Reduction of lower age limit leads to an increasing number of participants, mainly owing to parents' keenness

For the last one month, Shankar K., a class I student of Vana Vani Matriculation School, has been following a new schedule. For 45 minutes every day, his father, S. Krishnamurthy, coaches him for a series of talent search examinations Shankar is going to take from November.

“Initially I wondered if he could understand the questions on logical and mathematical reasoning, but he picked up well without much fuss,” says Mr. Krishnamurthy, who teaches him from the materials supplied by various examination organisers. Shankar is set to appear for three such tests in General Knowledge, Mathematics and English.

Shankar's is not an isolated case as more and more children start preparing for talent search examinations early. The age at which children can take talent search or scholastic examinations only seems to be coming down, with a number of organisations conducting it for students of primary classes too. Following requests from schools and parents, Science Olympiad Foundation has decided to introduce Science, Mathematics and English Olympiad this year for students of class I. Velammal's State Level Science Talent Search Exam 2011 also seems to be getting popular with children from class I onwards taking them.

With increasing competition, many parents are keen that their children are groomed early to excel in such examinations. “There are parents and schools who ask us to arrange special trainers for Olympiads. We only provide practice material and online test, rest is up to the student's ability,” says T.Kanchana, Coordinator, Science Olympiad Foundation. She says that over one lakh students in the State took the various Olympiads last year.

Beyond textbook

A majority of these exams expose students to the competitive examination model. International Assessment for Indian Schools (IAIS), an examination open to students from classes III, assesses critical thinking, reasoning, comprehension and problem solving skills. Diagnostic test ASSETOnline measures how well a student has understood concepts and gives a feedback, rather than a rank.

The National Talent Search Examination conducted by NCERT and the Group Mathematical Olympiad by CBSE are becoming popular.

While educationists agree that these exams help a child to explore beyond the textbook, they feel that it can add undue pressure if these exams are taken up due to peer pressure or if they are required to go for extra coaching to excel in these exams.

“I am not for students taking such exams at lower classes. Class VIII upwards should be ideal. Many a time it is due to parental pressure that children in the primary classes take these exams. Some of these exams test the knowledge of the child at a higher level too,” says T.R. Subramaniam, director of TRS IIT Classes, a coaching institute. “A child should enjoy studying,” he adds.

Enhancing learning

Parents and schools, however, differ. They say it is never too early to prepare for such talent search exams. As many of these exams do not essentially conform to any Board or syllabus, it is a platform to remove fear of exams, learn to face competition early and enhance understanding of subjects.

“Class 1 to 4 is our focus as this is an age group when children are likely to be attracted and distracted most by television. Preparing for these exams helps improve the IQ level,” says Stella Jebakumari, Principal, Velammal Matriculation Higher Secondary School. She says that in the preliminary round, it is compulsory that the entire class take up the test.

“We offer special training for 35-40 days,” she adds. Some schools are against offering coaching as it could get stressful to the child.

Even many children agree that these exams increase their confidence level and explore many things. As Sanjuktha B., a high school student of Vaels Billabong High School who gave her first competitive exam in class III, says “You learn facts, and it helps you even while writing school based exams.” Talking about the popularity of these exams, she says, “You don't ask your classmates ‘Are you writing an exam?', but ask which one they are taking? On an average a student gives two to three exams a year.”

Teachers also feel that in some way or the other the question paper format of these competitive exams has made them incorporate different kinds of questions in the testing pattern in the class. Experts say while academics is part of life, making children sit for hours to study can take a toll on their childhood. Sensory learning is the best way to encourage children to study, not through such exams so early in life, says C.Kumar Babu, Psychiatrist.