The competitive exam challenge

If you have a son or a daughter who is completing their Class 10, chances are you will be debating on the many choices that lie ahead. Are your children interested in applying for the various competitive exams that will promise them an entry into the many well-known institutes of the country? Based on your children’s interests and aptitudes, how do they plan the road ahead? Are they aware of the sheer determination and grit that it will take to accomplish these goals?

Should the students opt for after-class coaching or rely on their school’s support in identifying and applying for these exams? How about taking a year off to regroup and prepare? Every choice comes with its own benefits and limitations, and it is better to make an informed decision instead of a hasty one.

School support

Many students opt for schools that have rigorous entrance exam coaching integrated into their curriculum. The goal is clear: crack competitive exams like Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) or National Eligibility cum Entrance Test. Though the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) doesn't allow such integration, some CBSE schools run after-school programmes to coach their entrance exam aspirants.

If students take up an integrated course, then they should be prepared to meet the challenges head-on. The student has to be in college from 8.30 am to 5 pm, six days a week. The student spends the entire day with no physical or co-curricular activity whatsoever. 

It is one thing to enrol for this kind of a rigorous programme, but to make it to the last leg of the marathon requires tremendous tenacity. What if they want to quit? Not many parents have the courage to tell their children that they can lose a year, quit the course or opt for something else. Bogged down by peer pressure, parents find themselves equally helpless and spiral into a funk.

After-school coaching 

Many students opt for regular programmes but take up intensive after-school coaching with popular coaching institutes, which are designed to help them crack competitive exams.

However, in their desire to choose the best coaching centre, parents and students forget that there is also an added pressure of cracking the board exams! Studying for the board exams is vastly different from studying for competitive exams. As teachers, we have seen many students who find it difficult to continue juggling both these tasks. They grapple with exhaustion, anxiety, burnout and the inability to cope with the demands of their complicated routines. Apart from the quality of instruction, it is important to ensure that these coaching centres have good infrastructure. 

Taking a gap year 

A gap year is a good way for students to slow down and reassess their priorities. The advantage here is that you have time and less pressure, but on the flip side, entrance exams get tougher by the year and the number of students taking these exams is increasing. Consider this – in 2010, only 1.57 lakh students appeared for VITEEE exam conducted by the Vellore Institute of Technology. In 2017, around 2.12 lakh students appeared for the exam, according to the VITEEE press release.

Children who take a break might start off on an enthusiastic note but after a couple of months, they become distracted or complacent. There are also instances of students losing focus or procrastinate.

What can you do?

Before making a choice, both parents and children need to be absolutely clear about their capacity to take on these challenges. Can the child cope with the task at hand? Can the parents display empathy and reason in case things don’t go as planned?

It is also important to look for a good school that offers a good academic and emotional support to the child, whatever route he or she wishes to take. As teachers, we are certainly keen to see the child succeed but we also want to preserve a culture that is built on freedom and happiness. If we notice that a child is on the verge of giving up or slipping into depression, we act upon these red flags. In such cases, counselling becomes very crucial.

We also advocate very strongly that the student should also pursue a hobby or a passion. Playing a musical instrument, swim or quality time with friends would help them and decompress as much as possible.

Every child is an asset

As teachers, we witness children getting affected when they are not able to pursue what they want to, due to pressure from parents or peers. Here's one such case: a student in Class 12 would drop into my office almost every day. He was a people person with unbridled enthusiasm and a desire to help his schoolmates. When he joined our school, everyone loved his compassion and energy. He wasn’t an academic high-achiever but his interpersonal skills were astonishing. He would help the juniors with their competitions and exams. I saw him as a huge asset.

When he entered Class 11, something happened to this happy and talkative child. He started wilting and slipping into depression. The reason was that his parents wanted him to choose science and to take the IIT JEE exams. They saw engineering as a safety net. The child, on the other hand, loved psychology. As he liked interacting with people, he wanted to be in the HR industry.

We then counselled the parents and the child. After many sessions, all three came to a joint decision – the child would write his JEE but he could do a psychology degree and pursue that line if that was his interest. The child was very happy and actually started focusing more on studies. He realised that he could do what he wanted, which was psychology. He was motivated and was back to his bright and wonderful self.

Today’s children face fiercer competition, huge distractions and immense peer pressure. There is no guarantee of success, but it matters immensely if the parents and the school help the students in making their choice and support them in whatever they do. At the end of the day, let us remember that we are dealing with human beings who are meant to be nurtured and cared for, and they cannot go through factory assembly lines! As educators and parents, we have a huge responsibility to help these young lives blossom into their fullest potential while keeping their identities alive.

(The author is vice-principal, The Samhita Academy)

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