I have one recurring nightmare: I am sitting in a classroom, terrified out of my wits, and in front of me there is a mathematics exam paper and a blank answer sheet. I have no idea where to start — I know none of these questions (since all I have done is mugged things up) and I am sure that I have failed this exam. I wake up from this nightmare seeing red pen marks flashing through my head and then I realise that I am an adult, in 2017 and that I have no more math exams to give ever again.
Down the years, I have discovered that this exact nightmare is quite common. Even my mother, close to 60 now, has nightmares about taking her board exams. Sporting these childhood scars is an unpleasant experience, but some may say that we got off easy with just bad dreams. India has one of the highest rates of youth suicides in the world among people aged between 15 and 29. Psychologists say that one of the major reasons for this high suicide rate is exam, specifically board exam-related stress.
All of us have gone through the gruelling board exam period. All of us remember this time of intense focus, pressure and then relief once it is all over. And then come the results, the fear and the sleepless nights. None of us ever forgets our board exam marks. They end up as a life-long badge of honour or conversely, a thing of nightmares, as my math’s exams turned out to be.
As we embark on yet another board exam season, a time as gruelling for parents as it is for children since they too want to live vicariously through their children, it is high time that we rethink this culture that leaves an entire generation of children scarred and suicidal.
First, board results are not the end of the world. In today’s day and age there are so many options that are not board-exam related. Even if your child does not score well, she can still have a glorious future. Also remember that much of the time, no matter how hard your child studies, the results are a total crab-shoot. My sister, who went on to study mathematics at MIT, got a shocking 50% in her 12th standard mathematics exams.
Second, parents need to realise that pressure creates unhappy, nervous children, which then leads to lower marks. So shoving your kids into a room and not allowing them to exit for the duration of the board exams will probably create a disaster rather than a success.
Third, self-study is the key. Tutors are meant to be a crutch, not life-support. Tuitions have become the norm rather than the exception, but they do not substitute for sitting down on the table by yourself and going through the rigour.
All this said, there is some goodness in the board exams. The board exams can be a real coming of age if we want them to be. It is an exceptional opportunity for kids to work hard, to prove their mettle, to have a national stage to play on outside of petty school politics and teacher favouritism.
So this board exam season, I urge parents, teachers and even the battery of tutors, to let kids chart their own way, rather than showing them the whip. Your kids are often smarter than you think they are, and self motivation and a little bit of compassion can work wonders. Give kids the space and the chance to prove themselves. Whatever the results, we will have a generation of more focused, more motivated and happier kids, and that is more important than anything else.
Ira Trivedi is an author
The views expressed are personal