Mumbai: Suresh Sawant is an anxious parent. His son’s Class 10 exams are due to begin in the first week of March but the youngster is unable to sit and study for three straight hours. “His marks were unsatisfactory even in the practice exams because he couldn’t finish writing his papers,” said Sawant. “We then requested his school to provide counselling, and a few sessions were organised.”

Ahead of the Class 10 and Class 12 boards, several schools have begun additional hours of counselling for students on how to cope with stress and ace the exams. The techniques range from regular deep breathing to five minutes of meditation right before they begin writing an exam paper. Parents, on their part, are taught ways to reduce their children’s stress.

This academic year, schoolteachers noticed many different problems among students. A lack of concentration was the most glaring – sometimes the children could not even sit for three hours at a stretch to write a paper. Then there was post-Covid digital detoxification, necessitated by students’ constant use of mobile phones for their distance classes. As a result, schools began planning solutions right from the beginning of the year.

Elaborating on digital detoxification, Poorva Shingre, counselling psychologist and school counsellor at Kanakia RBK School, Mira Road, told HT that two years of Covid had seen many students get digitally addicted. “We arranged special sessions for digital detoxification, which helped students get off their phones and return to their books,” she said. “This year, we placed greater emphasis on mindful exercises, instructing students to take a deep breath and meditate five minutes before exams, which helps them focus more positively.”

Shingre said that with more students experiencing panic attacks this year, RBK School organised special training sessions on how to overcome these. “There was also a special session for parents, instructing them on how to behave with their kids,” she said. “Many parents put indirect as well as direct pressure on their children as a result of their expectations. We gave them small tips such as not to discuss exams until they were over, not to give a reaction before the child had reacted to the issue and so on. These little things really help students to remain stress-free during the whole academic year.”

Srividya Iyer, assistant general manager of the Personalised Learning Centre (PLC) at the Vibgyor Group of Schools, said, “We have PLCs in every school of ours, and we start the process in Grade 9. We did a workshop on emotional intelligence, which taught student how to manage their emotions and consequently their stress levels during exams.”

Iyer said she had observed that students, by and large, were a resilient lot. “They are very happy to return to school, and enjoy the experience of writing exams,” she said. “But some students face problems. For these, we arranged problem-solving sessions. We also give students worksheets to understand their mindset and teach them mindfulness and deep-breathing exercises.” The schools also arranged for one-on-one counselling sessions as and when required.

Aachal Jain, Pastoral Care Coordinator, of the Aditya Birla World Academy, said the school was focusing on one-on-one counselling sessions to deal with students’ emotions. “As we saw that an increasing number of students were having panic attacks during exams, we taught our students deep breathing, 9-11 breathing and box breathing to keep them calm during their studies,” she said. “Now we also have online Zoom sessions as and when required for students as well as their parents.”

For students from a lower socio-economic strata, exam stress is exacerbated by their environment. In Lion M P Bhuta Sion Saravajnik School near Dharavi, extra efforts are put in to ameliorate the emotional problems of children. “Most students from our school don’t have space to study in their homes,” said principal Jagdish Indalkar. “Also, due to the environment in slums, they aren’t able to concentrate on their studies. So we allow them to be in school from 7 am to 5 pm to study. We also provide them with question banks for practice.”

During the two years of Covid and long-distance learning, many Dharavi students started working on the side. With most of these unwilling to subsequently return to education, the school had to start connecting with their parents and arrange various events for them. “We also arranged art-based therapy, study camps and writing-practice sessions in the Diwali and Xmas vacations to motivate students,” said Indalkar.

Sayali College in Borivali started mock sessions from September onwards to make sure that students were able to write their answer paper in three hours. “We gave them a three-minute break after every 15 minutes,” said principal Ashirwad Lokhande. “Gradually, they got used to the routine again, and now they can easily write a paper in three hours.” Students were also instructed to record voice notes of questions and answers on their phone, which were verified by teachers and then reforwarded to students. “With this, students can listen to the voice notes any time they want, which helps them memorise the answers to the questions,” said Lokhande.

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