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Posted at: Mar 19, 2018, 12:19 AM; last updated: Mar 19, 2018, 12:19 AM (IST)EXAMINATION PHOBIA

Score over stress

The board exam is dreaded by students and parents alike because of the marks-oriented education system in India. Until policymakers decide to amend the system, Vidhu Mohan suggests ways to deal with the stress that it causes
The board exam is dreaded by students and parents alike because of the marks-oriented education system in India. Until policymakers decide to amend the system, Vidhu Mohan suggests ways to deal with the stress that it causes

April is the cruellest month", wrote T.S. Eliot to begin his epic The Wasteland. But in India if you are student or parent of a student then it is month of March which is the cruellest and the most dreaded month of the year because of the "Big Board exams". As trepidation over performance reaches its crescendo, everyone right from the Prime Minister to teachers and counsellors can be found talking about the ways to deal with examination stress. 

Genesis

What is the genesis of examination stress? There is no denying the fact that the competition has increased multi-fold now compared to that in the past. A lot has been and is still being said about reforms in the Indian education system. Over the years governments have tried to implement policy changes to make it better and less stressful for students. However, in spite of everything said and done, we seem to be following an education system where performance of a student is judged on the basis of the marks scored by her.

Today, if a child doesn't score well, there are chances that he or she will be denied admission in a good institution, which in turn will dim the chances of securing a lucrative job or career, making the child a laggard as per the established social paradigm. 

But all of this does not justify parents becoming paranoid. There is not much correlation between a child's marks in school and his achievements in adult life. However, the over emphasis on obtaining high scores may lead to a variety of problems like stress, anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies in children. 

Blueprint to prevent pressure

Three main points to be dwelt upon are: ensuring a learning environment at home from the very beginning and being good role models for children; making effective use of positive and negative reinforcement; and teaching self-regulated learning strategies to children. If we give these points a serious thought, then much of the stress related to examinations and academic performance at large would be prevented automatically.

What needs to be inculcated in children is not a hunger for more marks but a desire to learn. Children today lack the enthusiasm to learn and go to school and consider academics as a duty they have to perform whether they like it or not. The desire to learn is being throttled by a system whose main focus is on the marks scored. According to psychologist Albert Bandura's social learning theory, children imitate the behaviour of role models, encode it and imitate it. It is, therefore, required from parents to introspect and find whether they are proving to be the right role models for our children or not. 

Building interest is the key

Learning should be an interesting and pleasing activity for children. When we like something we can get lost in it for hours without even realising. Difficult concepts of dreadful subjects like maths and science could be made interesting by linking them with stories. We need to make learning a fun-based activity by actively participating in the child's learning process and drawing examples from the nature etc. 

Providing a home environment where learning is a part of everyday routine is very essential. Making children learn through memorising long answers by cramming or rote method is not going to enhance their knowledge or intelligence. However, the same long answer is learnt quickly when a child is made to understand it in an appealing way. But for this to take place, effective modelling has to come from parents. When children see their parents taking interest in their activities, they become inquisitive and crave for knowledge. They also want to follow their footsteps. In fact, this holds true for academic as well as non-academic aspects of life.

Positive reinforcement

Reinforcement, a very important concept of operant conditioning, can go a long way in dealing with issues pertaining to children. Reinforcement refers to anything that increases the likelihood that a response will occur. It strengthens the response. Positive reinforcement involves praising a child on exhibiting a desirable and expected behaviour. This can be very motivating. Besides praising, token rewards, extra playtime, candy etc are also included under positive reinforcement. Along with positive reinforcement, certain behavioural patterns also call for using negative reinforcement. It involves removing something in order to elicit the desired response. When we remove something that a child desires, the likelihood of his or her doing the expected behaviour is enhanced. Reinforcement is very effective in increasing the likelihood of positive behaviour and decreasing the likelihood of negative behaviour.

Productive associations

As for the parents, spending quality time with children is essential. I have seen what a keen listener my 10-year-old becomes when my husband is explaining him something from the newspaper in the morning. He has this skill of linking a news item to the concepts that a child understands. Reading course and non-course books should be a regular activity to avoid panic attacks before unit tests, half-early and final exams. According to psychologist Pintrich, children should be trained in self-regulated learning strategies. He asserts that children should be helped to actively and constructively monitor and regulate their own motivation, cognition and behaviour towards the successful completion of their academic tasks. This means enabling children to direct their own learning through strategies like goal-setting, notes-taking, self-directing, self-controlling and self-monitoring academic activities. This has a significant effect on motivation and achievement.

Sidestep the comparison pitfall

Parents sometimes, out of disappointment and frustration at their child's low grades, start comparing him or her with other children; this has to be avoided in all circumstances. Every child has a unique identity. This uniqueness has to be respected otherwise this may hamper a child's self-esteem. One very simple rule that can work every time is practising what you preach. No amount of preaching can do anything what a simple demonstration can do. For example, everyone says reading habits must be inculcated in children. However, you cannot do so until you yourself follow this. Most of the times, we preach something and practise just the opposite. 

Suggestions

A lot has to be done at the level of classroom teaching and at the education system level also. Teaching and learning should be activity based. Inputs from experts are required for bringing reforms in examination/evaluation system. The focus should be on enhancing knowledge and encouraging children to think. We can hope that policy makers would take notice but as parents it's our duty to do our bit.

— Dr Mohan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Punjabi University, Patiala

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