When the board exams were still a few days away a book titled Exam Warriors caught everyone's attention and more so because it was written by the prime minister of India.
With a name like that and its timing, the reader is full of expectations that some new tactic to tackle exams would be available in the pages of the book. But sadly the book is a collection of already known techniques on how to beat exam pressure. The book promised hope for students by detailing ways to wipe the stress of their brows but what it actually advocates is an unrealistic approach towards handling stress. Let's admit it exams are stressful. So how can a student celebrate it as a festival? It's like comparing an orange with an apple. It's almost like telling a lady in labour to celebrate the moments of pain! Exams and festivals are not the same... period.
Exams are and will always be stressful. I still remember staying awake till late in the night reading up those extra lines of notes; repeatedly solving math problems to avoid any careless mistakes and learning definitions by heart so that I could regurgitate it word for word on the answer sheet. Many years have passed but that trend still hasn't changed rather with mobile phones ruling our lives and WhatsApp groups ever-ready to add to the confusion, life has suddenly become more complex and exams more stressful. Therefore, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Exam Warriors automatically transforms into Exam Worriers.
Some are worried about the failure, others about what neighbours will say and they are all worried about the trauma of getting "not good enough" marks to get admission to a college of their choice. And in this atmosphere of dread comes an author advising students to celebrate the exams. I do not know how the students react to this but personally for me it reinforces my belief in the saying that the easiest thing to do on earth is to give free advice.
Neither am I sure about it nor does it matter to me whether the book was penned by the PM or was ghost written for him, but the one thing I am absolutely sure of is that the book is an overdose of run-of-the-mill instructions which students are already aware of. And this bothers me because it is coming from a person in a position of power and it is targeted at students who want solutions to their problems and not just fluff.
Thirteen days after the book release, the prime minister held an interactive session "Prikhsha par charcha" with students across the nation taking into cognisance the stress students are going through before the exams.
He talked about how to strike a balance between one's IQ and EQ, highlighted the benefit of yoga and emphasised more on staying calm during exams. Most importantly, he made us realise that exam stress is taking its toll on students.
However, it got me thinking whether this is the first time students in India are sitting for board exams? Is this the first time students are stressed about their exams? And is this the first time that students fear getting lost in a maze formed by exams, marks and possibly life's first major hurdle?
With the same old syllabus, teaching methodology, assessment criteria, competition, dearth of good colleges and the ever increasing college cut-offs, how on earth can one expect board exams to be stress free?
The policymakers, including the prime minister, need to understand that writing books and giving tips on how to de-stress does not help. The cut-offs in colleges and universities need to be controlled, the syllabus needs to be reframed, the learning outcomes have to be rewritten and the entire education system needs to be reassessed. It is only then that an atmosphere will be created to mitigate the stress of exams.
I know systems don't change overnight but it makes me wonder whether exam stress has become such an important topic that even the head of the government has to write books about it and then make time to address the young crowd. It either means that exam related stress is truly a matter of national concern or more pragmatically it may just mean some astute spadework for the 2019 general elections.