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Home Cover Features Exams - Boon or Bane?

Exams - Boon or Bane?

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Examinations! It’s a constant thought on the young impressionable minds of children, more so now with stiff competition from all quarters. A thought that weighs so heavy on the minds of some, that all else is lost; sometimes even life! For not fault of theirs! Is it peer pressure or parental pressure or pressure at school to always perform well?! A thought that has been moulded right from their childhood with this on their head - ‘Perform or Perish’. That is, perform well in all kinds of exams, throughout the year with no respite for the young school-going children.

The present system of higher education does not serve the purpose for which it has been started. In general, education itself to some extent, has become so business like, that quality is getting lost in the increase of quantity of institutions. 

It is a case of the Indian Education System’s use of 'teaching methodology' as against the western style of 'learning methodology'. Under teaching methodology the emphasis is on the teacher completing the given syllabus. The learning methodology is less of teaching and more of learning - self study, group studies, assignments, case studies etc.
Education should inspire one to become something one really wants to; it should make you free, make you experiment, make you ask questions. Education should be for the flowering of personality but not for the suppression of creativity or natural skill. Ultimately, it should make you realize what you are.

Come March and it is that time of the year when the Exam fever is on. We spoke to a select audience who are involved with exams, in one way or another, to know their viewpoint.

Yogendra K Gurwara, Director, Sherwood Public School, Secunderabad & Heritage Valley - The Indian School, Shadnagar
Every child is born with confidence, free of any type of fear. God does not send any human being to this earth with fear or stress. Rather, he sends them with courage and confidence to explore this world. A child develops fear from adults, knowingly or unknowingly.

It is not the competition that brings stress. The way the word ‘competition’ is used with innocent children brings stress and fear in their minds. I can classify competition as Unhealthy Competition and Healthy Competition. Unhealthy Competition leads to stress and creates fear in the mind of children; that is ‘I’ versus ‘You’ with negative thoughts (jealousy or ill feelings). Healthy Competition means ‘I’ versus ‘I’ with confidence or even in the case of ‘I’ versus ‘You’, it is with positive thoughts; to learn from others.

This habit of taking examination with confidence is to be developed from childhood. Tests, examinations, competitions are part of the curriculum for a purpose. The purpose is the growth of the individual. Tests and examinations are two different aspects. Tests are given to diagnose the areas of difficulties faced by the child in different subjects and activities and then to suggest remedial steps through individual attention. Examination is the end product. The main job of the school and the parents is to give confidence to children that the tests and examinations are given to help them and not to find fault or humiliate them.

We, the adults, forget that the child lives for today and not for tomorrow. Let him take care of today first, let him develop the habit of facing the challenges of today first, the future challenges will be faced at ease.

We at our school use the following sentences to give confidence to children, to help them to take care of the present; a bright future will follow automatically.
- No Problems, Only Challenges: The word ‘problem’ gives fear. The word ‘challenge’ gives confidence.
- Let children be what they are and not what we want them to be.
To all the children in the country who are taking internal or board examination - please remember the following fact; God is giving you an opportunity to take this examination to introspect yourself. Take this examination with positive thoughts and confidence. Life is not over after taking this examination but the real life starts after you take this examination with confidence.

Kumar Agarwal, Director, DRS International School
What’s your view on exams and stress (if any) that is associated with?
Exam is an assessment of the student’s understanding. It not only helps the teacher but also the students to self evaluate. Pressure is always created due to expectations of teachers, parents, educational institutions and peers. The pressure is more hyped then it actually is.

How do you think competition has changed over the years, for students?
Competition first is competing with self; that is bettering our previous best. But sadly now students not only compete with other students but their teachers, school and parents also have joined the competition. 

Is exam stress something that students’ have to deal with, all the time?
Well, if exam is conducted to assess the understanding of the student and his skill there would be no stress at all. When we break our learning modules, why not tests!! Do we learn A to Z on the same day? Unless the teacher and child are sure that ABC is understood how can they move forward to DEF? It always has to be an ongoing assessment and the purpose has to be clear.

Has the concept of healthy competition changed nowadays?
Competition will always remain and will keep changing with times. It is always healthy if you play it by rules.

Do you think parents’ are pressuring their children to perform well?
Though parents today are a lot more aware the pressure that the society puts in makes many parents give in. It is embarrassing for many parents when questions about their child’s academic performance are asked. Everyone wants their child to be called a genius and hence comparison. The school should play a major role in educating the parents on the child’s individuality and pros and cons of comparison.

Is the current system too much of an education influx at once?
It can never be too much if the knowledge is delivered in the right way and at the right time.

What initiative or measures do you think schools could undertake to help ease exam stress for students?
The exam model and question paper model can differ from school to school but if the purpose is same and that is for the betterment of the student, it is just perfect.

Any tips / suggestions’ that you could give on ‘how not to get bogged down by exam fever.’
RELAX. Exams are only a medium and not the destination. Do not fall prey to any pressure. Be in the best of your spirits and enjoy the process as only happy minds can perform effectively.

Anjum Babu Khan, Director - Education, Glendale Academy International; Educationist & Parenting Facilitator
What’s your view on exams and stress (if any) that is associated with it?
Test-taking anxiety or stress is very common among students. It can be very distressing and often students find they get good course grades but come exam time, their grades drop! This could be because of either poor exam preparation techniques and/or stress levels becoming too high. Assessment is best when it is multi-faceted and on a continual basis rather than just exams. It’s a well-established fact that the brain does not function to its optimum capacity under stress.

How do you think competition has changed over the years, for students?
We have a huge population but our attitude towards competitions varies from school to school and student to student depending on demographics. In today’s global scenario competition is inevitable and yes, it’s a very competitive world. It is one of the prime objectives of schools to prepare the students to fearlessly face the challenges and not shy away from them.

Is exam stress something that students’ have to deal with, all the time?
Stress can be both helpful by becoming a ‘fuel’ that powers one overcome obstacles or it can be harmful if it wears one down. Thus, stress is a part of life but the approach towards it can make one a learner for life or otherwise.

Has the concept of healthy competition changed nowadays?
Some children live in highly competitive families and achieve in many activities, but winning needs perspective. It’s good for kids to value excellence as long as they don’t feel valued only for their excellence. When rewards are minimized, competitions can be fun. They can accentuate skill-building and strategy-building, teach teamwork, teach ways to identify personal goals, and provide ways to develop criteria for success.

Do you think parents’ are pressuring their children to perform well?
Parenting help is one of the most crucial things that can help children relieve their stress. A parent should say, “If you've done your best, that's all I can ask. Whatever your results are, I'll still love you.”

What initiatives or measures do you think schools could undertake to help ease exam stress for students?
Many schools believe that 'Exams are a rite of passage and dealing with exam stress is part of the process of maturing'. At the same time the teacher should be approachable and the student should never be afraid asking for help, it’s what the teachers are there for.

Any tips / suggestions’ that you could give on ‘how not to get bogged down by exam fever.’
Good food, sleep, relaxed mood, exercise, breathing deeply to stay calm, staying positive, mentally rehearsing what is about to happen prepares the body and mind for the stressful event and not to panic. 

Nirmala Diaz, Founder Trustee, Sloka - The Hyderabad Waldorf School
Sloka believes in an age-appropriate education which nurtures the imagination and creativity of the child. We believe that learning is for life and not just for exams. The teaching is caring and child-centered and is introduced in a way that children find lessons interesting and memorable. Teachers take pains focusing on individual needs of children; this gives each child an appropriate sense of self and confidence to face life’s challenges.

The bond between the teacher and the child is a very strong force for learning. This begins right from the KG years where the child learns through a deep rooted imitation of life; through walk, talk. They learn to do their motor skills. Both conscious and unconscious repetition and the rhythm of the day, week, month and year are very important for the child’s health. It connects the child to the world around. Festivals and seasons are celebrated which help them become a part of the rhythms of life. A detailed report is given to the parents which talks about the child’s social, development skills etc. whether they like singing or doing something. Teacher’s are more accessible which helps parents and teachers work together. The same teacher accompanies child from Grade 1 to Grade 6 which gives the teacher an overall picture of the child’s needs and overall development, strengths, weaknesses.

We have the main lesson block each day which is for two hours for a day for a month, there are nine such blocks in a year; it begins with rhythmic movement for 40 minutes, then drawing, then writing the lesson. It balances the three things i.e. willing, feeling, thinking - hands, heart & head. This keeps the child alert and interested; something that sitting in front of a black board fails to do.

Class 4 onwards there are recall tests (written) after the main lesson block (they are not marked or graded). This is just to access the child’s grasp of the lesson. This also helps the teacher to access her own teaching. There are no textbooks. From Class 8 children’s tests are graded just to keep them prepared with the grading system that happens beyond 10th, outside Sloka.

We try to bring out the individuality of the each child and give them the confidence to nurture themselves and we advise parents to be patient and help nurture what the child wants to do. They need to be encouraged to do their best. The role of the teacher is to appreciate and nurture the child. The genius is within the child and we only facilitate it to come out. We have to be observant and help the child shine. We want them to have a love for learning. What is an exam - it is just another challenge to be faced and you need to do it well. You can’t undervalue it. Life has to be a journey of discovering for each child. For a parent to believe that ‘my child can’ and have the faith and work with the child, will help the child.
Ummadi Pattabhi Ramiah, Former Teacher, Nampally High School; Advocate
In India education is elevated as a fundamental right of every citizen. But the subject of education comes under the purview of states and not the centre. Education is of various types - general education, school education, higher education and professional education - this became the cause and disease for un-uniform patterns. The policy of liberalization, privatization and globalization impacted the types of education patterns - surfacing conflicts in quality, standard, cost and excellence too. This apart, multitude cultures, languages, scripts and social plus economic conditions promoted or resulted in the ‘commercialization’ in the system of education and gave an impetus to competition, exploitation and oppression.

The clime at the international level also will come for criticism. Take for instance; India that adopted British system of collegiate education is different from that of American system, wherein after school education is of four years, as against three over here. The grading, semester, ranking devices also fall apart - such issues galore are innumerable and unending - leading to stress from day one to the day at last. 

The consequences of such lop-sided competitive commercialization concepts in education patterns, has its disintegration seeds sown - though the fulcrum of educational devices can be uniform - may be universally at all stages and levels of education in all areas and in all their dimensions.

The negative approaches and the sweep of policy changes and attitudinal approaches have harmed the preprimary school education parameters too, leading to stress, trauma, incapable sustain and assimilate and become even suicidal - it is therefore our present Central Minister for Education Kapil Sibal who has increased the age of admittance to four years from three, so as to distress the blossoming minds of kindergarteners’.

There is no doubt, in view of the foregoing, optimum influx at once of education, its devices, absorbing methods, teaching paraphernalia and what not. This negates the very idea of imbibing education in the initial stages. Non-performance or mediocre genre draw the ire of parents to perform well, by being bookish, or becoming book worms or addicts to parrot-like without any iota of understanding.

Education is the teacher of a teacher. Yesterdays educational devices and system will not meet today’s and even less so, the need of tomorrow. Quality education must not be abdicated and conducive education at affordable cost or no cost is the need of the day.

Bharathi Saranga, Teacher, B.R.R Girls High School, Andhra Yuvathi Mandal
What’s your view on exams and stress (if any) that is associated with it?
It is only reproducing the matter existing in the study materials, workbooks, notes etc. Due to vast syllabus and less time it is creating tension and stress in students.

How do you think competition has changed over the years, for students?
Competition has changed, because the competitive exams are mostly objective type where the students cannot depend only on study materials, but have to read the text books thoroughly.

Is exam stress something that students’ have to deal with, all the time?
Conducting unit tests and assignments is helpful to slow learners and average students but not for the intelligent students, this becomes monotonous to creative and intelligent students; project work is suitable to these children.

Has the concept of healthy competition changed nowadays?
Concept for healthy competitions has not changed fully nowadays because it is more theoretical than practical.

Do you think parents’ are pressuring their children to perform well?
Yes, the parents are pressuring their children to perform well by comparing with co-operative schools whose aim is ranks and less importance for physical, moral and social development of a child. This is mostly subject granted.

Is the current system too much of an education influx at once?
Yes, the current situation is too much of an education influx. The reading skills, writing skills, communication skills are completely reduced due to technology (ex: Internet). The child should be encouraged for higher studies according to their interests and talents.

What initiatives or measures do you think schools could undertake to help ease exam stress for students?
To ease the exam stress, weekly slip test can be conducted, wherever possible practical and demonstration test can be conducted and the important point is exams should be conducted semester wise.

Any tips / suggestions’ that you could give on ‘how not to get bogged down by exam fever.’
My advice is to remove exam fever from the students. First we should make them think positive and develop confidence in them. For this every school should have a moral science period to develop moral value and increase their general knowledge. Schools, parents, teachers and elders play a very important role in producing good citizens to the nation.
Madhavi Gayathri Raman, Parent & Lecturer at The English and Foreign Languages University 
I think that exams are no longer about finding out how much children have actually learnt. It’s all about scoring marks, and not just any marks but the all important 95-100 that you need for admission to engineering or medicine.

There is no joy in learning, no value placed on learning from mistakes, and no room for out of the box/lateral thinking. Children are required to be able to reproduce answers directly from the text. The importance that parents place on their children's performance and the importance given to marks is the biggest contributing factor to stress.

There is always a comparison with what someone else's child has scored and this adds more stress.  Parents choose schools based on the number of tests - one that has a rigorous schedule is a good one because it will provide 'excellent' preparation for the entrance exams. Even schools boast of their success in entrance exams and attribute it to their pattern of tests.

The current system doesn’t appear to be concerned with developing all round individuals; the concentration appears to be on producing individuals who can outperform one another on exams that assess content knowledge alone. More often than not this leads to creation of storehouses of bookish knowledge, not street smart kids equipped with life skills.

Schools need to reduce the number of exams they conduct and also change the pattern of exams - they need to focus on how children can apply what they have learnt to real-life situations.

Parents need to teach children and themselves that marks are not everything, one needs to be able to live life and find practical applications for what has been learnt. One needs to rediscover the joy of learning and most importantly, as parents we need to realize that there are other creative, financially viable and respectable professions in the world besides medicine and engineering.

D.S. Kaushik, 6th Class Student, Bhavan’s Sri Ramakrishna Vidyalaya, Sainikpuri
I study daily what is taught in the class. On weekends I revise all the subjects and put up a test for myself and am up to date so that it is not piled up in the end.

In the school all the teachers encourage and motivate us to learn daily by giving successful examples, which gives us confidence and hope. They conduct weekly tests after they complete the portions. They give us confidence by telling us that the subject is easy and not to get worried.

They give us tips on how to learn, how to attempt the exams to get maximum marks. I handle my exams in a simple manner and this is also what I suggest to my friends. I prepare daily little by little and weekly test myself. I do written practice which helps me to understand and learn. I don’t let myself mug up. I write neatly so that the teacher understands better. Lastly I would say that there is no point in dreaming all day, but to take action.

While there are many other students like Kaushik who are prepared well in advance to handle the stress of exams, there are students like Bhargav of class X (he didn’t want to name his school) who are constantly bombarded by weekly tests and totally bogged down by it. But there is no escape for him, like many others, he has his parents who have “high expectations from me and I have to keep up to them”, he says with a shrug.

True education has been described as 'what is left after the facts have been forgotten', and stress-free continuous assessment certainly facilitates such education. Exams or no exams, at the end of it, children should be enjoying while learning and vice-versa!

Month: March 2010.

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