Calm the butterflies

Usha Raman

It’s that time of year – again. Examination season is upon us and there’s a sense that this is the time of reckoning, all round. Students worry about getting good enough marks to see them through to the next phase. Teachers worry about whether all those hours spent in the classroom and beyond are going to show in performance. Principals worry about pass percentage and other metrics that demonstrate a job well done. And parents worry about whether they have made the right choices for their children, or in some cases, whether they have supported their children in making their own choices.

But what if we woke up one day and decided to give up all this worry? What if we decided to change the frame by which we understood education, and by extension, examinations? What if we chose to look at them as just another milestone that has its uses, just one more stage that has to be passed?

There’s no denying that we need to have a way of assessing whether a student has gained some understanding of concepts and some retention of content, and examinations play a role in that. Likewise, there’s no denying that we need some way to assess whether they are ready to go on to the next level. Usually, a watchful teacher would have a sense of this even without examinations, so our anxiety clearly is not about whether a student is ready to graduate or not, but it has to do with showing the world (or the next educational institution) that she is. And this anxiety grows so big that it overshadows what we know. Over time, we’ve made a habit of inviting the anxiety in every exam season, and letting it take over our minds.

We all know that it’s not possible to change the system overnight, or to change the conditions that produce such anxiety. But we can deal with it in sensible and strengthening ways. The foremost among these is an acceptance that we’ve done our jobs, and now, it’s up to the students. Coming close on the heels of this is the willingness to relinquish the burden of responsibility. If you’ve worked hard to build capacity in your students, you know there is little more you can do, and it’s time to let them take over. No matter what everyone else says, your main job is over the moment you cleaned the last words off the green board in your classroom. After this, you can maybe occupy the sidelines and cheer your team on, but you can’t do much more about their learning.

You can, however, do something about their anxiety, and in the process make it easier for them to walk into that examination hall without the burdens of expectation and the anxiety about their future.

So these last few days before the examination, try to shift the focus away from the examinations themselves to their own state of mind. Get them to recognize their strengths as individual human beings, a strength that can take them from one small goal to the next.

And then, do yourself a favour. Set down that burden of responsibility in the sure knowledge that you’ve done your bit, and it’s time now to look to the next group of pupils.

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