Exam stress prompts reform demand

21st July 2000 at 01:00

THE country's top education official has demanded an overhaul of the marking system and changes to the curriculum to tackle the growing problem of student stress.

Ashok Ganguly, the chairman of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), made the call after the school-leaving results left a trail of students traumatised by their low marks or failure to gain admission to college.

This year, as in the preceding years, at least four suicides by failing students have been reported.

The CBSE was so concerned that it set up round-the-clock help-lines with a volunteer organisation to deal with pre-examination stress. Fifteen counsellors were operating in Delhi alone.

But demand did not fall once exams ended and the lines had to be kept open to deal with anxious students waiting to see if they had got into college.

Pavnesh Kumar, chief controller of examinations, said the situation is made worse by parents who insist that their children score the highest marks in every subject to secure admission to the best colleges.

On their part, colleges in India make matters worse by sticking to unrealistically highcut-off percentages, making places out of reach of the average student. In some cases, scoring 97 per cent in maths might not be enough for a student to get to their chosen college.

Mr Kumar said: "It is a question of demand and supply. There are 40,000 seats in the university in Delhi alone and there are more than 200,000 students applying."

Child psychologists and educationists now agree that the entire education system needs to be reviewed. Calling for drastic changes, Dr Achal Bhagat, who runs a helpline for students called Saarthak, said that "for today's students the pressure to perform is increasing while the definition of success is becoming narrower".

He said that at least 20 per cent of the calls that the helpline received were from students on the "verge of suicide".

In Delhi in 1997, there were 30 examination suicides which prompted a major protest. In 1998, the figure was nine and, in 1999, four. This year, Delhi has reported just one suicide.

While urban students have access to telephone hotlines, schools in rural India are being asked to provide counsellors, so students can walk in and talk.

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