich enough to own hotels. I mean mom and pop grocery shops or the neighbourhood tea stall.

gingabriska said 6 months ago:

Sure, other small shop owners have to pay bribe to food inspector in North India.

kranner said 6 months ago:

Yes, that's true. There's all kinds of extortion by corrupt cops and government officers. But these shopkeepers are by and large not mafiosi who have to muscle out the competition.

gingabriska said 6 months ago:

My neighbor is part of Sand Mafia and my last cable guy got his throat sliced by competitor who now owns the whole local cable network.

kranner said 6 months ago:

I wouldn't be surprised if the local cable network is ultimately owned by one of the local politicians. That seems to be the norm throughout India.

But these are not the kind of small businesses I was talking about.

njsubedi said 6 months ago:

Even in Nepal, many students committed suicide every year when they failed the SLC (School Leaving Certificate) exam. Since a few years ago the education board changed the grading system from percentage based to grade based. Previously the results would be published on a national daily, and only the symbol number of students who passed the exam would appear. AKA public humiliation of children of the age 14-17 mostly.

Now the system has changed; no student fails, they only obtain certain grade. If (s)he would like to increase their grades in certain subject they can re-appear the exam and increase their grades. This has been a successful change, saving probably hundreds of innocent lives.

sriku said 6 months ago:

The standard deviation combined with a large population means any automated system targeting the populace is ethically bound to increase the number of nines it must put in to ensure quality. This means having the necessary checks, balances, redundancies. 23 out of 320000 is still too many.

Abstraction - in this case the govt wanting to offload the logistics of exams - requires the govt to retain sufficient visibility and checks into the process. I believe the education board isn't that naive to not do that.

The issue is that in India, graduation can mean the difference between poverty and at least a modest livelihood. Sometime ago I read an article where the journalist argued that that motivation for going to college in the US isn't high 'cos you can have a middle class living without a degree. In India, and perhaps in China too, that doesn't happen.

The eye to see potential in people and invest in them instead of using metrics like exam marks would go a long way. As another poster noted, the new India isn't that naive to think that marks are the end all, but for many it continues to play a significant role in their aspirations. The more examples of independence that get publicised, the more our young will be inspired.

Edit: fixed total number.

lotsofpulp said 6 months ago:

I would say the US is becoming more like India/China given what Americans are willing to do to get into their choice schools and graduating even if it means borrowing unreasonable amounts of money.

dexterdog said 6 months ago:

I don't know if I would say it caused them. There are many complex and massive problems that are far more to blame for these suicides. This is like saying WWI and II were caused by Gavrilo Princip.

jacquesm said 6 months ago:

It would be unfortunate if it turned out that we software people have a responsibility towards those that are affected by our product. /s

Yes, there are many complex and massive problems, but whether or not they are 'far more to blame' is an open question, once you are operating in that particular environment you decide to take on the responsibility that goes with it. These structural problems also need taking care of but until then the people who write such software need to be more careful to limit the impact of errors they make.

Quote from TFA:

"At the heart of the controversy is a private software firm, Globarena Technology, which in 2017 won the government contract to conduct the exam across the state for more than 970,000 students. It is also responsible for processing the final scores to announce results.

The state education board, which outsourced the job to Globarena, has said the suicides were not "connected to mistakes due to technical and result processing errors".

Globarena conceded there had been errors.

"We follow the process prescribed by the board. The incidents that have happened are unfortunate. Initially there were technical errors. We have made the corrections," VSN Raju, the company's CEO, told the BBC in April. "


In such circumstances it should be a requirement to get stuff like this right, apparently peoples lives depend on it . This is as mission critical as it gets. See also: software is eating the world. That comes with a responsibility.

praptak said 6 months ago:

> These structural problems also need taking care of but until then the people who write such software need to be more careful to limit the impact of errors they make.

"People who write such software" are probably some developers who either deliver before deadline or get fired. Who knows, maybe they are even the future versions of the students - struggling to support their families.

I don't think it's realistic to expect they can shoulder the responsibility for ethics in developing software. Something needs to exert pressure at businesses not to deliver crappy software. Unions? The law? I don't know, but not individual developers.

jacquesm said 6 months ago:

Their managers and everybody higher up are just as culpable if not more so.

jeroenhd said 6 months ago:

I find it hard to blame the software error for this. Of course it's tragic that these kids killed themselves over a wrong result, but what about the kids who do the same after actually failing their exams?

Blaming the software for the extreme pressure and stress feels like a cop-out to me, especially after reading that (at least) this one student had the option to redo the exams.

Software can have bugs, people can make mistakes, mistaken bad grades happen regardless of whether software is involved or not. The real cause for the deaths of these people is the pressure put on them/they put on themselves, and the value people assign to these grades.

em-bee said 6 months ago:

the problem was not bad students failing, but good students getting a failing grade in error.

the bad student knows what's coming and can emotionally prepare for failing the exam. the good student can not do that if they get a result that wildly differs from what they should have gotten. not in a system where they believe they have no chance for appeal.

anon1i4 said 6 months ago:

I went through this Telangana's educational system mentioned in the article, but before the "software upgrades", they used to whoop kids asses even in 11 and 12th grades, somehow I got through the system without much psychological damage.

Apart from than test pressures, there is also tuition pressure, our family was too poor to pay the fees on time, so they would ask whoever is not up-to-date with fees to stand up in the middle of class and ask us when we will be paying. Me and my other friends dealt with it by using humor to deal with poorness.

TazeTSchnitzel said 6 months ago:

People working on automation systems have a special responsibility, because any small mistakes can be multiplied by the scale the system is used at.

Programming should have a code of ethics.

9wzYQbTYsAIc said 6 months ago:

> Programming should have a code of ethics.

There is one: https://www.computer.org/education/code-of-ethics

ghaff said 6 months ago:

The ACM and IEEE both have codes of ethics. That's a very long way from some silver bullet though.

praptak said 6 months ago:

Without unions the management can pressure you into breaking the code of ethics.

sokoloff said 6 months ago:

Enron had union workers. Volkswagen has union workers. Boeing has union workers. I'm not sure that unionization is the silver bullet to ward off unethical behavior.

lxhmj said 6 months ago:

I'm inclined to say that if there's a bug in some grading software and some students kill themselves for failing, the problem here is not with the software.

9wzYQbTYsAIc said 6 months ago:

That’s like saying that if there’s a bug in some missile targeting software and some some students die from playing in the park, the problem is the park that they chose to play in.

spamizbad said 6 months ago:

Wouldn't be the fault of the organization that fired the missile? Especially if they were told ahead of time "This missile's targeting system is only accurate 99.9% of the time so do be careful"

lxhmj said 6 months ago:

No it's not, since playing in a park is normal, but killing yourself for getting bad grades is not.

9wzYQbTYsAIc said 6 months ago:

Working hard for good grades and being disappointed at failure is normal too.

Software design could, probably should, have incorporated the social context of failure. This is Asia, India in particular, that we are talking about here - the hyper-competitiveness that these kids go through is probably worse than what medical doctors go through in prestigious schools in the US.

lxjum said 6 months ago:

>Software design should have incorporated the social context of failure.

Yeah sure. My bad. Let's be reasonable:

if(grade < 5)grade = 5

9wzYQbTYsAIc said 6 months ago:

How about if(gradeForStudent(i) < avg(gradesForStudent(i))) flagForReview

Still a one liner.

You seem to have forgot that the software defect was an error in grading.

abhinai said 6 months ago:

We need to build a world without exams. A world where curiosity is encouraged and rewarded. A world where all school lessons start with a goal of building something tangible and relevant at the end of it. Something a student can care about and be proud of.

JumpCrisscross said 6 months ago:

> We need to build a world without exams

Tests are fine. If you can’t pass a written test, you’ll likely make a lousy lawyer. But a written test would filter poorly for a world-class designer or dancer or developer.

The solution isn’t in banning exams, but in ensuring they aren’t a single point of failure for a student’s prospects. Beyond being humane, it also improves the quality of the education system.

lxhmj said 6 months ago:

   *hugs tree*
formatkaka said 6 months ago:

In India, the identity of a student is defined by his grade. It's too bad students score grades that are not sufficient to satisfy the ego of their parents/relatives/society. It takes a lot of time for people to discover that they are not limited by their grades. People who never discover that, define their children using the same yardstick.

It's really sickening. I really wish the parents understand that the real world is more about collaboration than competition.

Anyone interested in truly understanding what education is - please read this book "totto-chan , the little girl at the window".

said 6 months ago:
sloka said 6 months ago:

India has an often criticized reservation system where 50-60% of seats in colleges/universities are allotted to people from lower castes. This puts enormous pressure on economically backward kids from upper castes who have to score upwards of 98% to get admitted whereas a person from a lower caste can get admitted by scoring just about 50%.

radmuzom said 6 months ago:

The comments here would have been completely different had the software been developed by the government.

formatkaka said 6 months ago:

The problem isn't remotely related to automation system.

aaron695 said 6 months ago:

> A software error may have caused 23 suicides in India (bbc.co.uk)

This is dumb.

It doesn't seem to be a software error at all [1]. Even the BBC article doesn't say it is AND of the kids who killed themselves we don't even know if there was an error.

But it all seems irrelevant anyway, how about we ask why are kids killing themselves over an exam?

[1] https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/work-telanganas-mallan...

known said 6 months ago:


India is most racist nation in the world https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/05/15...

And India is also the most dangerous country for women https://twitter.com/spectatorindex/status/101269989323478630...

Now this...

thrower4234 said 6 months ago:

"The gentoos are the devil incarnate!"

If history is anything to go by, the racist tropes of the West, won't die until India achieves 2-3x its current nominal GDP. Please hold on until then.