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Students and yearend stress

/ 05:20 AM December 15, 2017

We have very stressed university students at this time of year. And no, it isn’t because of the holiday traffic. It is because of the yearend exams. Indeed, it is that time of year again.

For an enduring academic tradition such as pen-and-paper exams, there is no doubt that generations have surpassed it. But not without resistance. These days, the stakes may be higher.

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The South China Morning Post reports that in the University of Hong Kong, students can book a 30-minute session with Jasper, a nine-year-old sheepdog, starting December. In the University of Guelph, Timmins Today reported that preschoolers designed 1,000 “good luck” cards for distribution to college students during the exam period. In Aberdeen University, the student association has brought ponies from Therapy Ponies Scotland. And in UC Berkeley, the student government brought four llamas to school for the annual De-stress Week earlier this month.

Are all these efforts necessary? Absolutely! Earlier this week, a news report from Times of India gave an account of a 21-year-old female student who ended her life due to exam stress. A month before, it also reported of a student who murdered another student because he wanted to “defer exams and a parent-teachers’ meeting.”

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Although the incidents are rather extreme, there is no doubt that exams are contributory to anxiety and high levels of stress among students. It also doesn’t help that these exams are mere days away from the Holiday season. As Cathline Chen wrote in the Deccan Chronicle, it is a “merry ‘test’mas.”

I am an educator myself, fresh from giving examinations on finance to university students this week. A student of mine jokingly said on Monday that she wouldn’t mind getting brushed by a car on the highway so she doesn’t have to take the exams on Tuesday. I kid you not. And I was a graduate student last year as well, also with yearend exams (12 chapters for one course alone). I remember wanting to bury my head in the sand then.

It certainly isn’t easy. For students who have full loads, chances are these major courses get lumped on a single examination day, mere hours apart from one another. The pressure to meet a target grade, finish a particular module, or satisfy the course requirements come at the expense of the appreciation of and application for the course material. Professors are stressed as well. How do you measure students’ learning when they are learning materials entirely new to them mere weeks ago?

Much has changed with regard to how people work beyond the office setting, but little has changed in our education system. Elton headmaster Tony Little said in 2014 that little has changed since Victorian times. According to Little, students are obliged to sit alone in school to prepare for the world where they will “need to work collaboratively.” To call the exam system “archaic” may be more appropriate as time passes, now that the gap between what students are learning and what employers are seeking has become increasingly wider due to technology.

Universities worldwide are cognizant of the situation, and we have been working hard at it. Sir Kenneth Robinson, an international adviser on education, says that education is modeled after the image of the Industrial Age and its values.

There are also tendencies for inauthentic learning and a suppression of a student’s passion and interests. at the university, we professors are duly reminded that our students did not travel far from their provinces only to come to a classroom where we tell them what to do.

An examination of students’ recalcitrance and sentiments in social media in the past week has provided glimpses of the dynamics of education and how colleges and universities are challenged to meet these changes. Examinations, however, still do play their roles in instilling discipline and industry. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to change our approach. Until then, advance congratulations on your exams, students!

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