The examination curriculum has turned Indian students into nothing but machines where the only parameter to test the potential and calibre of an individual is nothing but “marks” which is in itself contrary to the fact that our education system focuses on overall development rather than rot learning.
This race of bagging the so-called first position and topping the list of so-called standards set by our society for an intelligent student has taken a toll on the mental health of a lot of teenagers. According to a recent study published by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, one in every 5 teenagers in India faces mental health issues.
In this fast pace world where grades decide the future and “capabilities” and “abilities” are not even considered as parameters of growth makes students slip into depression, anxiety and stress-related problems.
The cut-throat competition and high expectations from peers, topped with societal pressure have coddled the minds of young people. It has made them mere parrots who want to just get it right somehow in the examination and has made creativity take a back seat. A growing population just seem terrified of failure and experience the whole process of learning and assessment as an unforgiving ordeal that offers no room for mistakes.
Research conducted by the National Alliance of Mental Illness on mental health states that one in every four students have a diagnosable illness, 40% do not seek help, 80% feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities and 50% have been so anxious that they struggled in high school. Mental health issues in students wear many faces and are one of the primary problems due to which students drop out of school. It’s a common but serious illness that leaves students feel despondent and helpless, completely detached from the world. It is a gateway issue that, if left untreated, can lead to other symptoms or serious matters like suicide.
The way each student reacts and behaves to exam pressure is determined by how they handle change. There might be similarities, but the detrimental signs in one might be different from how they emerge in others. When you become stressed, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is switched on. The activation of this system releases neurochemicals adrenaline and this stimulates you to get going. But the problems start when the periods of stress are prolonged.
Out of the many signs that students develop, one of the most common is the feeling of sadness and unhappiness. They experience fatigue, loss in energy, sleeplessness, indecisiveness, anger, frustration and anger. The loss of interest in activities and social gatherings is also very reflective among students. They don’t open up to others because of fear of criticism or judgement. Thoughts of dying, death and suicide create a ruckus in their head and make them feel that there’s no out if they fail at a particular exam which is labelled as “life-changing” by our society.
Quite a significant number of studies indicate that school failure is a significant cause of low self-concept in students. School failure damages their self-image and they start to dislike themselves. Consistent with this view, Westbury, an experienced scholar, believed that “the emotional strain attached to repeating a grade would lower self-esteem in repeaters”. Rosenburg and Schooler indicated that “a well-established relationship between self-concept and academic performance is primarily attributable to the effects of school marks on self-concept”.
In the districts of Rawalpindi city, 30 students left school after failure in the annual examination without taking school leaving certificate and about 50% left school to avoid expected insult by teachers in the repeated years.
Presently, the child’s psychology has a dominant place in the curriculum of teacher education. At present, the teacher’s attitude doesn’t present a learned behaviour, especially at the primary level. They are less considerate towards the needs and interests of the students and their role in helping a student define their personal goals is far from being achieved in most of the cases.
What success looks like is a lot of ups and downs, as opposed to the straight line we all imagine. “Results are the only measure of success” is fed to young minds since the beginning. The build-up of such regressive thoughts sabotages the dreams and self-confidence of students.
Last year, the Central Board appointed counsellors to attend to the queries of CBSE students. Of the total 1356 calls, 619 were made to seek psychological counselling. In India, a student has to appear in dozens of qualifying, selection, entrance and periodical examinations. In the process, students lose interest in sports, creative pursuits and everything else that could be important.
There is little or no room for research and innovation. Students end up as jacks of many trades and masters of none. They learn something about everything from geography to history and from mathematics to economics but fail to excel in a subject of their interest. The biggest flaw of this system is that it kills curiosity and abolishes the fact that “progress is born of doubt and inquiry” hook line and sinker. All this leads to nothing but mental deterioration.
Leading psychologists are of the view that children should be taught life skills, emotional hygiene and the ability to have fun. They seem to have forgotten how to smile. They seem to have crashed under the burden of course books, exams and results at a very tender age.
When students are expected to score high in order to make their parents proud, good intentions go astray. They are subjected to ever-prying eyes of people, thus, resulting in the proverbial societal pressure. Students are told by the hierarchy that if they don’t score “X” number of marks, they won’t make it to a big institution, won’t land up with the job of their dreams and their life won’t be settled as per the orthodox rules and regulations defined since centuries which every individual is made to take quite seriously.
People want their child to be like the other child, or even better. This comparison is not only unreasonable but rather lethal. They impair the overall growth of the child with such feud ideologies. A child is likely to feel alone and insecure. “What will Sharma Ji’s father think?” is the most important question hurled at students and, surprisingly, it counts as the biggest killers of self-esteem.
People from all quarters bombard the child and the pressure to perform extraordinarily well rises. Students are pushed to the brink and all this adds to their mounting woes. They refuse to act to harsh criticism and often fail to handle emotional upheaval.
The ills of a defunct education system have had its constricting effects on our young. Add to this the pandemic of “media addiction” and sprinkle it with the banality and woe of a parallel system of education of “private coaching” which are all malignant amalgams of a disease that is killing our youth.
The number of suicides is on the rise with news of teenagers giving up on their lives every other day. It is common for teenagers to have strange thoughts and feel that nobody understands them. However, in a few cases, the exam pressure draws them entirely away from family and friends and they shut themselves off. The more extreme forms of stress propagate bad habits like smoking, drinking and drug abuse. At this point, consequences don’t occur to them.
When kids feel that the goal is always “to be the best”, they are not likely to participate when they aren’t likely to shine. A child who isn’t the fastest runner may quit basketball and a child who isn’t a pro at calculations may quit abacus. They won’t try to sharpen their skills. According to a study by psychologists, Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill published in The American Psychological Association found that unhealthy perfectionism has surged among young adults, with the most significant increase seen in those who feel pressured by societal explanations of their success.
Communication is the only key to curb this student crisis. The main goal of education is to make students independent thinkers. Nobody should train their minds to be toppers. Parents should have an open and friendly relationship with their children and should make them comfortable enough to discuss their issues and problems. They should see the signs of stress and make an effort to talk to the child, their friends or teachers.
It’s high time we understand that “every child is special and beautiful”. They have different, supernatural powers and imagination. Respect their dreams and help them fly in this world. Be with them and stand with them so that when your children think of love, fairness, integrity and tenderness, they think of you. Children are not things to be moulded, but people be unfolded.
The power of words is that life can be launched with as little as a single phrase, an uplifting word or an act of kindness. Think of the energy we wield and then impact we make if we become more intentional about encouraging our children. They need models rather than critics. Our words are often the very things that help create future dreams. And sometimes those dreams are to be just like us.
Students mustn’t think that a mark sheet will ever define their life. You could be another poet, director, singer, dancer, radio jockey, DJ, musician, actor, cricketer, teacher, industrialist, business tycoon, etc.
Don’t let these marks scar you for life. Don’t let exams destroy your peace. Don’t let expectations flood your thoughts. Don’t let societal pressure dump you down.