When exam pressure boils over Feb 21, 2016 - Arun Venkatraman - Asian Age

With board exams around the corner and expectations flying high, parents, teachers, counsellors and students tell us how to beat exam stress — a problem that pushes students to bitter extremes every year.
It's a time of immense anxiety for thousands of students who are preparing to face their board exams that kick off next week. This is a time when students hear the word “future” a little too often from their parents, teachers, neighbours and even long lost relatives who spare no effort to drill the severity of what is about to happen in the weeks to come.
Every year we hear of countless incidents of exam pressure pushing students to bitter extremes, we have seen figures as alarming as one young life lost every day in Mumbai alone. Not many parents see the need for recreational activities during the exam season — the idea itself might sound blasphemous to many. And as a result of that their wards are on the receiving end of an enormous amount of pressure that often gets the better of them.
In the recent years, some schools and NGOs have begun to address the problem with the seriousness it deserves. They have taken steps to help students alleviate exam stress with regular counselling sessions and individual care too in certain cases. However, according to records, approximately 2,600 students in the country committed suicide in 2014, after they failed in their boards. And in Maharashtra, with Mumbai recording the most number of suicides, the question remains as to what more needs to be done. We find out from counsellors, teachers, parents and most importantly, the students themselves.
Parents and teachers need counselling more than students 
More than their own problems, most students feel the most burdened by the hopes and expectations of their parents and teachers, says Paras Sharma of ICall, a helpline dedicated to helping students. “There have been so many cases where students who have performed reasonably well have taken to extreme measures such as running away or taking their lives. This is because while they were satisfied with their results, they were still unable to match their parents’ expectations.” The only way to address this problem, says Paras, is to include teachers and parents in the counselling process. “I think parents need counselling more than the students. A lot of parents have approached me on my help-line, but their tone is not always that of concern — it’s a complaining tone. Often, the students don’t have the agency to tell their parents about the issues they are facing. So we end up working with the parents more. Last year we had a case where a girl had run away from home despite scoring well because her parents weren’t happy with her score. They kept shouting at her and threatening to stop her studies and get her married. So more than ensuring her return home, we had to ensure that she came back to a safe space that is conducive to her development.”

More than one way to go
Competition is the primary factor that results in exam pressure, points out Shobhana Vasudevan, principal of Podar Junior College. But competition, says Shobhana, arises because too many students are forced to go for the same options. “While emotional counselling is important, what is equally important, especially for students who are about to enter college, is career counselling. Their options are restricted to just one or two, because that’s what their parents want them to do. But in today’s times, there are so many newer opportunities, which parents are often not aware of. In our institution, our programmes focus on exposing students to all kinds of options. For example, we have sessions on fields ranging from fashion designing to RJ and journalism. If the approach isn’t myopic, then they won’t feel that exams come with a finality.”

While few schools are challenging convention by including career education in their curriculum, some others are going so far as to start training students for a career path that they have not even chosen yet. For example, Ayesha (name changed), a 12th standard student says, “It is almost as if our choice is being made for us. Almost one-third of the students in my batch are of the idea that since they have chosen commerce, the only two options available to them are CA and B.Com/MBA. Nobody has spoken to us about what we have planned for our careers. I and most of my friends are still clueless about what we want to do after our exams. But there are teachers who are already teaching us what we need to learn for our CA exams.”
How to fight stress
The most important thing of all, says psychiatrist and psychological counsellor Dr Pradnya Ajinkya, is for students to take time off for themselves. “As they chase marks, students are ending up losing their childhood. For more than two-three years in the run up to examinations they give up recreational reading, outdoor sports and everything that signifies childhood. There are simple steps to alleviate stress. Students should take at least an hour or two everyday to engage in reading, playing some sport or even just chatting with friends. In terms of exam preparation, an absence of schedule leads to maximum stress. Students end up cramming too much in the last few days. Instead, they should read a fixed number of pages or chapters everyday, thereby leaving ample time for other activities. But even something like that should not be taken to an extreme. In one of my cases, the parents kept a blackboard at home where the child had to enter everything he had done through the day. This put tremendous pressure on the kid,” says Dr Ajinkya.

V. Natraj, a parent whose ward is appearing for the 12th board exams this year explains how he helps his child cope with stress. “The most important thing is to talk to them on a regular basis. Children these days are smart enough to figure out the best ways to prepare for their exams. So while a parent should be engaging, they should not be intrusive. An important problem is that parents are always so happy to see their kids studying that they forget to emphasise on the importance of rest, sleep and a healthy lifestyle in general. Even all the preparation in the world cannot help a child during exams, if he is sleep-deprived or sick.”

Source : Asian Age