Education must enhance the well-being of students and it must also take into account their psychological and emotional state
Well-being is an essential component of happiness and a better-quality life. Due to workload challenges, responsibilities and complexity, psychological stress has become an inevitable part of our lives. Teaching-learning environments are also becoming extremely demanding and complex. Students face academic-related stress whether on account of their ability to secure higher marks, better employment, or meet other expectations. Increased emphasis on competition and performance-oriented results or targets has been breeding grounds for rising anxieties.
According to National Crimes Records Bureau, at least one student commits suicide every day in India, and between 1995 to 2019, India has lost more than 1,70,000 students to suicide. This terrifying number seems to be getting worse with every passing year, painting a bleak picture of India's education system. As per a 2021 UNICEF Report, lockdowns made children more vulnerable to mental and health issues. Non-existent social interaction, heavy dependence on gadgets, absence of practical knowledge, and monotony of life led to withdrawal symptoms with many students becoming reluctant to interact and learn.
Stress is not only confined to the learners. The teaching fraternity is also overworked. The administrative job burden on the faculty is increasing and to a considerable extent is producing unhappiness connected to the nature of work. Teachers' lives have become more difficult and stressful by the recently implemented system of grading educational institutions, which requires them to showcase research and participation in various activities and events.
The sector is on the verge of a revolutionary change with the introduction of the National Education Policy (NEP) promising aspirational benefits. The policy aims to transform the process of acquiring knowledge moving from textbook-constrained resources to more practical, specialized, and skill-based learning. The policy with an emphasis on learning, critical thinking, passion, practicality, and performance is deemed to help de-stress the learning environments and also lead to holistic learning approaches.
No doubt, such reform was long-awaited, but the government and policymakers must also pay attention to the student's time management and relaxation aspect. Addressing the root cause of academic pressure may be the most efficient way to alleviate stress and create a more inclusive and healthier environment for learning. The State of the World's Children Report 2021 said most children and teens with mental health disorders go undiagnosed because they are reluctant to seek help. The teachers should be trained to understand any psychological issues faced by students and should be given special time slots to deal with such students regularly. The Union Education Ministry's Manodarpan initiated in Covid times is a step in the right direction and should be further strengthened.
Studies have reported that simple measures like later start times in schools have a positive impact on lowering the stress level of students. The adoption of a "Happiness Curriculum" in 2018 in government schools run by the Aam Aadmi Party also appears to be a step in the right direction. The curriculum with inputs from teachers, psychologists, education consultants, volunteers, senior officials from the Directorate of Education, Government of Delhi, non-governmental organisation employees, and the State Council of Educational Research and Training appears to be effective and other states are also developing parallel programs. India does not have a uniform policy in this regard. There was no relaxation during online classes as well, when the world was complaining of increasing screen time and its harmful effects on the eyes, mind, and behaviour of children.
To this day, and for the foreseeable future, the educational system stands as a solid pillar of our economic and social infrastructure. As a major employer, it ranks among the top five in the country. A policy change in terms of social well-being by improving the working hours, amount of work, and working conditions to enhance the quality of life in terms of proper sleep, relaxation, quality family, and personal time could help in reducing stress.
Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, is of the view that flexible working arrangements could be the "next step" in contemporary, healthy living. So wherein, it may take years of policy-building in setting guidelines for social well-being, immediate action on a mandatory two-day weekend off at least in the education sector can certainly help. While the education sector is on the brink of reforms with the introduction of National Education Policy, we certainly expect, that it will cater to this basic and essential component of the well-being of our upcoming generations.
(Kajleen is an assistant professor and Harpreet is an associate professor in economics at Sri Guru Gobind Singh College of Commerce, University of Delhi. The views expressed are personal)