RACHEL is a class XII student who is average in studies. She leaves her home with a smiling face and a confident stride for her exam. But few months ago she was a stressed-out student who succumbed to examination-related pressure.
According to Rachel’s mother, she pinned all her hopes onto her exam result. She felt that if she scored well, she could study at a good college. But slowly this hope turned into extreme pressure to perform well. An otherwise cheerful girl, she withdrew herself from family and friends and plunged into isolation. She got angry whenever her parents asked her to work harder for her career’s sake. Sfhe turned erratic, hostile and rebellious. Her mother noticed that her eating and sleeping habits had gone haywire.
On that dreadful night, when her mother entered her room with her food, she was found popping a handful of tablets. Her mother was shocked and horrified and ran towards her to take away those fatal tablets. Next day, her parents took her to a psychologist. He told the distressed parents that their daughter was suicidal. With the doctor’s counselling and her parents’ support, Rachel has been brought back to the track. Now she enjoys exams and they are no longer a matter of life and death for her.
Call it luck or timely action which has saved Rachel from the jaws of death. But there are many other students who are languishing under depression. Some have taken to drugs. Others have been driven to take their lives. In 2006, over 5000 cases of suicides were reported. This year also many students have killed themselves. Examination-related pressure and fear of failure have been cited as the reasons behind suicides. Dr Monalisa, a psychologist at VIMHANS, says, ‘Suicidal children have panic attacks, fear of failure and fear of not meeting parents’ expectations.’ First it was G N Vijay, a class XII student of Kalka Public School, who was found hanging in his room on February 5. Then it was Jyoti who jumped from the balconyf of her residence on February 21. Four days later, Priyanka Bhardawaj of Venkatershwara college was found hanging in her home. Since then, newspapers have been recounting tales of young lives who took their lives.
A sort of trend has emerged: just as exam time approaches, suicides keep happening. In fact, the widespread opinion is that our examination and education systems have pushed children to the brink. CBSE tests by rote learning which puts immense pressure on children to memorize vast store of information.
CBSE, however, has introduced some changes to reduce the pressure and make exams student-friendly. The CBSE now gives 15 minutes of extra time to students in which they can read the question paper. It has also introduced High Order Thinking Skills( HOTS) questions that will check the analytical and reasoning abilities of candidates. So is our examination system an excruciating one that students have to grapple with? Or is it the inability to cope up with stress and pressure in any form that propels some to take to drugs, anti-depressants or kill themselves?Basant, a 2nd year college student, says, ‘If you are consistent and regular throughout the year, you won’t feel stressed out during exam time.’ Another student, Manyata, who studies in class XI, argues, ‘Last year I appeared for class X boards. In spite of the hype created around it, I kept my cool. I never felt that it was a make or break situation for me. I studied and took regular breaks to unwind myself.
’CBSE boards have almost become an ordeal. Good result ensures a seat in an elite college. In fact, some students and parents view exams as a ghost to be exorcised. They believe that it will make or mar one’s career, life, happiness and even respect. Part of the solution to this dilemma lies in opening more and more colleges that provide quality education. This initiative will certainly unload the performance anxiety off young minds.
But envisaging exams as the end of the tunnel is an obstacle that should be overcome. Around exam time some kids complain of lack of emotional support from their parents. Says a class X student: ‘My parents make me feel that exam is a matter of life and death. They pressurize me to score above 90%. But they forget that I want to do software engineering for which I do not need 90%. They overlook the fact that I am human.
’Parents, it seems, have a major role to play at such a crucial time. They should not keep unrealistic expectations out of their children. Rather they should encourage and support them so that they achieve their aim. A mother of class XII student says, ‘I do not monitor my child or disallow him from watching TV and playing. We have kept a congenial environment at home.
’So a complete overhaul of examination system would not help in the long run. After all, exams give an opportunity to discover ourselves. They summon our courage and strength. They teach us how to confront and solve problems.
Problems are opportunities that help us grow mentally. Examination is one such opportunity. What we need is a change of attitude towards the children. According to Dr. Nagpal, consulting psychiatrist at VIMHANS, ‘Teachers and parents should teach them life skills that would enable them to cope up with pressure.’ If we scrape off board exams, that won’t solve the problem. As a child grows, he confronts other problematic situations like job, friendship, relationship, family et cetera.
We should educate the youth so that they become empowered and informed citizens of our country. Says Dr Nagpal, “Adolescence is characterized by physical, psychological changes. This is the time when children should be taught life skills like self-awareness, problem solving and critical thinking. The purpose of education should be to prepare citizens for life.”
The alarming rate of suicides during exam time is causing fear and dread. But examination is means of self-discovery. We shouldn’t let it govern our lives. We should face it head on. We cannot afford to loose another youth. Youth is a demographic force and the future of our country beckons them.