Academic stress seems to have hijacked the minds of far too many teenagers. If not tackled at the right time, it can even lead to severe mental health conditions. Despite this, there have only been a couple of studies in India that have been conducted to examine this issue.
I conducted a survey among school children to understand how many of them experience academic stress and what causes it. In an uncertain time, when stress levels are on the rise, it becomes even more important to consider how to tackle academic stress.
The survey was conducted from November 2019 to January 2020 amongst 1,227 school students from government schools and NGOs in New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh (UP). It was conducted evenly amongst girls 54.92% and boys 45.08% and across different age groups (58.22% of the students were between the age group 12-15, 8.81% between 0-9, 12.89% between 16-17, 1.8% were 18 and above).
Students were asked to fill a questionnaire consisting of questions relating to the possible causes of their academic stress, including teachers, grades and examinations, tuitions, and peer pressure. I also administered the standardized Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) questionnaire, one of the most prevalent psychological instruments used globally used to measure “the degree to which situations in one’s life are appraised as stressful.” This scale was used to determine the overall stress levels of students and relate the possible causes of their stress with their PSS scores.
Analyzing the results, I found that children who were extremely stressed because of peer pressure, examinations, and meeting deadlines also scored higher on the PSS. And no matter which way I dissected the data, these three stressors were always on top.
A vast majority, 81.42% of the children, reported feeling stressed to some extent because of examinations. 55.75% reported being ‘moderately stressed’ and 25.67% ‘extremely stressed,’ making examinations one of the top 3 stressors. Additionally, 82% of children felt stressed to some extent before an examination.
While I knew peer pressure was an issue, having faced it myself, I never imagined it would prove to be such a widespread cause of stress. When asked “how stressed do you get because of peer pressure,” 81.42% of the children were stressed to some extent, out of which 55.75% were ‘moderately stressed,’ and 25.67% were ‘extremely stressed.’
70.69% of the children were stressed to some extent because of meeting deadlines, out of which 44.49% were ‘moderately stressed’ and 26.20%, were ‘extremely stressed.’
It was interesting to see that majority of the students (45.31%) were ‘not stressed’ about homework. In fact, those who were ‘not stressed’ about homework scored low on the ‘Perceived Stress Scale’.
Out of the 60% of students who took tuitions after school, even though most of the students reported being ‘not stressed’ because of tuitions.
5.18% of students ranked high on the PSS, and 87.05% had overall moderate stress. This is concerning since tuitions are meant to reduce the overburden from school, but it seems to be doing just the opposite.
It was interesting to see that 46.61% of the students defined their relationship with their teacher as ‘friendship,’ and only 2.69% described it as ‘distant.’ However, children who had a ‘distant’ relationship with their teacher scored higher on the perceived stress scale. In contrast, children who had a ‘friendship’ kind of relationship with their teacher scored the lowest.
58.78% of the students care ‘a lot’ about getting good grades, out of which, 85.73% had moderate perceived stress, and 5.28% had high-perceived stress, implying that those who cared a lot about getting good grades ranked higher on the PSS. That only 5.28% had high-perceived stress indicates that while it’s a stressor, it’s not likely to cause high stress.
It’s fair to assume that workload and the pressure of doing well increases in senior school, the ‘most crucial years’ in one’s schooling when you take national level examinations that determine your college future. Considering that, it wasn’t surprising that all in all, 4.89% of the students have high-perceived stress, 85.17% have moderate stress, and 7.99% have low stress. Moreover, children between the age group of 16-18+ ranked higher on the PSS as compared to the children below the age of 16, as did students between classes 6-12.
Not only do we need more extensive studies to understand academic stress and what causes it, but we need a lot more research on how it affects teenagers and potential solutions.