Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dead in the teens : The trauma of India's Students

One of my friends whose whereabouts are usually not traceable, because he is involved in hectic travel has grounded himself for the next month or so. He has stationed himself at home ; well not exactly at home, but like a tame pet, he goes off to the office in the morning and is safely back to home base by evening. after hearing that piece of news, I haven been given similar instructions on the home front and my wife herself has taken leave a month’s leave and has parked herself at home. In both our families, a child is going through that iconic rite of passage – the board exam….. An event talked about in awe and hushed whispers.


I do not know the number of students who sit for the Board examinations in India every year, with practically each state having its own board of secondary education apart from the grand daddy of them all, the Central Board of Secondary Education. But whatever be the number, the ides of March bring with them the news of the examination season and the country it would seem defers to the phenomenon. elections if due, are scheduled and rescheduled to ensure that the examination schedule is not trifled with ; the election commission , typically a law unto itself , defers to the board examinations – elections will never be scheduled in a way that they interfere with the examination time table.

But stress for exam going students and increasingly their families is becoming a major issue in the last decade and it is a matter of concern that young people are being exposed to stress at such an early stage of their lives when their coping mechanism is so weak. Eexamination stress pushes students to various kinds of perversions, not only affecting concentration and memory but also forcing them to adopt abnormal behavior. Stressed out children are increasingly consuming tobacco, drinking tea, coffee and taking commonly-available amphetamine drugs such as cough syrups to keep up while preparing for exams.

And then there are those who simply can’t cope and end their lives. According to government reports, over 5000 students committed suicide in 2006. The unofficial figures are even higher. It seems stress is pushing our students to the brink; many of them just in class six. Boys are more vulnerable to committing suicide than girls, because adolescent girls seek support from family and friends to deal with emotional stress during examination. But as boys are less expressive, they tend to suppress their feelings of inadequacy and fear of poor performance. This often drives them to suicide to end their frustration

What’s pushing today’s Indian students - a bright generation with a global reputation for their high intelligence quotient - to the brink? Parental and peer pressure, rising ambitions and fierce competition are brewing a deadly cocktail for these young minds. Moreover, a nation racing towards affluence, an economy on a remarkable upward growth trajectory and skyrocketing salaries are putting unprecedented pressure on youth to succeed.

Although some note has been taken of the phenomenon, the changes are till date largely cosmetic. helplines set up by the central board of secondary education and other NGOs that function in these months of the year certainly serve a useful purpose, educational reforms that will evaluate performance and learning by means other than examinations alone or an over haul of the syllabi have been slow in coming. The reform of India’s Macaulayan system of education based on rote learning and memorisation requires urgent attention.

Besides, though the UPA government has imposed a 2 percent cess on all Central taxes, decades of under-investment in education has created shocking shortages of buildings, laboratories, libraries, even drinking water and sanitation facilities in the nation’s dilapidated education sector. A national consensus has to be built on the premise that higher education outlays are vitally important investments in the nation’s future and that this outlay is needed to be accompanied by revamp of the educational system so that young lives are not snuffed out under the burden of school syllabi and examinations, which currently passes for education in India

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