Earlier this year, all parents and high-schoolers alike were aghast at Kemendikbud’s decision to set 20 different types of exam questions for the yearly National Exam (Ujian Nasional) –a four-fold increase in number compared to last year’s. The new policy was regarded as the government’s answer to the notorious tradition of corrupting answer keys for the exams, a lucrative trade-off between rogue officers and students that has given Indonesia’s education system a bad name. When the rule was put into practice, though, the result was not good. A lot of students succumbed to the pressure of what was at stake for them: their ability to graduate. One particular student from Depok, Fanny Wijaya, made headlines on May 18, 2013 when she decided to hang herself because she was afraid to fail the tests. She was not the only one. Back in 2010, Wahyu Ningsih, a high-achieving student from Jambi, also took her own life when she found out that she failed the National Exam.
So what drove Fanny and Wahyu to end their lives at the age of 17 and 19? Did the pressure to perform academically well get the best of them at the end? Perhaps.
Based on the mid annual-report from National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak), there are 20 teenage suicide cases between January – July 2012 with one related to school problems. Now, this statistic only documented the successful suicide cases and not the failed attempts. WHO discovered that there are at least 20 suicide attempts for every committed suicide act. Mere exposure to suicide attempts can easily elicit suicidal behavior in teenagers. As the result, youth can be the group with the highest risk of suicide in the future according to Yip and Huen –director and research coordinator at the University of Hong Kong– concurring with WHO’s statement that teenagers are most likely to commit suicide in a third of all countries.
The suicide rate among teenagers is particularly worrying in Asia, especially in South Korea, China, Japan and India where they top the list in the whole world. Emphasis on the importance of good education plays a big role in contributing to the high number. With government imposing a rigorous system to sort out the academically bright students and parents putting on excessive pressure on getting their kids to study hard, students grow up in an unhealthy environment where they define parental love as perfect test scores. Add the prevalent shame stigma and the tolerance for suicides to the mix, and you have got on your hand a recipe for disaster. Students become emotionally exhausted, get sick often, and finally sink into the deep abyss of depression –spending their days entertaining suicidal thoughts.
Coping with academic pressure
If you are a student and is currently going through the same thing, here is what you can do.
1.Take some time to take care of yourself.
When your basic biological needs are not fulfilled, such as sleep and healthy food, they can ruin your mood and your ability to process information. So make sure to have a break now and then to de-stress and socialize with other people.
2.Be mindful with your mindset.
Having a negative, tunnel-vision perspective on life can be disastrous. You get stressed easily and will not be able to bounce back from failures quickly. Combat your bad thoughts with concrete plans to solve your school problems and stay positive.
3.Adjust your goals.
Some people are born with the innate skill to juggle five different things at the same time and come up victorious at the end. You might not be so lucky. So take baby steps with your projects and work on one thing at a time.
4.Set up a schedule for exam weeks.
It is so easy to forget about your health when you are stressing over exam materials, but you are not going to be able to put in your best effort if you are sick. Make a schedule to study, sleep, and eat, and stick to it religiously.
For Speak! Oct.edition, 2013