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Rote learning has made students in India anxious and sleepless, so much so that prime minister Narendra Modi felt the need to intervene on Friday, saying “Don’t focus on your studies so much that you cut off from what you like doing.”
More than 70% students do not get the required seven hours of sleep in the weeks leading up to final examinations, with 18% sleeping only three to five hours a day, found a multi-city survey of close to 6,500 children. Two in three students said that they had more homework and assignments than they could deal with. Many said they had no time to step out or talk to family and friends.
An unhealthy lifestyle with little or no physical or social activity is increasing stress during examinations, found the survey done by Fortis healthcare across Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Jaipur, Chandigarh and a dozen B-towns across India.
All work and no play
Around 86% of the children surveyed said that they could not spare 30 minutes a day for physical activities, and 68% said they spent less than one hour outdoors in the weeks leading up to exams.
“What we have seen is that during exams, children completely restrict themselves to their rooms and homes, even when they are taking a break from study. Children must step out of home, even if it’s for 10 minutes between studying. Just stepping out in a balcony or terrace is far more relaxing than spending break time on social media,” said Dr Samir Parikh, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis healthcare.
The survey found that 73% of the students get to spend less than an hour with their family, with only 1% spending more than three hours a day.
“Many children do not even join family meals, choosing to eat them in their rooms. The survey shows that children do not interact with their family and friends, leading to a build-up of stress,” said Dr Parikh, who runs a national helpline for students that receives 400 calls each day from stressed out students or parents.
The free time students have is spent on social media interactions. Around 34% students reported spending between one and three hours on computers and smartphones, including for schoolwork, with 11% spending between five and seven hours online.
Life in the fast lane
When Mansi Sharma, a class 12 student from Salwan Public School in Gurgaon, started getting anxious about the board examinations, her school counsellor asked her to have faith in herself and, most importantly, make a timetable and follow it. “While studying one subject, I would keep thinking about the other subjects that I still had to study, and in the process, would end up not concentrating on anything at all,” she said.
Getting organised lowers anxiety, said Jyoti Chaudhary, Sharma’s school counsellor and head of the department of psychology at Salwan Public School, Gurgaon. “I ask students to prepare a study schedule that will give them time to focus on subjects and topics they think they need more time to study. I next ask them to go through their previous answer sheets to see the mistakes they made and ensure that they don’t occur again,” she said.
Timetables should be structured according to the students’ most productive hours. “Some students concentrate better at night while some do better in the morning. What is essential is that they structure their timetable in a way that they do not compromise on sleep. Having coffee to stay up doesn’t help at all,” said Chaudhary.
A healthy diet, a good night’s sleep and relaxation techniques enhance performance. “Jyoti ma’am also taught me how to make flow charts and mnemonics that helped me in memorising things better. Now that I have started following a time table, I feel much more relaxed and am able to concentrate better,” said Sharma.
At Mira Model School in West Delhi, training in life skills begins at grade 9. “It’s not just about academics, but about setting boundaries, saying ‘no’ when needed, the idea of consent, gender and sexuality. These are not academic issues but when students have a platform to discuss their anxieties, especially when navigating relationships, new experiences and loneliness, they tend to be less anxious and can focus on their studies,” said Sadhana Bhalla, principal of the school.
To deal with exam stress, the school has a mentorship programme where each teacher guides five students in dealing with academics and personal stresses.
Unreasonable expectations, both from parents and teachers, add to the stress of appearing for a public examination for the first time. Around 74% children surveyed said their parents’ concerns about their exams academic performance stress them out, while 82% find it difficult to cope with parents getting involved in their study schedule.
“If you randomly ask 20 parents if they stress their children, all of them would say they do not. But if their children are stressed out, parents need to be more supportive by keeping their communication positive. If they feel that children are not studying enough, instead of asking them to study, they should say, ‘This is what we feel and if you too feel that you are not adequately prepared, then talk to us’,” said Dr Parikh.
Comparing school results with other students should not be done. “Instead of motivating the child to get better grades, the message parents send out is they want their child to become someone else. This hurts the child’s self-esteem and self-worth,” said Dr Parikh.
How to study: this is what experts say
• Duration: 40–45 minutes at a stretch, with breaks of 5–10 minutes between each session.
• Revision: Typically, the maximum memory loss occurs within the first 24 hours of studying. For best recall, revise every section on day 1, 2, 7, 15 and 30. Use your own notes and highlight sections during revision.
• Breaks: Studying constantly does not help retain information. Short breaks help in retention.
• Unclutter: Do not study too many new topics in one day. Do not try to learn new topics just before the examination.
• Skim through: While reading notes, highlight key words and phrases and remember it as a mental picture. Focusing on the highlighted keywords will help you skim through the notes during revision.
• Make connections: Group points or concepts together and remember them as a single chunk of memory.
• Use mnemonics: Flow charts and graphics help recall.
How students say they study
66%: Say they get more homework and assignments than they can handle.
68%: Spend less than an hour outdoors each day.
73%: Spend less than an hour a day with family.
34%: Spend between 1 and 3 hours on virtual/digital platforms each day; 11% spend 5-7 hours.
53%: Sleep between 5 and 7 hours; 18% sleep 3-5 hours a day.
94%: Find it difficult to relax and enjoy leisure time during examinations.
86%: Spend less than 30 minutes on physical activity.
82%: Don’t find the time to socialise with their friends or family during examinations.
74%: Say parents stress them out during exam time.
Source: Department of Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Healthcare
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