In a nation where the essence of success is often measured in grades and the prestige of educational institutions including IITs, NITs, IIITs, AIIMS, top medical institutes, etc, Indian students grapple with a unique set of stressors that can heavily impact their mental health. This blog post aims to unpack these complex issues and shed light on the sources of this deeply rooted pressure. From the high-stakes board examinations and fiercely competitive entrance tests such as JEE Mains, JEE Advanced, NEET, etc to the societal expectations deeply intertwined with academic performance, students traverse a veritable minefield of stressors that can prove detrimental to their overall well-being. Add to this the culture of comparison fostered in families and schools, the stiff competition in coaching classes like Allen, Chaitanya, Narayana, or Aakash, and the towering parental expectations, and you have a recipe for chronic stress. In this blog, we will learn about significant issues, exploring the multifaceted nature of educational stress among Indian students, its potential consequences, and the pathways toward more sustainable and student-friendly learning environments.
Stress Causes for Indian High School Students
Stress refers to a state of mental or emotional strain or tension that results from adverse or demanding circumstances. High school students, in India or elsewhere, often face stress from various sources such as academic pressures, expectations from parents and teachers, peer pressure, self-esteem, and identity issues, as well as future anxieties about career and life.
In India, stress among high school students can have unique characteristics due to the societal and cultural factors at play. Here are some key elements to consider:
Academic pressure in Indian high school students is intensely shaped by the high-stakes nature of examinations and the culture of comparison in performance. Board exams in the 10th and 12th grades are viewed as determinative for a student’s future, guiding their eligibility for preferred academic streams in 11th grade or their college admission opportunities after 12th grade. The tremendous weight placed on these single-exam performances can significantly heighten student stress levels. This pressure is further amplified by the incredibly competitive entrance examinations like JEE and NEET, which students aiming for professional courses in engineering and medicine must navigate. With the scale of competition often immense, such as the over 1 million students vying for a limited number of seats in prestigious institutions during the JEE Mains / Advanced in 2023, the resulting stress can be substantial. For NEET exams in 2023, around 2 million students wrote the exams.
Adding to this academic pressure is the prevalent culture of comparing students’ performances in some schools and families. The fear of underperforming against peers or siblings, especially in these critical examinations, substantially contributes to stress levels. This environment often prioritizes competition over the pleasure of learning, exacerbating the already intense pressure, and leading to significant stress among high school students in India.
Parental expectations in India are often shaped by broader social pressures and deeply ingrained cultural values regarding education and success. These expectations can greatly contribute to the stress experienced by high school students. Here are some aspects that elaborate on this:
- Social Prestige: In many Indian communities, academic success is closely linked to social prestige. Parents often feel that their child’s performance is a reflection of their parenting abilities and family reputation. For example, if a child secures admission into a reputed institution such as an IIT or AIIMS, the entire family and community take pride in the achievement. This societal perspective can put immense pressure on students to meet these expectations.
- Focus on Certain Professions: There’s a cultural inclination towards traditionally “secure” and high-status professions like engineering, medicine, law, and civil services. Parents may pressurize their children to choose these fields even if the child’s interest lies elsewhere. A student who wants to pursue a career in fine arts, for example, might face resistance from parents who fear societal judgment or economic instability.
- Comparison with Peers: In many Indian families, there’s a tendency to compare children’s academic achievements with those of their peers or siblings. Statements like “Sharma Ji’s son got admission into an IIT, why can’t you?” are not uncommon and can contribute to a child’s stress and feelings of inadequacy.
Coaching Classes and Private Tuition
Coaching classes and private tuition are integral parts of the Indian education system, especially for high school students preparing for competitive entrance examinations. Institutions like Allen (Kota), Chaitanya (Hyderabad), Narayana (Hyderabad), Aakash (Delhi), Resonance, and many others have gained a significant reputation in this sector. However, these can contribute to the academic pressure faced by students. Here’s a closer look at this aspect:
- Intense Study Schedules: Coaching classes, particularly those preparing students for competitive exams, often have long hours and a rigorous study schedule. For instance, a typical day at a coaching center in Kota (like Allen or Resonance) could start early in the morning and go on until late evening, with short breaks in between. This leaves little time for students to relax, engage in hobbies, or even self-study.
- Competitive Environment: Coaching classes further foster a highly competitive environment. They regularly conduct tests and rank students, displaying the results for everyone to see. This constant comparison can lead to stress, and in some cases, can negatively impact self-esteem and confidence.
- High Costs: Enrolling in these coaching centers can be expensive, putting financial pressure on families. This can indirectly lead to additional stress on students, as they are aware of the sacrifices their families are making for their education.
- Relocation and Separation: Many students move to coaching hubs like Kota or Hyderabad, living away from their families for the first time. This separation, combined with the pressure of performing well in an unfamiliar environment, can lead to feelings of loneliness, homesickness, and stress.
- Lack of Personal Attention: Given the large number of students in each batch, individual attention from teachers can be minimal. This can be stressful for students who may be struggling with certain topics and need personalized guidance.
The journey through India’s educational labyrinth can be fraught with challenges for high school students. They are faced with high-pressure situations, including the daunting 10th and 12th-grade board exams, fiercely competitive entrance tests like JEE and NEET, and the unrelenting race to outperform in coaching institutes such as Allen, Chaitanya, Aakash, or Resonance. On top of this, societal and parental expectations add another layer of stress that can greatly impact their mental well-being.
Recognizing these stressors is the initial stride towards their alleviation. The first step towards change is fostering an environment where discussions about these pressures and mental health are welcomed, and creating supportive learning atmospheres. We must strive for a gradual shift from the prevalent rote learning system to one that emphasizes skill-based education.
Success doesn’t come in a universal package – it should be seen as an individual journey, and should never be pursued at the expense of a student’s mental and emotional health. As a society, it’s crucial for us to broaden our understanding of success, celebrating diverse career paths and learning styles, and emphasizing individual growth. It’s time we place the love of learning ahead of performance pressure, creating an environment where students can flourish. By mitigating the immense educational stress endured by students and paving the way for a more balanced approach to education, we can help foster a healthier academic environment in India.