Stuti Agarwal is a star student in her school. The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan girl represents the institution in elocution, debate and creative-writing contests, contributes to student newspapers and gives tuition to kids in Class V. She doesn't take any tuition herself, but the Class XII humanities student still stood second in her pre-Board exams.
Five hours of sleep every night is all Stuti needs, and she is completely confident of acing her CBSE finals starting next week. On Sunday, the 17-year-old will be busy interviewing the panellists of The Telegraph Calcutta Club National Debate, for the TTIS newspaper. On Monday, she'll file her stories. And on Wednesday, Stuti will be sitting for her school-leaving exam.
An all-action lifestyle apart, this youngster has won many an award, academic and otherwise. She may be talented, but by no means is she an exception. The secret to her success ' and of a growing bunch of teenagers ' is balance.
With the Board exams having kicked off with Madhyamik 2006 on Friday, the pressure is mounting. The day begins early, study books are permanently open and in hand and a break is a precious commodity. But for one section of the youth brigade, it isn't all tears and fears. Exams are a part of life, not the end of the world as they know it. There is always time for a bit of fun.
'I study all through the year, and all through the day, whenever I get time,' says Stuti. 'I study in the morning, at night and in my spare time. But I also do other things, which is very important to me. In class, I sit in the front bench and pay attention, so at exam time, I don't feel like I know nothing.'
For Goldy Bhowmick, life is a little more trying than usual these days. The Class XI student of Salt Lake CS School has also been preparing for the Joint Entrance through the year, and is now in school exam mode. She has had to cut down on a lot of her activities, but that doesn't mean it's time to say 'stop'.
The avid debater has been participating in contests all through the year. Her most recent accomplishment was winning a Bengali elocution contest at Bidhannagar Mela, held from January 18 to February 6. Her school exams begin from February 27. Goldy has also been taking part in drama competitions and winning prizes for her story-writing skills.
'I miss all the things I can't do. I got 94 per cent in my ICSE exams, despite being involved in tons of stuff. Now I am less involved, but I still keep taking part in events,' she confesses. Study stress certainly doesn't mean telling the world to stop and let her off.
For some of these youngsters, extracurricular activity gives a boost to the curricular. 'Those of us who contribute to newspapers with reports or poems do well in English,' reasons Sourendra Kumar Das. The Class XI student of Salt Lake School has only recently curtailed his activities, a mere two weeks before his exams. 'The things I do outside the classroom enhance my creativity and help me focus,' he insists.
Parents as friends
Parental support in the time of examinations is vital to the well-being of these youngsters. With cases of teenage depression and suicide on the rise ' most of it linked to the pressure cooker situation created by examinations ' even the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education has woken up to the need to take stress-buster steps. 'It is our earnest appeal to parents (of students appearing for Madhyamik 2006) not to force their wards to study for long hours,' Board president Ujwal Basu said on Friday.
Counsellor Shagufta Hanaphie stresses the importance of parents being more friendly than firm at this time of the year. 'It is important for them to talk to their children, to listen to them and understand their needs and problems. Taking a break from studies is important. Just because exams are around the corner, parents shouldn't say 'stop all your other activities'. They should be lessened, but a break from the monotony is very necessary. Parents should be their friends.'
Through the organisation Launcherz, Shagufta has held workshops for students on all aspects of exams, including how to answer questions in the right order, overcoming nervousness and exam tension.
Stuti's parents are adept at being 'friends' with their children. Mother Pushpa asserts that her two daughters have been independent from a young age, juggling part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and studies with ease. 'We are there if they need us, but we don't interfere. They know what is good for them and how much time should be spent studying and having fun,' she adds. 'Right now, it doesn't seem like Stuti has Board exams. Everything in the house is normal... What is the point of stressing'
Binay Bhagat couldn't have managed without help from his parents either. Pressure is something this youngster understands, but buckling under is not in his nature. The Class XII student of St Augustine's Barrackpore organised the Kolkata Idol contest as a para event, on the lines of the Indian Idol TV show.
Having saved up money by giving tuition and selling his paintings, Binay hosted the event with Rs 50,000 from his own pocket. This star dramatist, artist and athlete with 150 awards under his belt is hard at work to make the second edition of the event to be held in April bigger and better.
'My parents never pressure me, they are very proud of me. I only get about two to five hours of sleep a night, but I'm fine,' says Binay. The all-rounder is confident of doing well in his final exams, having studied through the year.
Beat the stress
'It is very important for students to have some time to themselves during exams,' stresses S. D'Souza, principal of Hartley High School. 'It also helps them manage time better. They know when to study, but also how to relax and not let the pressure get to them.'
The mother of two is happy that son Neil, in Class IX, St Xavier's School, takes time out to listen to music. 'He is a national level junior tennis champ, and he goes for practice every week. It's not a distraction.'
In Loreto Sealdah, the students stick to a normal routine despite exams. 'Otherwise, they'll get bogged down,' says Class XI and XII political science and English teacher Magdalene Gomes. 'We keep the activity schedule going, and the students also keep up with the Rainbow project.'
Barkha Sharda is a prize-winning poet and the founder-president of her school's nature club. The Class XII student of Ashok Hall has been busy through the year, participating in almost ever school fest in prose, poetry and public speaking contests, as well as doing work with underprivileged kids.
She takes no tuition either, but Barkha is confident of doing well in her Boards. 'I have given myself a month to study. That should be enough. I am not nervous about it,' says the humanities student.
Friends Karan Malhotra and Prateek Lohia are slowing down the pace of life and picking up their books more often. But the two boys still make time to type in their backlog of reports and interviews to send in to TTIS.
'In our education system, exams are a matter of life or death. The school blames the parents and the parents blame the school for the stress. Any extracurricular activity is regarded as dispensable. This system has to change for the sake of the children,' concludes Brendan McCarthaigh, CEO of the NGO Serve.