Board exams, summer jobs, activities, art -- it certainly doesn't look like summer vacation is a vacation for pre-college teens any longer!
It's that time of the year when most 15-somethings and 17-somethings are letting out a huge sigh of relief. Board exams are over -- it's finally time to unwind and do all the things you've been day-dreaming of doing between the cramming.
Parents of most youngsters are relieved that their children will finally get the chance to do something that they want to, rather than slave away at the tasks and regulations their teachers and school management boards set them.
Let's face it: almost all of us who have attended urban, upper-middle class schools are quite familiar with the academic competitiveness and the tremendous pressure that students undergo to meet expectations. How healthy is this really, and what about those who want some time to themselves, or just to pursue the one thing they're passionate about?
Sixteen-year-old Francesca Shroff of Mumbai's Cathedral & John Connon School just gave her Class X ICSE exams and is relieved that they are over. "There has been no time to do anything on my own this past year," says the youngster, who is keenly interested in the arts and plans to take up the arts stream in college. "I'm interested in theatre, the guitar, I have been teaching dance, painting and I've managed to find a balance. But the pressure can really get to you, what with the enormous expectations that people have."
Continues Francesca, "This was the 150th year of our school, and despite my being in Class X, I was pressurised and forced to participate in the annual play -- even though I wanted to take off from it and concentrate on my studies, and despite the fact that I have been participating every year," Francesca continues. "Things can get crazy and the pressure and the competition are just too much."
But Francesca now plans to follow her own path and is considering a career in the performing and visual arts. "The pressure can create a lot of stress: there's ragging, there's jealousy," she says. "There's also tremendous stigma surrounding the group of students who don't do well academically -- they have a separate batch of classes and there's a lot of ridicule that they have to face."
Dr Sajeda Maskati, a practicing behavioural cognitive therapist in Mumbai, says that ragging and bullying is common, and that jealousy is something that does emerge out of competitive expectations created by parents and teachers in school. "It is often because kids who have gone through it at some stage want to do it to others as well," she says.
It also seems that the stress ICSE students face during their last year in school is more than those giving their exams from other boards. Kavya Bhatt, who like Francesca just appeared for her Class X exams from a school in Vikhroli, Mumbai, says that the stress isn't as high for her under the SSC board. "I haven't thought of what I want to do yet in the summer holidays and I will start looking out for things soon. However, my interests include dance and other artistic activities. That's what I plan to do these holidays," she says.
The reason many of these pre-college students want to take it easy this summer is because their last few school years have been packed with studying and extracurricular activities. Take, for example, Class IX student Abdul Quadir.
"My son is really into cricket, but there's simply been very little time for him to pursue it," says Abdul's father, Gulam Gaziani. His son attends St Mary's School in Mumbai and is already feeling weighed down by the tremendous competition and pressure to perform everywhere and be an all-rounder. The vacations get cut short, there are classes to be attended all the time and the struggle to manage the advanced and difficult standard of an ICSE syllabus can get stifling.
"I began to love cricket ever since I started watching the IPL, when I was 12 years old," says Abdul. "I have developed a passion for it and play informally whenever I get the chance, but there's a lot of discouragement in school, and jealousy because of the pressure and competition."
Abdul wants to complete his studies, however and plans to pursue commerce before he starts thinking about a career in cricket. "You don't get enough time to pursue what you want to while you're in school. I've been interested in learning to play the guitar, as well as lawn tennis," he says.
Expectations are so high at St Mary's, however, that immediately after he has given his Class VIII exams, preparations for Class IX are already underway. There's hardly a few weeks for the youngster to do all he wants to. "So much of pressure and competition is unhealthy," sympathises Gulam Gaziani. "I blame our education policies for this."
Both Francesca and Abdul plan to spend their holidays unwinding -- meeting friends, relaxing and doing what they like. Francesca's classmate Sanaya Kapadia, however, is interested in helping her father out in his community and public service work.
"I teach skating, swimming, dance and various other community activities through my dad's platform," she says. "I've also been tutoring my maid's daughter. I'm interested in doing anything that involves helping others out." In sync with her interest in charity and community activities, Sanaya is interested in forging a career in a field that deals with human resources, law or the arts.
And that's what she plans to do this summer as well. "I've fortunately managed to balance out the stuff I want to do and been able to manage everything fine," she says. "But the pressure can get tremendous in school."
Shyamlee Khanna, who finished her Class XII exams recently from Father Agnel's in Vashi, Mumbai, reiterates the overt pressure to attend classes of all kinds. "We are constantly running from one class to another and the timings are really difficult to manage," she says. While she is preparing to take up engineering, Shyamlee says she just needs a breather this summer and doesn't plan on enrolling in any course of committing to any activity.
Some of the names above have been changed upon request.