Sahana Charan and Chitra V. Ramani

One of the necessary evils in our academic system is examination. Public Eye questions the pressure children are subjected to

  • Helpline gets at least 30 calls a day from anxious students
  • Some schools have introduced stress-relieving activities

    Bangalore: We have all been there before. In fact, we have nightmares about it well into adulthood.

    Now it is the turn of Ayush (name changed). A second year Pre-University student, his mind goes blank every time he sits down to write his examination. All those months of cramming comes to a naught.

    This youngster is suffering on all fronts: there is tremendous pressure on him to excel academically, as his family sees him as a future engineer. But this hapless young boy's heart lies in agriculture. He is terrified of disappointing his parents, and is torn apart by anxiety, which in turn affects his concentration.

    Shruti (name changed), a high school student, shows signs of misanthropy. She found herself a misfit, and could not get along with her classmates and teachers. Needless to say, school environment was stressful for her. Coupled with the pressure to do well in studies, Shruti could not cope and came to the conclusion she was not normal. Her grades plummeted and she eventually dropped out.

    Come March/April, it is that time of the year when the spectre of examination haunts every school student. The unrelenting pressure to do well academically from family, friends, peers and often self-imposed is harrowing for children and often pushes them to take extreme steps.

    Helpline

    Sahai, the suicide prevention helpline run by the Medico-Pastoral Association, is a voluntary organisation working in the field of mental health. It gets at least 30 calls a day during March/April/May from anxious students as well as a few parents seeking help to cope with the pressure that sadly has become part of urban life.

    "If children are feeling sad, angry, tearful, extremely sensitive and over-react, we need to recognise that tension is building up. Also, expressions of fear, withdrawal, wanting to be left alone are additional signs to look out for," says Lata Jacob, counsellor and administrator of the Medico-Pastoral Association.

    In extreme situations, students may buckle under all that weight and take matters in their own hands. They might become violent, self-destructive, suicidal and/or turn to substance abuse, Ms. Jacob adds.

    For Bhargav Prakash, a 10th standard student at B.P. Indian Public School, the pressure has already begun. "My preparatory examinations are on. I am constantly worried and stressed out. My family keeps reminding me that I have to perform well. I cannot even come out of my room for a 10-minute break because they push me back and ask me to study."

    In defence, Malathi Prakash, his mother, says the family has changed its schedules and priorities to ensure that there are no distractions for Bhargav.

    A refreshing stance comes from Gayathri Devi, Principal, Little Flower Public School, who underscores the importance of recreation in a child's life.

    "Children should not be allowed to stagnate under exam pressure. Avenues for entertainment should be allowed," she says.

    Several schools in the city have introduced stress-relieving activities such as yoga and aerobics to prevent burnouts. "Schools should invite specialists to train the students in time management, as we have," Ms. Devi adds.

    Comparison is the bane of anyone's life, affecting self-esteem. If it is bad for adults, it is worse for children. N.S. Suresh, Sanskrit teacher at Sindhi College, criticises teachers for using it as a whip to motivate students to perform better. But then he adds: "Comparison should be taken in a positive spirit. Teachers should also maintain a (sense of proportion)."

    Children should be made aware of the fact that examinations are not the only test of their abilities. "Examinations do not let the child to be natural and comfortable. It is a forced situation and children who are nervous and sensitive react unfavourably. Unfortunately, the Indian education system gives a lot of importance to the final exam," says Indira Sampath, lecturer at Mount Carmel College. A child's future should not be determined by one examination. "Once we address this issue, the stress level will automatically come down," she hopes.

    Many students complain about "going blank" during examinations. M.V. Ashok, child psychiatrist, St. John's Medical College Hospital, explains: "Going blank during an examination is a symptom of extreme anxiety and students have difficulty retrieving information. The best thing to do in such situations is to take deep breaths or drink some water." Even though parents mean well, they often pressure children to score high, compounding the children's woes.

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