For every board exam a student takes, they take about three pre-boards and 3 model test papers to prepare. And attempting these practice exams is not an option.
Every March, thousands of students around India sit to write their Board Exams. For each subject we take in school, there is one exam to be written, so on an average, each student writes five test papers. These exams, the question papers made directly by the education boards, are written in the tenth and twelfth grade and are said to be the most important exams in a students life. We're taught to be afraid of the exam from the moment we enter grade eight. The one threat at the tip of every teacher's tongue is that if we don't learn properly now, we won't be able to write our boards properly. Students study unimaginable hours a day to achieve a decent score on one set of 80 mark papers.
As one of the youngest in my circle of friends at home, I've seen how teenagers hole up in their rooms to study instead of spending time with their family or friends. I've seen dark circles on their faces, results of their sleepless nights and the stress of the upcoming exams. I've seen the disappointment on their faces, not because they've failed the exam, but because they didn't top. Why is it all so important?
In 2013, one of the leading causes of suicide in India was failure in examination, with 2,471 deaths to its name. In 2019, one student committed suicide every hour, with over 10,000 deaths in the year around the country, the highest rate in the past 25 years for which data is available.
This year, I begin grade ten. I write my Board Exams in twelve months. I have one year left to prepare for one of the most important exams in my life, and though I feel like a year is more than enough time, society begs to differ. It's been a thought swimming in my mind for some time now, the education system needs to change.
But the board exams aren't the only cause for the huge amount of stress put on students. There are dozens of other competitive exams a student can take, such as the NTSE (National Talent Search Examination), SOF (Science Olympiad Foundation), etc. In fact, if I were to list them all out, students would probably have an exam to write every weekend.
Standardised tests are important, to know where each student stands, but we need to realise that every student is different. But, in the words of Albert Einstein himself, everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. Some of us excel at math, while others feel like murdering our textbook. Not everyone is good at everything-- in fact, no one is good at everything. Think about it, don't exams feel kind of pointless? What good is it going to do for someone to write an exam they know they won't do good at?
And it's not just the exams that put so much pressure on students. Stream selection after grade ten is another huge contributing factor. The three main streams, Science, Commerce, and Humanities, have become less of streams and more of knowledge markers. Although it's the student's choice in the end, scoring an 85+ on your boards means people expect you to take science. For the 'average' students, who get a 60-85 on their boards, commerce is society's choice. Meanwhile, if you have 'no talent', which is also defined as <60, you're automatically categorised into humanities. We're free to take any stream we want to, but if you get 85+ on your boards and don't take science, people will talk.
The truth, although it might hurt, is that every single stream is as important as the next. The world is built on money, and would probably collapse if not for those who manage this money, for which, you'd need to study Commerce. The movies we watch, the songs we listen to, some of the most important jobs in today's society require a degree in something related to humanities. So, why then, do we segregate streams in some sort of tier list?
It's society that has makes us so averse to humanities, and what makes us worship science. Instead of treating streams as ranks, let us treat them as career paths, and let students go the way they want to.
The academic pressure on a student is a huge contributing factor to why India has seen a huge rise in the brain-drain (where one obtains education from one place and chooses to work somewhere else) amongst college graduates. Students acquire their education in India, then opt to go and make a living somewhere else, possible for better pay, or simply because of the strain of academics.
Does the education system need to change? The short answer, yes. There is too much of focus put on academics and exams, and not enough on both co-curricular activities and simply learning how to do the most simple things, such as the yearly taxes we need to pay after we start earning a living. Exams have gone from a paper testing our understanding to a paper testing our ability to memorise, cheat without being caught, and send our body into overdrive.
At the end of the day, there's always a good side to everything. With various textbooks, multiple boards and curriculums, the Indian education system can be considered one of the best in the world. But, ask yourself this question, when does the pressure become too much?