Exam fever grips students with stress and anxiety

Yatamanyu Narain

Chennai: “I am tensed and excited. There is so much riding on me that I don’t know how to cope with all of it at once,” says Pradeep Somanathan, a student of St Patrick’s School, Adyar.

The 15-year-old is appearing for his Class X ICSE board exams, which commenced on Thursday.

“I certainly want to score great marks and I have done nothing except studying really hard from the past three-four months. I hope my hard work reaps good results,” he says.

Pradeep is not the only one who is experiencing exam blues. Siva Bagadur from the same school is a class XII science student who is under a lot of pressure from his family and peers.

“I want to pursue engineering after this from a reputed college. My parents expect me to score above 90%. My physics practical didn’t go well as planned so I am already tensed about the theoretical paper, ” he said.

While the Class X ICSE and CBSE exams began today, the Class XII for the same streams began last month. The state board exams are yet to commence.

Because of the competitiveness to score the best percentile, students often neglect their mental and physical health. The exam fever grips everyone with myriad of personal issues.

Apart from academic pressure and family expectations, there are other leading causes of stress among students that stems from substance abuse, inability to cope with stress, depression, social isolation. When ignored, it can induce suicidal thoughts in them.

Untill last year, Tamil Nadu stood second in students suicide rate. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)report, the student suicide rate have rocketed from 2014 to 2016, with at least two suicides per day. The figures show that while there were 8,068 suicides in 2014, it increased significantly to 8,934 in 2015 and then eventually 9,474 in 2016.

“We try our best to counsel parents about the pitfalls of overburdening their wards with expectations. Most of them listen but some still do it regardless. Because of this, we  advise our students time and again to reach out to the teachers if they find themselves struggling with personal issues, ” said Rev. Bro Edward Sebastian, headmaster of St Patrick’s school.

The story is almost same across all schools in Chennai. Mukul Kishore, a Class XII student of Holy Angels school is terrified with anxiety.

“It is taking a toll on me. I cannot sleep without worrying about my next paper. I want to relax but I don’t want to lag behind at the same time, ” he said.

Another class XII student, Selvi Mathew is scared about the consequences if she doesn’t score apt marks that can get her to her dream college.

“I want to go to St Stephen’s so I am not aiming for anything less than 99.8%. Even though I have prepared everything, I feel like I know nothing. If I don’t get St Stephen’s, I don’t know what I’ll do, ” she said.

Talking about the issue of exam stress, Anandi Mandiram, psychologist blamed parents and schools equally for not understanding the needs of the children.

“The bond between children and parents should be that of a friendship. Both of them should be able to communicate and talk about their problems and needs. If the parents are overburdening, the children should be able to tell them that they cannot handle stress. Lack of communication leads to isolation and overburdening makes them vulnerable and fragile, ” she said.

She pointed out that unlike western countries, majority of schools across India doesn’t have a proper counseling system in place.

“If there is something to learn from countries like America or England, then we should establish a counseling system in every school. If the students are hesitant to approach or talk to their parents, then they can simply go to the counselor without any inhibition and fear. The main motive being that children suffering from stress and burden should have someone to talk too. They shouldn’t feel like they are fighting some battle alone, ” she added.

Echoing similar views Isaac Innes, senior teacher at St. Thomas Convent, said that parents and teachers were intimidating figures and it was  absolutely normal if children feel scared or hesitant to voice out their feelings in front of them.

“ In such a scenario, if there is someone who is a counselor and who is seen as an easily approachable friend, then maybe this can resolve the problem. If schools can have physical trainers to ensure physical fitness, then why can’t be have counselors to ensure mental and emotional fitness?, ” he said.

The toll-free helpline 14417 set up especially for students have received more than 15,000 calls from the past two months. Even though it caters to students seeking guidance and help with examination syllabus and queries, it also looks into calls where individuals complain about stress.