The pandemic has not just claimed 28,298 lives, infected almost 25.67 lakh people and stretched the health infrastructure to its limit across Karnataka, but it is threatening the very wellbeing and future of the most crucial segment of society – the students. They are struggling physically and mentally in the hope of securing a robust future and contributing to society.
But the foundation to that pursuit and hope – education itself – is in a huge mess. This has set levels of anxiety and stress among students unprecedentedly high.
While the pandemic is justifiably blamed for it, the lack of anticipation, decision-making and adequate preparedness on the part of the government has compounded the situation to a large extent. The rearrangement of academic curricula, exam postponement/ cancellation and changes in evaluation mechanisms has pushed every student to the brink – and, unfortunately, some even over it.
Take the case of 21-year-old Niharika Rao (name changed), a final- year Commerce student in Bengaluru. She is the daughter of a bank clerk, nursing an ambition to become an accomplished chartered accountant “to boost her family income and status”. She was known to friends and relatives as a cheerful girl with a lot of positive attitude. After classes went online and a few days in offline mode in January- March, she started showing symptoms and was diagnosed with clinical acute depression. On two occasions, she has tried to end her life. Her friends say she was increasingly anxious about her future amid the “obstructed” classes and worried over her plans to become a chartered accountant.
In March-April, she started withdrawing into a shell, turning irritable and even hostile at times, and started losing concentration. Though she follows her courses online, she does not involve actively in class discussions like before. She is now under regular counselling and medication.
But a large majority of such students lack access to counselling facilities and many remain undiagnosed.
The psychologically better off are compromising their ambitions and goals. “Many are looking at jobs, putting aside their interests and capabilities,” says a senior career counsellor, requesting anonymity.
Those aiming to study abroad are suffering anxieties over repeated waves of the pandemic and the impact on their studies. “I want to pursue my MS degree at a prestigious foreign university. But with the change in the academic year, I fear I may not make it. I wonder whether I should wait for a year or two to accomplish my dream,” says Kaushik R, a final-year BE student in Mysuru.
Raghu Rao, a final-year civil engineering student in Shivamogga, says, “Ours is an unfortunate batch. We have no experience of doing on-site projects to understand job intricacies. We even lost out on campus recruitments this year.”
Also, as evaluation mechanisms have changed and many are being passed with their internal assessment or average marks, students fear that they would be denied higher education or jobs.
Impact on personality
Experts say students across segments are affected by this mess. Shivraj Pujar, a Class 9 CBSE student in Ballari, says that with online classes, it is difficult to understand the lessons, particularly maths and science. He is under pressure at home because of this, adding to his stress.
Counsellor Dr Sandhya Kaveri at Shivamogga says students, particularly from classes 6 to 12 (PUII), go through a period of “disciplined development”, which is missing now. This may affect their personality development impacting later stages of their lives. “One issue in this age group is psychological weaning with emotions, which further makes an impact on development of social quotient (determines performance in relation to age) and emotional quotient (determines ability to understand, use and manage emotions towards others). As students in this age group are missing two years of socialising in schools and campuses many are exhibiting deviant behaviour. For parents, this is a major problem to handle at home,” she says.
Dr Satish Kumar, Consultant - Clinical Psychologist, Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru, says, “It is difficult to make students of class 6-9 understand concepts. When a student misses a topic during an online class, she/he cannot retrieve it as the class continues. I have heard high school students complain about this. There is a lack of human interaction in online classes. Many cannot understand the lessons and this affects their performance. This in turn leads to parents pressuring them, which cascades into parents-children conflicts as they think children are not focusing. But children are struggling to get the topics taught through online classes.”
He says also, students in classes 10 and 12 are confused about choosing their next college. “Children are dealing with insecurities. There is no career guidance available.”
Those appearing for boards and competitive exams too are facing stress and anxiety, with postponements adding to their woes. The Central Board of Secondary Examinations (CBSE) has decided to hold Class 12 exams over July- August, and the Karnataka PU Board has decided to hold it in July, trying to complete them before the CBSE exams.
The State board has also appealed that competitive exams to professional courses be held after the CBSE exams get over in August. Now there is a debate whether to hold PU II exams online or offline. If held online, a large number of rural students will be put in a difficult situation as many don’t have access to online tools. If offline, students would be exposed Covid. The issue has landed the State Government in a Catch 22 situation.
The CBSE and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) have cancelled Class 10 examinations, but the State Government is yet to take a decision on Class 10 Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) exams.
“We need to have a realistic approach to the examination issue,” says educationist Niranjanaradhya VP. “Last academic year (2019-20), the pandemic hit the fag end of it. By then, students had uniform learning and preparatory exams were completed. The offline classes held from January to March were not conceptually clear as teachers taught in a rush.”
He says the government needs innovative solutions to this unprecedented situation. He suggests restructuring the Class 12 syllabus into a three-month bridge course to cope with degree courses and holding exams at college level right now. “Teachers are the best judges of the amount of board syllabus completed and hence college level examinations are more effective in case exams are a must,” he says.
“Conducting exams is not only about physical safety, but also the mental health of students. This wave has hit almost every family and it’s unreasonable to conduct exams in such stressful times,” says Ameena Baig, General Secretary, Bangalore Students Community.
Inputs from: Pearl Maria D’Souza; Ranjani Madhavan; Iffath Fathima; Kiran Balannanavar; Arunkumar Huralimath; Karthik KK; Ramachandra V Gunari; Prajna GR; Ramakrishna Badseshi; Devaraj Hirehalli; Raghu Koppar; and Tushar Majukar