How do we deal with them?
By V. Joseph Xavier, SJ
The future of a nation depends on the education it offers to its youth. Therefore all educators who care for our future should focus on the students and their world, which is very different from ours.
The way a student looks at his future and the role he visualizes for the educators and educational institution in it vary vastly from the way the parents and the faculty look at the formation of the students. This is why students feel that very few understand them and the problems and the pressures they face every day. What saddens them the most is the feeling that their own parents fail to understand their aspirations and anxieties.
This is why educators who take their role seriously should try to understand the problems and pressures their students face.
Academic Pressure: Last year in Kota, Rajasthan, called the coaching hub of India, more than 15 students were reported to have committed suicide because of high academic pressure. Still parents send their wards to such institutions every year to prepare for competitive exams for professional courses like engineering and medicine.
The students experience enormous academic pressure. A majority of the students find it difficult to balance academics, tests, assignments, and extra-curricular activities. This results in stress and exhaustion. They are aware that without high grades they cannot realize their dreams. Therefore they feel the need to maintain high grades, which increases the stress. They also fear being constantly compared with their peers by teachers and parents.
Mental Health Issues: Psychological counselors confirm that today’s students are increasingly experiencing anxiety, sadness, and other mental health disorders because of academic stress, peer pressure, and the transition to adulthood.
Having come to a new place, students feel alone, as initially their fellow students are all strangers and they struggle to make friends. Unlike in their school where they felt connected and enjoyed a sense of belonging, many students feel disconnected with the new college culture. So their self-confidence may decline.
If the mental health concerns are not addressed early, they can escalate and impact a student’s ability to function normally in his daily life. It will interfere with a student’s ability to concentrate and sleep.
Students feel that very few understand them and the problems and the pressures they face every day.
Relationship problems: Students frequently experience intense social pressure in the new college culture. They struggle to maintain friendships, and some fall in love. In order to maintain friendships they may feel they are forced to give up their values and principles. Disagreements and quarrels within their social groups may increase their feelings of isolation.
In one of the workshops, the students were asked to indicate some of the issues they are confronted with as students. Here is a sample for the questions they raised: 1. Do you think unconditional love exists? Don’t we all expect something from loved ones? How to stop expecting from others? 2. How to build a good relationship? 3. Can a person be judged today for what he had done in his past? 4. When is the right time to let go off a relationship? 5. How to manage relationships with our close friends who are far away? And also how to manage the time for them? 6. How to deal with people who profess love for you but you feel completely disconnected with them? This could mean that you have really lost the friendship, but you’re still holding on to them, because you don’t want to hurt them, as they meant so much to you in the past.
Technology and Distractions: The digital natives – the students of this generation – are influenced by online gaming, social media and the internet. Cell phones have a negative impact on their academic performance. All these come in the way of concentration and so academic achievement. Social media eat up the critical study time.
Some students get into online relationships, which affect their concentration and study. This is why media addiction has become a serious issue among the students.
Career Uncertainty: The job market is constantly changing and so the jobs available now may not exist in a few years. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking over many of the mundane jobs. So students struggle to choose a career path that suits their strengths and promises much. It can be extremely stressful for hard working students to hear that the present educational system may not be relevant in a few years and that they may not be able to find a remunerative job. Another fear is that they themselves may not be fully aware of their potential and so could make a wrong decision.
Financial Problems: Education has become a costly commodity. The cost of education, especially for professional courses, has skyrocketed. Students from poor and middle class families find it hard to pay tuition fees, textbook costs and living expenses. Financial concerns can be a major source of stress and may even prevent some students from pursuing their education.
Problematic Students & Disruptive behaviour: Problematic students in educational institutions can pose challenges for not merely teachers and administrators, but also other well-behaved students. While it is important to approach each situation with empathy and understanding, it is crucial to address behavioural issues to create a conducive learning environment. Students who frequently disrupt classes by talking out of turn, making excessive noise, or openly doing things students are not expected to do in a class room can negatively impact the learning environment. Some students may frequently skip classes or be consistently absent.
The students experience enormous academic pressure. A majority of the students find it difficult to balance academics, tests, assignments, and extra-curricular activities.
An increasing number of students get addicted to drugs or alcohol and this affects every aspect of their lives.
Having considered the problems and pressures today’s students may face, let us now look at ways in which we can help them deal with these problems.
What can help?
Teachers should aim at building effective relationships with the students. The relationship should be professional. These strategies might help:
Learn and use names consistently: When the teacher calls the student by name, it enhances the relationship of the student with the teacher. The students will feel that the teacher is interested in her. It would be useful to learn a few more names every day, and let students know that you are trying to memorize their names.
Engage students individually: Teachers could informally talk to the students before and after class and enquire about the weekend, or the homework, or any common interests. In some institutions, teachers join small groups of students for lunch to present themselves as more approachable. Some teachers meet the students individually and promise to help them whenever needed.
Differentiate instruction: Teachers must adjust the teaching methods to accommodate diverse learning styles and abilities. Provide opportunities for students to engage in hands-on activities, group work, or multimedia resources.
Communicate expectations: In order to prevent disruptive behavior address the individual needs of students. Establish clear expectations. At the beginning of the academic year, it is useful to communicate expectations regarding behavior, academic performance, and classroom behaviour. Develop a behavior management plan that includes a set of clear and consistent consequences for inappropriate behavior. Consequences should be fair and proportionate to the offense committed. A mix of positive reinforcement and appropriate disciplinary measures would help. By enforcing established classroom rules, expectations from the beginning of the academic year, employing positive reinforcement and reward for good behaviour could lead to reduce disruptive behaviour.
Praise consistently: Teachers should develop the habit of praising students who work hard, who consistently demonstrate appropriate behavior, and who perform well as this can motivate others to follow suit.
Offer job-counselling: Career counselling services, internships, and networking have become crucial in the life of a student. Their exposure to many industries helps them to obtain the needed skills and help to make informed conclusions about their professional aspirations. These bring to focus the need for the importance given to career guidance in educational institutions.
Build positive relationships: Establish positive relationships with students. Get to know each student individually, understanding their background, and showing empathy. This could lead to improved behavior and engagement. Building an environment where students feel that they are listened to and feel comfortable to express their concerns and problems is important.
Help them relate to others: Students could be helped to overcome social pressures by developing healthy relationships based on mutual respect and shared interests, joining supportive groups and practising open communication.
Help them improve: One of the strategies that might work with problematic students who skip classes is to establish open lines of communication with their parents or guardians to understand the reasons for their absence. Collaborating with college counsellors and mentors you can identify the underlying psychological problems that may be beneath their disruptive behaviour. Regularly interact with students to identify any issues that may be affecting their behaviour.
Provide support and guidance: Identify challenges the student may have, such as learning disabilities, emotional issues, or difficult home situations and do your best to help them cope or find solutions.
Involve parents and guardians: Communicate regularly with parents or guardians and keep them informed about their child’s progress, both academically and behaviourally. Engage them as partners in addressing any challenges their child may be facing and seek their support in reinforcing positive behavior at home.
Seek professional development: Improve your skills in class room management by attending workshops, seeking mentorship, or participating in professional development opportunities. Learning new strategies and techniques can help to address challenging situations effectively.
Today’s students are very different from the students of older generations. As educators and teachers, we need to get to know their problems and try our best to help them deal with them. Apart from traits that distinguish the students of the present generation, every student is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is important to approach each student with patience, understanding, and a willingness to find solutions that best meet the needs of the student, while maintaining a positive learning environment for everyone.
A former Principal of Loyola College, Chennai, and former Research Director at the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, V. Joseph Xavier, SJ has worked in the field of Higher Education for more than 40 years. He can be reached at: email@example.com.