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Performance Pressure & Mental Disorders: Students Share Why Exam Stress is a Real Issue

© AP Photo / Saurabh DasIn this Aug. 5, 2010 photograph, students attend a class at a cram school in Kota, India
In this Aug. 5, 2010 photograph, students attend a class at a cram school in Kota, India - Sputnik India, 1920, 26.01.2023
'Pariksha Pe Charcha' is an annual event, during which Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with school students on the theme of dealing with exam-related stress.
Sputnik spoke with students in New Delhi to learn how they cope with pre-exam jitters and if government efforts have been sussessful in fostering a stress-free and friendly atmosphere for teens who are going through one of the most crucial periods in their life.

"Most of the singers and poets adore teenagers, especially age sixteen. Had they enrolled in Indian schools, they would have never epitomized it," said 16-year-old Manish Sachdeva, who is preparing for his board's examination.

Sachdeva is among millions of students who are due to take the national board exams soon.

Every Year, Boards Mean New Anxieties, Pressure & Even Depression

According to India's schooling system, a student takes annual exams — popularly known as 'boards' — in grade 10 (generally aged 15-16), and then again in grade 12 (at age 17-18).
Boards are crucial for Indian students who want to secure admission to some of the country's most prestigious universities. In every household, board exams usually mean stress, extra cramming and external pressure on the student to perform better.
A National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) survey released in September 2022 stated, "About 80 percent of students in grades 9-12 suffer from anxiety due to exams and results."
Sharing her exam-linked anxiety, Deepshikha Gupta from Ghaziabad city's DPS School, said: "It becomes like a metaphoric guest in the house who won't leave. The slow-burning anxiety and the panic-inducing atmosphere become your best friend. Frequent burnouts and mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, become the norm."
Although Gupta secured more than 90 percent in the grade 10 board, later in 2021, she was diagnosed with depression.

"It is due to pressure-related studies or other reasons, we don't know yet. But we can't deny that parents, schools, relatives — everyone, directly and indirectly, pressurize students to perform well," Gupta's teacher said.

Gupta's teachers, requesting anonymity, said: "Her teachers and parents are aware of her condition and are trying to ensure that studies do not bother her. But can she run away from weekly exams, tuition tests and everything?"
"Whoever will come to know that she's in grade 12 will ask her about her studies and preparation for board exams. Societies are trained that way," Gupta's teacher said, sharing her view.

Performance Pressure is Too Much, Students Say

Archana Sharma, a rehabilitation psychologist, spoke with Sputnik about how exams affect sudents' mental heath, sharing that "there is too much performance pressure on the students. We've school-level competitions, intra-school competitions, and others."
"And, to compete with other schools, schools put an extra burden on their students, ignoring their capabilities and domains of excellence. That's not just about academics, but in sport and art and other domains too," she stated.
Sharma said that this pressure is not limited to school but at home too, parents constantly pressure children to perform at their peak.

"Often parents ignore the actual capabilities of their children and overburden them with their illogical expectations. Sometimes, parents want children to fulfil their own dreams," she stated.

The psychologist also stressed that children's grades and board exam results have become a status marker for parents and society and that they don't even realize their children are stressed and anxious.
Consequently, it also leads to "suicidal tendency among students", Sharma added.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2020 data, 11,396 children died by suicide; on average 31 children died by suicide every day.

How Does Indian Gov't Deal With the Issue?

Over the years, when experts started talking about exam pressure and how it impacts mental health openly, the government tried to introduce many way outs for students, including altering the grading system so that students don't measure their self-worth in 0.1 percent gradients.
But the grading system got absolved.
Meanwhile, to deal with the stress-related issue — Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018 started an annual program where he would interact with students and teachers to discuss the importance of examinations and how to deal with exam-related stress.
The event is aimed at addressing the concerns of students and parents regarding exams, encouraging them to adopt a holistic approach to learning.
This year, on January 27, Prime Minister Modi will be engaging in conversations with educators, parents, and children will participate in the yearly "Pariksha Pe Charcha" (Discussion on Exam) at New Delhi's Talkatora stadium, this will be the sixth time the event has taken place.
As per the Ministry of Education, in 2022, about 3.9 million participants (3.1 million students, half a million teachers, and 195,000 parents) have registered to attend the programs, with more than 150 countries signed up for the program.
Of them, 2,050 participants will be chosen through contests on MyGov and receive PPC kits.

Is Pariksha Pe Charcha of Any Help?

According to Shikha Sood, a teacher from Delhi's Kendriya Vidyalaya, it is difficult to say that the prime minister's interaction with students directly affects them. "Still, I guess it creates a long-term effect."

"Children may not understand what the prime minister's message is. But it is parents and teachers, and overall society needs to understand it," Sood said. "It's okay to be mediocre, and parents need to understand that life is not about securing good grades."

Another teacher from Jharkhand state's Ranchi, Meghana Veronica, appreciated the Prime Minister's efforts, saying that now at least a message has spread that exam pressure makes students anxious.
Without disclosing the name of her school, she said: "Since last year, their schools have introduced a class, every week, with a psychologist where children discuss topics which make them anxious, however, mostly, it is examination-related fear."
"Examinations are one of the most important phases of everyone's life. However, securing marks should not be the only goal, and when the country leader says it — people hear him and try to understand," Veronica added.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) announced the launch of 24×7 counselling facilities for grades 10 and 12.
The CBSE will be counselling students via interactive voice response (IVRS), tele-counselling, podcasts, etc.