The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Big sweat over exam stress
- Consensus to go easy on students

New Delhi, March 24: Stirred by suicides, the Centre today held a brainstorming session to find a way of making the examination system stress-free but quickly realised there could be no magic cure.

At the meeting called by the Arjun Singh ministry, education experts ' representatives from NCERT, CBSE, IIT, IIM and NGOs among them ' agreed that the present structure of board and competitive examinations is untenable and needs to be replaced with a system easier on students.

But the directors of the IITs and IIMs did not want a solution that would dilute the 'brand' value of these institutions.

'They agree the pressure of entrance examinations is leading to a proliferation of coaching institutions and there is tremendous strain on the students,' a human resources development ministry official said. 'But these institutions are against any policy that may lower their academic standards.'

Soon, it became clear there could be no easy solution. With more than 40 boards ' the Delhi-run ICSE and CBSE and the various state boards ' the country does not have a uniform school education system. The government suggested a common system but this would mean encroaching upon the autonomy of the state boards.

HRD minister Arjun Singh, who chaired the meeting, later said: 'This is the beginning of a national debate. We agree something needs to be done to lessen the huge load of examination stress on students but without lowering the quality of education.'

Inability to cope with pressure and accept failure is driving more and more students to death. Last month, a 13-year-old hanged herself in Calcutta after she was scolded by her mother for watching TV instead of studying. Another girl attempted suicide in the city hours before the Madhyamik examination.

Along with recurrent suicides, the increasing number of students reporting traumatic disorders linked with examination fear is worrying policy-makers. In Delhi, a survey of students in 150 schools by VIMHANS, a leading mental health institute, found that almost 40 per cent felt overwhelmed by examinations.

This is not the first time a Union government has shown concern. But the Arjun Singh ministry says this time a solution will be found. The department is hopeful of working out a satisfactory alternative examination system by the next academic year.

Of the suggestions thrown up today, the one that seems easiest to implement is an increase of the test duration. 'Students have to answer lengthy papers and it would help them if the duration can be increased by at least half-an-hour,' a ministry official said.

Another suggestion was that pre-board examinations ' that schools conduct before the finals ' be done away with.

Singh said the issue was so complex the government would have to hold several rounds of talks before finalising a reform plan, which was likely to come through in a couple of months.

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