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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Under Pressure: Pushing Down on Students Now More Than Ever

Photo by Sean MacEntee
Photo by Sean MacEntee

With a growing population and a great decline in college acceptance rates, American students are more stressed than ever before to succeed in school and gain acceptance to the best universities. The pressure comes from various places:  parents, teachers, peers, and others. The WIS community has also been accused of being part of the problem.  But, who is really at fault?

Teachers and parents are seeing a change from when they were a kid to their children or students now. Ms. Popov, a first year history teacher and advisor at WIS, recounted her student days in a traditional Serbian school. “In my school we had less time to do things during class, it was more of a lecture. Nowadays there are more extracurriculars which take up a lot of time. When I was a kid, I would come home, do work for a bit then go out and play with my neighborhood friends until 9pm,” Popov said.

Some see examples of this at WIS, “I think that there are some students more than other with the same workload sometimes that has to do with the activities that they are participating in outside of school or choose to take on too much and find it hard to find balance,” Ms. Hallam, Upper School Counselor, said.

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With this, the level of competitiveness has also increased. Many jump to the conclusion that the overall work has increased in difficulty, but has it really?

With modern day technology, it is much easier to gain access to and use sources for learning. There are now multiple websites that do basic math and answer any questions so that you do not have think about them. School work has only seemingly gotten harder because of a lack of time and an overwhelming amount of information. So why are students so competitive?

“Everybody shares their grades and whoever has the best grade is known to be the best student,” William Raineri, WIS ninth grader said.

Ms. Popov sees examples of this within her classes. She notices that students are working towards the grade rather than to enrich their knowledge. “People think that the better grades you have, the better person you are with more opportunities […] I can see that most students are focused on the grade, rather than the learning,” Ms. Popov said.

The college acceptance rates in the vast majority of universities have seen a tremendous decrease. According to IvyWise, from only 12 years ago (2005), the University of Pennsylvania has gone down from 29 percent to a remarkable 9.4 percent. “I think there’s more competition because now it is expected that for the workforce you have at least a college degree or more. Jobs now are higher skilled and more people are competing to get them,” Ms. Popov said.

American parents point fingers at the media, but also at themselves. “My eldest has only started worrying when she moved here to Washington this last year. At age 14, her new friends were already starting to worry about what they want to be when they grow up whereas her friends in Geneva Switzerland, where we lived before, never really spoke about this. I think American parents are more demanding and want their kids to do excel and at least do better than they have done,” said Selina Jackson, mother of two who just returned to the U.S. after living abroad for six years.

Since her childhood, she has seen a great difference. “When I was a kid, I did not worry about what I wanted to be when I grew up” Jackson said. In her time, her parents did not put as much pressure on her.

The percent of IB test scores between a five and a seven for higher level classes has risen ten percent from 70 to 80 since 2012 so parents and teachers have consequently raised their standards which are hard to meet. “I think some students are reluctant to ask for help because they think they need to figure it out on their own but as teachers we try to reach out to the students when we think necessary,” Ms. Hallam, upper school guidance counselor, said.

Students feel this pressure from their parents as well as from themselves. “My parents do [put pressure on him] for sure. Because they get angry if I don’t do what they want. I think I remind them of my father and he was a perfect student. They don’t understand that we are different people,” Gabriel Asher, WIS ninth grader said. A great amount of students feel like their parents are forcing them to be something that they don’t want to, making them less likely to enjoy school.

According to surveys, since 1985, the percentage of students who believe that their emotional health is above average has dropped almost ten percent. Meanwhile, the number of students who feel overwhelmed during high school has doubled. “I do not enjoy school because you have to do work and I’m not a fan of doing work in general and I don’t like the whole concept of testing. I feel like there’s pressure to do well on a test even if sometimes you’re having a bad day and forget things,” Asher said.

Source: Higher Education Research Insitute (HERI) at UCLA

There is no single reason why single students are feeling more pressure than before but the blame can be spread among multiple players. Clearly, stress levels are increasing but the level of education actually is not. Different people cope with stress in various ways like extracurriculars which, many times add to the problem, but also act as a relief.

By Julia Brownell

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