Media feeds pre-results anxiety

BY Archana Venkat| IN Media Practice | 28/05/2012
Despite the stakeholders stressing the need to reduce tension among students when exam results are expected, most media reports do the opposite.
Their hype aggravates tension, says ARCHANA VENKAT
A couple of years ago suicide deaths were markedly high among the 15–17 year-olds, especially at the time of the announcement of examination results. Bowing to pressure from parents, teachers, and counselors, the CBSE chose to make the Class 10 Board Exam optional and introduced a grade system in lieu of marks. While there was much celebration from students and a thumbs-up verdict by the media at that time (two years ago), it is a bit disappointing to note that most of the news coverage of school results continues to play on the emotions of students and parents.
This story tries hard to generate some level of fear in the hearts of the students. Are students expected to behave different while expecting their results? Is it necessary that they sprout new levels of austerity and devotion? Should they believe in superstitions and “good omens” to help them sail through the exams? Aren’t these the very things we don’t want the children to develop? That some sections of students remain anxious prior to the announcement of results is no reason to write a piece that part ridicules such anxiety and part attempts to drive fear into those who don’t have such feelings.
 This story in Deccan Chronicle pips the previous one by talking about how “tension and euphoria is missing” among the students and seems to regret the absence of “toppers”. Thank you very much, but do we need a report to mention this? The rest of the story talks about how many students got which grade and belonged to which school and emphasises (a bit disappointingly, in my view) on how no “fail/ compartment” grades were declared. If the intention of the report was to highlight the seemingly dramatic shift in students’ emotions this year, a few students, parents, and teachers should have been asked for their opinion on whether this system of grades helped them in keeping tension at bay. That would have added some credibility to the story. Else, the report should have carried information from the press releases issued by various schools. This report carried in the Deccan Herald makes a good case of reportage as it talks about the benefits/impact of the new CBSE grading system.
The Times of India outdid itself in an attempt to ensure “as much coverage as possible” on the results. I am not sure what was the reason for publishing a report like this one that speaks of results declared for the Mumbai region but does not mention the pass percentage or any other statistics. Instead, the results of Chennai are published. A sole quote by a Mumbai-based teacher just speaks of the “surprise move” by the CBSE to publish results unannounced.
Even before the Class 12 results can be announced, parents have been issued a warning – by counselors no less. This story talks about how parents should remain calm in the days to come to ensure that the child doesn’t have stress before examination results are declared. Pray, what good would that be if you are the kind of parent who has been obsessing about “good performance” (that is what my neighbors are using as a euphemism for grades/marks) for the rest of the past year? Your child might actually be worried seeing your change in behavior just before the declaration of results. The story quotes Sneha, a helpline for children to call in times of distress, but doesn’t dig deep to discuss what type of issues children are talking about now or whether the number of calls has gone up in the last few days in anticipation of results and being confronted by parents for poor performance. I can talk to a clutch of my neighbors and put together a more vivid story.
The marks angle that the media have been unable to cover in the CBSE exams is now being covered in the ICSE exam results announcement. No matter how well one performs, it is never enough to be tension–free, it appears, in this report that shows how toppers are the most worried lot this year. Individual State boards seem to be the next choice, with this story even trying to project what might be the cut-off marks for students to enter various colleges in the city.
What can be done to curb such reportage? I have three suggestions based on my experience of covering this sector.
1.   Never report anything that is speculative: Results, admissions, and any other information pertaining to education have a serious impact on families. Comparisons between schools or students on the basis of marks; discussing admission criteria such as cut-off marks, or variable fees; or interest generated in a particular higher education stream are parameters that need to be well researched and backed by facts before publishingthem.
2.   Focus on ordinary students who have made extra-ordinary progress. While most stories on results tend to focus on toppers and their future plans, it is important to talk about the average Joe, simply because there are many like him. If you think it is difficult to top the class, let me tell you it is more difficult to move up 5 percentage points. Speak to average students to figure out what they did to get these kinds of results and what they intended to do next. You will discover many stories of courage and strength. The Hindu used to carry many stories of children from less privileged backgrounds succeeding in exams and it made interesting reading in times when most children I knew went to private tuitions.

Don’t add to the hype: In 2008, a reputed B-School I covered regularly made a policy decision to not talk about the salaries or the designations that its students were being offered. The following year, this stand was taken by some of the IIMs. The logic was that many aspiring students, driven by the salary figures reported in the news, competed to gain admissions in these institutes but eventually could not cope with the course load resulting in failure. Applying the same logic to schools, one can focus on areas other than marks. Extra-curricular activities, students’ personal development, and exposure to new career paths are some aspects that can be covered.

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