The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 10, 2002

Testing time for parents & children
Teresa Barat

THE final school examinations are about to start and the pressure on children to do well, especially in the board examinations, is relentless. Besides the pressures of studying the entire syllabi, children fear erratic results and peer ridicule. But above all, what they have to put up with is the fear of parents.

According to Poonam Gaur, Counsellor, Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya, New Delhi, "Parents expect too much from their children. They do not understand what it is to grow up in the present environment. It is hard for today's children to focus only on studies because there is so much happening around them."

This, however, is not something that most parents understand or accept. Besides obvious pressures like banning television viewing before the examinations and putting a stop to meeting friends, parental pressures can also be less obvious.

"Parents send out strong non-verbal signals which children are quick to pick up," says Baveen Gupta, School Counsellor, Modern School, New Delhi. For instance, children often interpet parental praise of another child doing well in the examination as a signal to work that much harder, leading to pressure to excel.


Interestingly, underachievers are not the only ones who suffer. High achievers often approach every examination as a do-or-die effort and doing badly in any test is cause for grief. The anguish is very real.

"The anxiety level is highest for children who are used to doing well. Students who do not normally do well in studies often make their own internal adjustment towards their results but high achievers cannot do this," says Gaur. In these cases, the pressure often comes from the school itself everybody wants a share of the glory. And this has an effect on the children who, at times, suddenly throw up their hands and quit trying.

According to Vatsala Sivasubramanian, therapist and counsellor, "Parental pressure starts very young. Parents start making comparisons even when the child is in nursery. This can be hurtful to children." She feels that the entire educational system has been subverted to focus on only one thing: Doing well in examinations. "Where is the fun of learning?" she asks. The child's natural curiosity and love of knowledge is slowly but ruthlessly being snuffed out as both student and teacher struggle to complete the huge syllabus.

Doubtless, it is frustrating for a parent to see a much-loved child fritter away precious time either watching television or talking to friends over the phone when that time could well be used for catching up with studies. Frustration breeds anger and, often, harsh words. But there is merit in restraining these emotions.

What can be done to let the child perceive the love behind the anger?

First, praise your child for the effort put in. All parents have given examinations and know how erratic results can be. Second, reduce the pressure to perform, because self-motivation is more effective than external discipline. So there is really no need to force the child to study. Moreover, research has shown that the human brain can concentrate at an optimum level for 35 to 40 minutes - about the time of the average study period - so there is really no need to get a child to sit with books for hours on end. Instead, parents should encourage 15-minute breaks in-between studying for long hours. And finally, never make comparisons with other children.

At the same time, it is important to effectively manage time. The necessity for managing time is obvious by this example: On an average, every subject has at least 15 chapters and there are, on an average, eight subjects depending on which class a child is studying in. If we assume that at least one hour is needed per chapter, we are talking a minimum of 120 hours of studying just to cover the syllabus.

Accommodating all this studying with extracurricular activities like watching television, chatting with friends and going on family outings becomes easier with a schedule.

"The study schedule should not be forced by parents, but geared to individual needs," says Anila Bhatara, consulting psychologist, who is attached to Ramjas and Ahlcon schools in New Delhi.

Making a timetable also helps in breaking up the amount to be studied into manageable bits. Rather than striving for complete adherence, following the schedule even 60 per cent is useful.

But at the end of the day, as Gupta says, it is time for an attitudinal change in our approach to education, and a switch from marks to grades could take the cutting edge off competition. But whether it is grades or marks, it is time the emphasis shifted from rote learning to understanding, from bludgeoning our children with facts to the pursuit of knowledge.

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