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A sense of low self-esteem
- Confidence on ebb among schoolgirls

Lack of confidence in herself seems to have compelled Priyanka Das to throw herself in front of a train on Thursday, though this 16-year-old had blamed her geography teacher for driving her to despair in her suicide note.

This note, mentioning her inability to find appreciation, highlights an emerging problem ' lack of self-confidence ' that many girls are unable to surmount these days.

By way of confirmation, H. Peacock, principal, La Martiniere for Girls, said on Sunday: 'I was surprised to find students of my school, even those in senior classes, hesitant to speak about their achievements. To feel proud of one's abilities is not the same as being arrogant, but many of our children lack this understanding.'

Regardless of social background, girl students of reputed schools in Calcutta lack self-confidence ' the courage to be justifiably proud of their worth and speak with confidence about their abilities.

A survey conducted by two city-based non-governmental organisations ' Anisha Counselling Centre and Mon Foundation ' in schools, including nearly a dozen prominent English-medium institutions like La Martiniere, Pratt Memorial, St Thomas and St Paul's, reveals the disturbing trend.

In the past three years, 5,500 girls were surveyed in the city, in an exercise aimed at promoting mental well-being among schoolchildren, yet no solution is at hand.

Taken aback by the trend, La Martiniere for Girls' School has introduced compulsory life-skill education classes for all students between Classes I and XII, where they learn, among many other things, to develop sound mental health and how to make a realistic estimate of their worth and talents.

'The first period of every Friday has been fixed for imparting life-skill education, which is not in the curriculum of the Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations, to which our school is affiliated,' Peacock said.

To examine behavioural problems of schoolchildren, the NGOs, during their survey, asked them to write on three good things about themselves.

'Not a single student from any of the institutions wrote about their achievements,' said Smita Singh, a consultant psychologist and joint director, Anisha Counselling Centre. 'The sense of low self-esteem among girl students of well-known English medium schools struck us, since we had conducted similar studies in lesser-known Bengali medium schools,' Singh said.

Interestingly enough, the converse is not true. When the girls were asked to write about their negative feelings, 'they spontaneously wrote all that is bad in them,' said Swati Mitra, another psychologist who conducted the survey.

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