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Is The Pressure Of Competitive Exams Ruining An Entire Generation?

Stress is a serious problem that is bothering the present-day world. The World Health Organization defined mental health as the state of well being when one could cope with the stress and realize their potential in order to work fruitfully[1]. Due to liberalization and the entry of the global market, the education sector in India has become service-oriented in the hands of private players[2]. This has resulted in an increased competition which takes a toll on the mental health of the students.

Rationale Behind It

In recent years, there has been an increased number of instances of suicide and depression among Indian students. The competition to secure a seat in a reputed educational institution and the decrease inadequate number of jobs has often been described as a possible cause of this.[3] The pressure put upon the students by their families and educational institutes is another reason with causes physiological stress.

This article attempts to examine the problem and identify the causes which are adversely affecting our students and propose possible solutions.

Representational image.

The Method Of Proposing Solutions

The project has been done by consulting relevant secondary sources. Three research papers published in various journals and one working paper of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were referred to which contained analysis about the topic. Also, newspaper reports and blog posts were consulted to understand the problems affecting the students. Data from the Government of India and newspapers were used to find out the number of students appearing in various competitive exams and the number of seats available in educational institutes.

The Objective Of The Project

The main objective of this project is to discuss, identify and present how the pressure of competitive exams and parental pressure affect the present-day students. This project has tried to identify the underlying questions related to this problem and find answers to them. The major questions are:

  1. Why do Indian parents consider certain careers better than others?
  2. How does the increasing number of candidates in competitive exams contribute to the increased pressure on students?
  3. How does the educational system pressurise the students?
  4. How are the students affected by academic and parental pressure?

Discussion And Analysis

A. In Indian society, some professions like civil services, medicine and engineering are regarded to be status symbols and are widely respected. It is widely believed that these professions are associated with a better lifestyle and higher income. The majority of Indian parents have a false notion that some jobs are associated with stability while other non-conventional jobs are not long-lasting[4].

In Indian society, getting admitted to an elite institute is considered to be one of the main proves of one’s worth[5]. Also, there is a lack of awareness about the career options available before the students.

There is a historical background to the bias of Indian society towards certain professions. For example, engineering is a coveted profession in India. At the time of independence, there was a shortage of educated professionals. During this time, the Britishers were slowly being replaced by Indians, and the government emphasized building a new nation with a scientific temper. During this time, professionals like engineers were looked up to as nation builders. The tradition of respecting engineering has still persisted[6].

Parents and family members pressurize the students to pursue the fields they think to be rewarding out of concern for the student’s welfare. As a result of the population outburst, India has a serious unemployment problem. So, the parents desire their children to study those subjects they feel would help them secure future. Parents often also try to fulfill their own unfulfilled wishes through their children[7].

As a result of this bias, students are often encouraged by their family members to take up certain professions from their childhood. The advice given by the family members plays a key role in shaping the decisions taken by the students.

A girl studying under a tree for exams.
Representational image.

B) India is the world’s second-most populous country with a relatively young population. Thus, as a result of the increase in population, the number of students appearing in the competitive exams are gradually increasing. But the number of seats is not increasing at the same rate.

For example, 19,500 students took the first all India engineering entrance exam held in 1961. The number went up to 299,807 in 2006.[8] In 2020 11,18,673 students took the exam.[9] Though new colleges have been established, they have proved to be insufficient to meet with the growing number of students. Also, the number of seats in elite institutes like the IITs have not increased accordingly[10].

The situation is similar in other fields also. National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (Undergraduate) or NEET was first held in 2013 for admission in the field of medicine. In 2016 under the orders issued by the Honorable Supreme Court of India, NEET became the only medical entrance exam in India.[11] In 2013, 717127 people registered for the exam[12]. In 2020, the number has nearly doubled up to 1597435[13].

With the increase in the number of students, the standard of the exams is also increasing in order to screen out unworthy students. In order to select eligible candidates from a large number of aspirants, the questions become tougher with time. It is not possible to evaluate subjective answers by such a large number of students because of logistical problems. So, problem-based objective questions is given.  In order to acquire the requisite skills to solve such problems. This becomes unfair to students who cannot afford such coaching. Students cannot display their conceptual knowledge or talent in such exams as they are more dependent on rote learning abilities[14].

A person reads a book open on a table
Representational image.

C) Traditionally, schools prepare the students for their academic and professional lives and contribute to their all-round character development. But as the competition increased in various entrance exams and the standard of questions is becoming higher. The curriculum taught in schools has proved to be insufficient in aiding the students in developing problem-solving skills. In this situation, several exam-oriented specialized coaching centres emerged which try to impart specialized knowledge to the students[15].

The coaching centres have their own innovative teaching techniques. The coaching centres provide the students with study materials which consist of different types of problems which have appeared in past examinations. They try to ensure that the students get to solve a sufficient number of problems each time[16].

Indian parents are preferring to give more importance to coaching institutes than traditional schools.  In order to focus more on the work done in the coaching institutes, students get enrolled in “dummy schools” which allow them to sit for their board exams without attending classes[17]. This enables the students to focus singularly on the competitive exams.[18] As the business of dummy schools is illegal there is no statistical data regarding how many students attend them[19].

According to Professor Dhiraj Sanghi of Punjab Engineering College, in traditional schools, students acquire social skills and learn to work with others. But in this set up the students miss out on important social skills which affect them in their later life[20].

Also, the competitive atmosphere of these coaching institutes also results in the students feeling stressed. The students often have to deal with the pressure of both board and competitive exams. The coaching institutes they study in do not provide much support for board exam preparation. Students who are not efficient in academics have trouble in coping with this. They are looked down upon by their peers and develop an inferiority complex. This will be discussed in detail in the next segment of the project.

Representational image.

D) The coaching centres for college entrance exams have sprung up in all corners of India. Indian parents believe that their children will have a better chance of succeeding if they attend these institutes. Often the high tuition fees of these institutes are not affordable for the economically lower middle class and lower-class students. They have to take loans and arrange the amount from other sources[21]. But the coaching institutes do not generally do not have any refund or exit policy.

So, the parents pressurise students to carry on studying in these institutes. Students who cannot cope with the academic burden often develop a feeling of guilt and think they are letting their parents down[22].

Also, the atmosphere of these educational institutes is highly competitive. The top-performing students are given special attention. Average and below-average performing students are often ignored. As a result, these students tend to develop an inferiority complex. They have a persistent feeling of low self-worth[23]. Also, their adrenaline level remains higher than normal. This also affects their academic work. They experience trauma and emotional breakdown that requires medical attention.[24]

In a study based on Kolkata published in the International Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, 63.5% of the students surveyed experienced academic stress and 66% of those students found parental pressure to be a cause responsible for stress[25]. It was also shown from the data that parents with lower educational levels tend to pressurize their children more.

Conclusion

In light of the points highlighted above, it can be said that academic pressure is a serious problem affecting Indian students.

As with time the exam patterns are changing and the number of applicants is increasing, it is becoming tougher to secure a seat in a good college. As a result, to take an advantage of the situation specialized coaching institutes are being built. Some students who have problems in adjusting to these institutes are facing a multitude of problems. As a precautionary measure, it should be made compulsory for these institutes to have an in-house psychologist to help out the students.

References:

[1] C. Subramani, Dr. S. Kadhiravan, Academic Stress, Parental Pressure, Anxiety and Mental Health among Indian High School Students, 7(5) Indian Journal Of Applied Research (2017)404,404.

[2] Subramani, supra note 1, 404

[3] Dr. Zeetha M Sangma, Dr. Shantibala K, Prof. Brogen Singh Akoijam, Dr. Annie B Maisnam, Dr. Vizovonuo Visi, Dr. Vanlalduhsaki, Perception of Students on Parental And Teachers’ Pressure on Their Academic Performance, 17(1) IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences (IOSR-JDMS) (2018) 68,72.

[4] Edsense, India’s Obsession with a Limited Set of Professions, and Why it’s Dangerous, September 19, 2019, Available at https://blog.edsense.in/indias-obsession-with-a-limited-set-of-professions-and-why-its-dangerous/(Last Visited 2nd February 2021).

[5] Akhilesh Singh, Why is Kota so Killing?, TIMES OF INDIA, January 3, 2016.

[6] Aparajith Ramnath, The Historical Roots of Our Engineering Obsession, THE HINDU, September 15, 2016.

[7] Sibnath Deb, Esben Strodl, Jiandong Sun, Academic Stress, Parental Pressure, Anxiety and Mental Health among Indian High School Students, 5(1) International Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences 26(2018), 31.

[8]Shreeharsh Kelkar, The Elite’s Last Stand: Negotiating Toughness and Fairness in the IIT-JEE, 1990-2005, Program in History, Anthropology and Science, Technology and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Available at http://web.mit.edu/skelkar/www/shreeharsh-kelkar_files/Kelkar-IIT_JEE.pdf(Last Visited 2nd February 2021), 13.

[9] India Today, JEE Main 2020 begins today, over 11 lakh candidates to appear: Check detail, January 6, 2020, Available at https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/notification/story/jee-main-2020-begins-today-over-11-lakh-candidates-to-appear-check-details-1634299-2020-01-06#:~:text=As%20per%20the%20data%20released,the%20JEE%20Main%20exam%202020.(Last Visited 2nd February 2021).

[10]Kelkar, supra note 6,8.

[11] Govind Kumar, SC opens NEET 2016 phase 2 for all; scraps state-level medical entrance exams, January 2, 2017, Available at https://medicine.careers360.com/news/sc-opens-neet-2016-phase-2-for-all-question-paper-be-in-regional-languages-also-173382(Last Visited 2nd February 2021).

[12] Adarsha St, CBSE NEET UG 2013 results announced, 3 lakh Students qualified, June 5, 2013, Available at https://www.careerindia.com/news/2013/06/05/cbse-neet-ug-2013-results-announced-005271.html(Last Visited 2nd February 2021).

[13] Sonali Jolly, NEET 2020 Statistics by NTA, October 19, 2020, Available at https://www.shiksha.com/medicine-health-sciences/articles/neet-2020-statistics-by-nta-blogId-48705(Last Visited 2nd February 2021).

[14] Kelkar, supra note 6 at 16,17.

[15] Anannya Shandilya, The dummy education system – Has the nation accepted the redundant institutes?, November 22, 2019, Available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-thought-coaster/the-dummy-education-system-has-the-nation-accepted-the-redundant-institutes/(Last Visited 2nd February 2021).

[16] Kelkar, supra note 6,41.

[17] Anannya Shandilya, The dummy education system – Has the nation accepted the redundant institutes?, November 22, 2019, Available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-thought-coaster/the-dummy-education-system-has-the-nation-accepted-the-redundant-institutes/(Last Visited 2nd February 2021).

[18] Sumi Sukayana Dutta, Only 3 per cent IIT hopefuls don’t take coaching, THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS, March 3, 2018.

[19] Anannya Shandilya, The dummy education system – Has the nation accepted the redundant institutes?, November 22, 2019, Available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-thought-coaster/the-dummy-education-system-has-the-nation-accepted-the-redundant-institutes/(Last Visited 2nd February 2021).

[20] Sumi Sukayana Dutta, Only 3 per cent IIT hopefuls don’t take coaching, THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS, March 3, 2018.

[21] Anurag Mehra, Clear Kota, Get Into IIT – And Then It Can All Go Terribly Wrong, December 31, 2018, Available at https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/clear-kota-get-into-iit-and-then-it-can-all-go-terribly-wrong-1968831(Last Visited 2nd February 2021).

[22] Ankita Dwivedi Johiri, Kota coaching factory – Panic calls: 14-hr days, morning nightmares, THE INDIAN EXPRESS, November 26, 2015.

[23] Ankita Dwivedi Johiri, Kota coaching factory – Panic calls: 14-hr days, morning nightmares, THE INDIAN EXPRESS, November 26, 2015.

[24] Anurag Mehra, Clear Kota, Get Into IIT – And Then It Can All Go Terribly Wrong, December 31, 2018, Available at https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/clear-kota-get-into-iit-and-then-it-can-all-go-terribly-wrong-1968831(Last Visited 2nd February 2021).

[25]Deb, supra note 5,31.

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