Umm Muhammed Umar
Radio Islam recently held a panel discussion where panellists discussed how our matriculants could be assisted. It’s vitally important that we use our time constructively. As parents it is important that we ensure that our children do prepare adequately, sufficiently, and thoroughly. We should encourage them to do their best prior to the exams, and not project a lax attitude. After the exams, we can reassure our children by reminding them that they have tried their bests and their results would now be in the hands of the Almighty.
The very important matric exam has commenced this past week. Radio Islam spoke to a teacher, Madam Aseema Mohammed, whose daughter will also be writing for the matric examination this year, as well as to a sister, Nurul Huda, who had matriculated in 2020.
Mohammed said that she had not personally experienced the stress and anxiety in previous years, that she was experiencing this year, her daughter being in matric. She said it could be extremely overwhelming. Mohammed said, “Speaking as an educator, and a mother of a matriculant, I have observed that my daughter, and her peers, without a doubt, have heightened levels of uncertainty, anxiety, stress, depression.” She added, “For the matrics of 2021, the matric obstacle became even more complicated due to the pandemic and its effects.” Mohammed said that [some] parents might not understand the stress that learners were facing – if they do not get the required marks for a pass, failing, for matrics, could lead to public humiliation. She said that the focus on the pass rates, obtaining an exemption, and the ability to attend tertiary education may add to the lethal mix. Mohammed pointed out, “many matrics, including my daughter, had to actually get medical help for the stress and anxiety, so that they could cope.” She said that students set high goals for themselves, or were perfectionists, and became very disappointed and depressed if they did not reach their expected level of performance, and so matrics suffered anxiety and stress above normal levels.
Due to 2020 having been severely disrupted by the pandemic, and thus affecting last year’s Grade 11’s, which are this year’s matrics, who have faced yet another disrupted year, in 2021, there have been many challenges faced by matriculants regarding their classes and tuition. Mohammed said that parents had to be very involved in their children’s education in order for them to reach their full potential. She said that, speaking, “as an educator and a parent I have observed all these years, [from] my own students and my child, that when [there is] parental involvement, it increases a student’s achievement.” She added, “I’ve developed the habit of sitting with my child personally, and listening to them, and following up closely with their education by working closely with their educators. I normally call the educators now and then, asking them……how can I help my child?” she says she instilled in her children the importance of education from an early age, which helped them with self-development and independence. Mohammed said that parents should guide their children.
Regarding unrealistic expectations by parents, Mohammed said that she had noticed that there is a lack of communication. She offered points to parents concerning this:
- Acknowledge their failure rather than fearing it. Failure helps one to learn and can be part of success.
- Take pride in their achievements and build on their weak points.
- Teach them to always believe in themselves, and to accept that no one’s perfect, and there’s always room for improvement.
- It is normal to feel down and angry and disappointed when one does not achieve as expected.
- Seeking help is not a weakness, rather needing help and not asking for it is one of the biggest mistakes one can make.
Mohammed said relationships between children and parents may not be optimal, and that’s not conductive to open communication. If a child’s exam did not go well, then do not put them down. Mohammed said that, rather, praise them for the hard work and effort they have undertaken, and help them to understand that difficulty is part of life. Help them not to feel demotivated, and seek additional support. Obtain past exam papers and a tutor to assist. Specifically, they can be the prelims. This could be a guide to problem areas. Tell them how proud you are of them because they’re working so hard, make them feel loved, and that you’re not going to be disappointed no matter what the outcome is.
Mohammed advised that parents be very careful with their words, “because you can actually break a child if you say the wrong thing.” She discouraged threatening them. She said that parents have dreams for their children, and put them under a lot of pressure as a result. She said, “All of us desire the best outcome for our child. These expectations can have an impact on our emotions and behaviour. But the parent should put daydreams aside and take things day by day.” She said that if parents control their own anxiety and remain calm, then the child would remain calm. She said, “Do not use the words ‘I expected more from you’, as this just can kill the child.” Mohammed further advised parents, “Avoid screaming and shouting and threatening the child and taking privileges away.” If the child has not achieved the expectations of the parents, the child needs your support. She said, “let them cry and let them deal with their feelings and their emotions. That’s very important.” If a parent says, “You did well but you could do better,” or, “you did not do your best,” your child will feel like they do not make you proud. Even worse, some parents tell their children things such as, “You are useless and dumb,” or compare them to their friends. Mohammed warned that this would lead to major anxiety and a feeling of being unloved and unwanted, or feeling rejected. She said, “One should avoid at all costs demotivating your child.”
Dealing with results is also an area where good communication between parents and their children would come into play. Let them talk about their feelings and their fears while remaining calm. Mohammed advised, “Plan a discussion with your child. Sit down as a family, without distractions, let your child share their thoughts and worries and complaints, and end up with positive feedback.” Children and parents should work together to set goals identify areas to focus on and track future progress. Matric is not the end of the road – learners can apply for remarking, to rewrite or redo matric at a college. She said that learners “must not let fear and negative thoughts hold them back.”
Radio Islam also spoke to a matriculant, Class of 2020, Nurul Huda, who also faced the challenge of COVID and the disruption to education. She said that writing matric examinations was definitely NOT a positive feeling. She said, “you feel anxious and are stressed most of the time, sometimes you feel like you’re not 100 percent prepared even if you are, so you feel under undue pressure.” Nurul Huda added, “you think if you don’t do well, you might not get into the university of your choice, or your chosen career path.” She further said, however, that this was all normal – tension and worry came from the thought of writing your matric finals. In matric everything is about school, so throughout the year the whole focus is on the final exams and being able to get distinctions. When, finally, the exam period does arrive, it is a very stressful and overwhelming period for students. Nurul Huda advised that matrics try and use their stress to help themselves. She said, “You can take your stress and allow it to challenge you and stimulate you to work harder.” She said that modular stress is said to improve memory and attention span and it helps one to become more productive. The stress felt at the outset of the exams is not felt throughout the exam period. It tends to decrease as, as soon as you start writing the finals, the focus shifts from thinking about finals to actually focusing more on studying. You are also more familiar with the seating plan, and the atmosphere in the morning when students are going over the content for the last time. According to Nurul Huda, the more familiar the learner becomes with the exam pattern, the more comfortable the learner becomes.
Nurul Huda advised that whenever learner felt burnt out or overwhelmed, to take a little break, talk to loved ones, friends and family about anything other than school. It’s a great help to be distracted, to be reminded that there was life apart from school that you are a human being. She said that learners could enjoy themselves too, even during the exams as long as a healthy balance was being kept. She shared, “But what really motivated me was when I set goals for myself on a daily basis, and whenever I reached those goals and I used to, like, spoil myself a little bit, maybe with a small treat, like chocolate, or giving myself extra time to relax and do other things that are not related to school or studying.” This also improved the quality of her studying.
Time management is a major key to success. Nurul Huda said that her teachers had told her that if she didn’t manage her time effectively, it would disrupt her study schedule. She said, “So I had to set goals for myself and it was important to set realistic goals, something I knew I could do. And when you do that, you will realize that time actually does work in your favour.” She shared, “But one of the golden advices that I received from an older person was to plan my day around prayers, around salah. You need to talk to God, you need to talk to Allah, and ask Him to make it easy for you to help you.”
Nurul Huda said, regarding staying motivated, that she had read a quote which read: Motivation is a feeling and feelings change every single day. Humans don’t feel the same every single day. She said, “So, if you’re going to sit back and wait for the motivation to kick in, you’re actually shooting yourself in the foot.” When you feel demotivated, is, according to Nural Huda, when you really have to push yourself. She said, “That is where that your challenge is. You just have to push yourself. Remind yourself how far you have come. Once you do that, inshallah, everything does become a whole lot easier.”
Some tips Nurul Huda offered to parents and learners were:
- Family members should be familiar with your study schedule. They should know when is a suitable time to stop by and have chat with you, and when it’s not.
- Ensure there is a decent silence in the house.
- Ensure that there aren’t frequent visitors as this serves as a distraction.
- Students sometimes don’t pay much attention to the food intake, so they might not be eating enough or even not eating at all. The family has to step in and make sure that you have healthy eating habits. They could help by bringing you snacks to make sure you’re eating, and that you eat ‘right’.
- Parent should talk to their child about how the exam went, especially if it didn’t go well. Don’t, however, dwell on it. They should just encourage you to let it all out, but also encourage you and help you focus on to the next one.
- Parent should not constantly blame their child for the exam not going well.
- Parents should offer to be the study partner. At least do some Q&A style study with them. It might help them to study and remember things better.
- When things don’t go according to plan, your family members could help you to stay calm, with breathing exercises and so on.
- Understand how important and stressful matric can be. Give your child support, love and attention. It motivates students and keeps them going.
- Be active if you can. Try and go to the gym or for a swim. Play a game of soccer with your friends. Even just working out in your room for at least 20 to 30 minutes really helps, as exercise releases endorphins, or ‘happy hormones’, making you feel less anxious and stressed.
- Try to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation leads your brain being exhausted, so it cannot perform duties as well, making it more difficult to concentrate or learn new things. You are unable to process what you learned during the day. And you may have trouble remembering it in the future as well.
- Make a study timetable that you know you will follow. Make it realistic. Don’t set it up in a way that when you look at it you will feel more stressed or overwhelmed by the amount of work that you have to get done.
- Give more attention to subjects that you are weak at. Remember practice makes perfect.
- Use past papers. It is a very important tool for revision as it allows you to check how your revision is going and also assesses areas for improvement. You will only learn how to apply the knowledge that you have absorbed by doing past papers.
- Don’t forget to focus on yourself. When you get to the exam hall, don’t focus on what others are doing. You can’t judge how well you are doing by looking at how other people are behaving.
- During the exam, take a break for a few minutes. Focus on what you know, answer the questions you know, and leave the difficult ones for last.
Best of luck to all our matriculants, and to all those writing exams. May Allah be with you all, and may He grant success to all!