As awareness around mental health issues has aggravated, schools have been focusing on how they can improve the mental health of students. In this article, we will explore the important changes that can be made by the Indian education system, how schools in India and their curriculum pose a threat to the minds of the upcoming generations, and how the problems can be tackled to improve it.
Problems that need to be tackled:
Exam-centric learning can reduce intrinsic motivation:
The traditional education system follows a very systematic pattern that primarily focuses on memorization and rote learning, where our entire learning processes are focused on what textbooks convey. Students’ thought processes converge rather than open up to different possibilities. Students end up memorising and mugging up the information from textbooks, which limits the student’s ability to think critically and creatively. The criteria for ‘correct’ answers also depend on whether the student has written according to what the textbook materials say. This may narrow down students’ thought processes. As a result, students are more motivated by the desire to get good grades (extrinsic motivation) rather than a true interest in learning (intrinsic motivation). This can make learning feel more like a task to complete rather than something enjoyable and meaningful.
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Criticism and Comparison:
Teachers often engage in criticism and comparison within students, when they read out the marks in class, contributing to a culture of competition in class. Students who receive lower marks may feel less confident about their abilities and can de-motivate them. The fear of public criticism and comparison can create a fear of failure which discourages students from taking risks and actively participating in class.
‘Fun learning’ experiences, fostering open-mindedness:
Indian schools need to encourage experience-based learning, reduce rote learning and equip minds to open-mindedness. The curriculum does not accompany all types of learners. Latest technology such as digital whiteboards have been equipped at many schools, which allow teachers to teach textbook content through the use of digital apps where students can watch videos, present from PPTs, and use various other applications. Although many teachers do not use the resources to their full potential. Engaging in fun activities can make learning more interesting where students view learning as ‘inspiring’ rather than an obligatory task.
Class Goals and Motivation
In the traditional system, teachers often prioritize students achieving ‘good marks’ over becoming ‘better learners.’ This emphasis on test scores represents extrinsic motivation, focusing on external goals like exam success. When students fall short of these goals, it can negatively impact their self-worth and efficacy, leading to feelings of unworthiness and a belief that they cannot succeed in tasks. Setting high yet realistic expectations for students can induce belief in their own abilities to meet challenges and cultivate a mindset of resilience and perseverance. Encouraging self-reflection can prompt them to think about the strategies they used, the challenges they faced, and the progress they have made.
What are the ways Indian schools can uplift the Mental health of students in the classroom?
Prioritizing Holistic Student Development over Academic-Centric Approaches:
First, there should be a shift towards a more holistic approach that values overall well-being over exam results. Introducing stress management and mental health education into the curriculum can equip students with coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms (such as mindfulness techniques, breathing exercises) can provide students with a mental health toolkit in situations where they feel stress or anxiety, and help them deal with distress better.
Focus and importance of non-academic activities like yoga-meditation, dance, music, sports, foreign languages, photography, art and design, etc can benefit students’ cognitive skills to become better learners and focus on their holistic development.
Celebrating ‘progress’ rather than ‘achievements’ regardless of whether the child has reached the final goal or not, can reinforce the idea that continuous effort is what leads to success.
Teachers can encourage students to actively participate in their learning through experiments, role-playing and activities that make the class more fun and engaging, rather than traditional methods of reading out and presenting. Developing interactive exercises where students can work together to solve problems can facilitate group behaviour.
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Teachers should provide constructive feedback when they are bought up with challenges (e.g a child who is finding difficulties), instead of differentiating, criticizing and scolding them for obtaining fewer marks (as it can affect their self-esteem). Constructive feedback helps students understand their abilities can be developed through dedication and work.
Teach students ‘Brain’s Plasticity’:
Introducing the concept of neuroplasticity can help students understand that the brain can change and grow with effort. It reinforces the idea that intelligence isn’t fixed but can be developed through effort and meaningful actions.
Schools should set up a reward system, that reinforces positive behaviour that motivates students to behave in line with core values of an ideal learner (such as Knowledgeable, Risk-taking, Communicative, Open-minded, Inquirers, Thinkers, Reflectors). When a student shows positive behaviour in the classroom like ‘sharing some new knowledge that they found with the class’, the teacher acknowledges this behaviour and rewards the student with a sticker. Students are highly motivated by this reward system as they are conditioned to such positive reinforcement, creating enthusiasm in class.