Nearly 81 per cent students across nation anxious over academics, shows survey

Almost 49 per cent school children were not satisfied with their personal life, and close to half were not happy with their body image, the survey conducted by Ministry of Education and NCERT showed

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Zenaira Bakhsh

A recent national mental health survey conducted by the Ministry of Education and National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has found that an overwhelming majority of students at the middle and high school levels are anxious about academic activities.

The findings of the survey, based on responses from nearly 3.8 lakh students across the country studying in government and private schools, have identified “frequent mood swings” as an area of concern.

As per the survey, eight in 10 (81 per cent) middle to higher-secondary class students in India reported feeling anxious over academics – particularly studies (50 per cent) and exams and results (31 per cent).

Besides, almost half of these kids (49 per cent) were not satisfied with their personal life, and close to half (45 per cent) were not happy with their body image.

The survey was conducted between January and March among students in 36 states and Union Territories to understand their thoughts on mental health and physical well-being.

The respondents were divided into two groups – the middle stage (Classes 6-8) and the secondary stage (Classes 9 to 12).

Sidharth Chopra, a member of Samarthya, a non-profit organisation working toward enabling parental voices and improving parent participation in schools, said there are a lot of factors with which anxiety can be associated both inside as well as outside the school.

“Inside the school, punishment, fear of getting hit or getting bullied by your classmates and even by the teachers sometimes, fear of not getting the homework done and the fear of consequences, and fear of failing in the classes contribute to anxiety amongst students,” he said.

For the outside factors, Chopra said that mostly they depend on the kind of environment a child lives in. “When parents a lot of times have to go to work and they stay out from morning till night, children don’t have good support or a proper learning environment at home sometimes,” he added. “When a child faces all of this along with their education, anxiety and depression are common.”

“Decline in satisfaction with personal and school life is seen as students shift from middle to secondary stage,” the survey report noted. “The secondary stage is marked by challenges of an identity crisis, increased sensitivity towards relationships, peer pressure, fear of board examination, anxiety and uncertainty experienced by students for their future admissions, career, etc.”

The survey also showed that 45 per cent of students felt tired twice or thrice a week. A total of 34 per cent of them felt tearful, while 27 per cent felt lonely. These feelings were prevalent in students in the secondary stage.

“A lot of times, children don’t have people to talk to or even celebrate with. So school-going children are also becoming lonelier,” Chopra said.

Girl students were found to be partially more anxious about academics – 81.1 per cent compared to 77.7 per cent of boys and more unhappy as 64.4 per cent of girls reported happiness as a ‘frequent emotion’ compared to 67.7 per cent of boys. Girls also more frequently reported mood swings, and feelings of being tired, tearful, and lonely.

“Girl students are in a far worse situation as compared to men. This society is not familiar with girls raising their voices and pushing for what they want. When the unfamiliarity increases, society tries to cope with it by rejecting it,” said Chopra, adding that girl students face all types of discrimination including parents preferring to send their boy children to private schools and girl children to government schools.

In India, around 250 million students were affected due to school closures at the onset of the lockdown induced by COVID-19. The pandemic posed several challenges in public and private schools which included an expected rise in dropouts, learning losses, and an increase in the digital divide.

As per the survey, more than half 51 per cent of respondents said that they faced difficulties in learning through online mode, while 39 per cent said that they had to deal with technical or network-related problems.

A total of 43 per cent of students said that they experienced mood swings during the pandemic, while 7 per cent said they had been prone to self-harm. Moreover, nearly 18 per cent of students said that their families went through financial difficulties, while 4 per cent of respondents lost their relatives.

G.N. Var, a member of the National Independent School Alliance, a platform that brings together Budget Private Schools (BPS) from across the country said that in the past two years, due to COVID-19, the number of learning losses among children all over India stood at 84 per cent as per a survey conducted by it.

“There has been a great divide between haves and have-nots. Poor children do not even have access to smartphones. In the past two years, access to education became difficult for such children. Easy internet access was available only to those children who came from more privileged backgrounds,” he added.

He moreover believes that the government’s decision on forming the new National Education Policy (NEP) “without taking experts and educationists on board” contributed to the anxiety and depression amongst students. The NEP was approved on 29 July 2020 by the Union cabinet, replacing the existing educational policy made in 1986.

“The NEP is a brainchild of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This policy doesn’t focus on growing a scientific temperament but on ancient India, history, and religion. All the students are disturbed because of over-governance,” he said, adding that the NEP supports a particular ideology.

“Hijab became an issue for school-going children. Don’t you think they will be impacted by all of this? This is a religious and gender-based issue while the discussions in classrooms should have been on scientific issues,” he said, adding, “There is a need for a child-centric and logic-driven education system.”

Mudassir Pandith, a child psychologist based in Kashmir, said that the mental health condition of school-going children has worsened after the pandemic. However, other reasons may include parental issues, lack of washrooms in schools for girls and transgender students, eve-teasing, and even distance of the school from home, he opined.

“There should be a proper mental health program to tackle the issues at an early age. By the time the children reach us (mental health experts), the condition is often quite bad,” he said, adding that schools need to take mental health more seriously.

“Experts should have professional knowledge and an idea of how to tackle children with mental health issues so that children can confide in them,” he added.

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