Competitiveness in Academic Sphere
“How much did you score in boards?” “Did you hear she couldn’t get into XYZ college?” “Their child does so well, why can’t you be more like them?” In today’s age, marks, percentages, and placements make up ninety percent of a person’s image. Not the art they make, their personality, or their achievements in any other field.
A study conducted by the International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, combining studies from various countries, found that “the prevalence of anxiety is as high as 35% and the prevalence of depression is 30% among students who were academically stressed.”
A quora answer from 2017 says, “Education is supposed to be that ‘aha’ moment when you learn something new, or see something in a new light.” But these days it’s all about cramming your syllabus, swallowing and vomiting (a frequently used phrase these days being ‘brainvomit’) it onto the answer sheet.
Aakriti Singh says, “I think Indian society as a whole believes that competition is healthy and good, that coming second is as bad as failing and the only way to succeed is to win this neverending rat race. As students we often face an unhealthy amount of stress trying to answer the question ‘are we good enough?’ It’s true, we do thrive under competition, but more often than not we tend to lose ourselves in the crowd. Wouldn’t it be great if we could embrace and celebrate the smallest of victories?”
High school and colleges have become nothing more than a test of endurance, a fast-paced environment where even a 0.25% change in marks can make or break you. The academic space encourages ‘the grind.’ All forms of media are filled with complaints of “I have so much work to do” and “I’m going to be up all night doing work.” from Twitter to WhatsApp class groups, all spaces find #hustleculture sneaking it’s way in and resulting in anxiety, stress and sometimes, even a physical impact on our health.
Of course, we have the age-old culture of parents comparing us with Sharma Ji’s children, don’t we? But shouldn’t we stop and think about how we reached this place, where asking your child to be like others, to match up to their achievements and suffocate any sense of individuality became normalised enough for us to laugh about it? There are multiple factors which lead to academic competition and the tension that comes along with it, from our parents and deeply flawed education system to those wretched relatives you haven’t met since you were seven but love nothing more than to inquire about and comment on your board results.
Leslie Karen in her article on hustle culture says, “I’ve been reading letters of reference lately, and phrases like ‘inexhaustible,’ ‘endless energy,’ and ‘tireless’ are sprinkled throughout as admirable qualities in the candidates. I can’t help but think: you’re inexhaustible until you’re not. And then you’re done for.”
What does it lead to?
“Academic pressure from universities during the pandemic is huge, the list of things we have to do is dizzying sometimes, five hours long OBE exams, assignments, webinars, internships and research papers. There is no space to breathe.” says Oshmita, a second year student of psychology in Delhi University.
Academic stress adversely affects student’s personal, emotional, and physical well-being, as well as their learning and performance levels. Various studies highlighted the relationship between educational stress and internalizing and externalizing problems in school contexts. Students with high stress are found to be indulging in various maladaptive and risky behaviors such as poor eating and sleeping patterns. Incidences of depression were also found among stressful adolescents. When failure isn’t seen as a part of the learning process but a child’s incompetence, not only does it do serious damage to our self esteem and confidence, it also promotes an unhealthy and taxing situation where it becomes difficult to cope.
Riddhi Mukherjee, a student of sociology from LSR says “As someone who has always been sensitive to stress yet academically ambitious, exam season has always been quite hectic for me. I gave the ISC last year and it’ll always be one of the most difficult experiences of my life – ISC exams are lower scoring, the courses more extensive and papers tougher and I knew I would have to compete with CBSE scores to get into my dream college. After my first exam, which was the notorious English Literature paper, I thought it was over for me because I didn’t think I’d done as well as I could or written as much as I could. I started having panic attacks for the first time in my life dreading the next time I’d have to sit in that dreaded exam hall, would become paralysed with worry about how this one paper would affect my percentage and obsessively checked cutoffs every night before going to sleep. Board exams affected my mental well being in a permanent, lasting way that I will never be able to outrun. My heart goes out to the victims of the predatory and stress inducing education system that seems to want machines, and not humans, to come out of it.”
Source: people matters
Now, we come to the most important question – how do we delineate yourself from this toxic cycle? I wish there was a WikiHow to escape our exhausting education system, unfortunately, we don’t have that. Here are some other options instead.
Remind yourself that most of us are in this for the long haul – 30, 40 even 50 years. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Overburdening yourself with internships, research papers and responsibilities may help your resume but it can also do extensive damage to your mental health. At the cost of sounding like every other ‘15 steps to reduce exam stress’ article, having a healthy sleep and eating cycle can be more important than we realise, glorifying the ‘I only get three hours of sleep because I study so much’ won’t get us anywhere, at least not in a way that isn’t counterproductive in the long run.
These solutions may help in small ways, but are in no way the answer to our structural problems. However, until we bring a change in the system, let’s all make sure that we protect our mental health from HashtagHustleCulture.