On July 7th, senior high school students across China took part in a major educational milestone known as the gaokao, with junior high school students having recently taken the likewise widely anticipated zhongkao. With preparation requirements for students of tens of thousands of hours of study, to excel in these exams is no small feat by any measure!
As someone who has served both a school teacher and as a consultant for senior high school students wishing to study abroad, I know too well the intense pressure today’s students are under to do well in these exams which leave so profound a mark on the very trajectory of their academic lives.
That’s why I’d like to begin by congratulating those students who’ve finally completed their exams and wish them to have a good rest during the summer holiday!
In my years of service teaching English, the level of commitment I see Shenzhen students put into their education is astonishing, but what also astonishes me is how little time they’re often able to give to themselves. This can largely be attributed to the issue of “cramming culture” and an exam-oriented education system, which feeds into a larger problem in connection with the aforementioned exams: test anxiety. Think of test anxiety as an affliction of the mind the same way a disease is to the body. If left untreated, it will only get progressively worse.
That’s why this summer, I invite students (and their parents) to explore what meditation, the practice of training one’s attention and awareness to achieve a state of calmness, can do for them. While meditation began in Asian religious traditions thousands of years ago, today it is practiced even in the fields of business and health, including in many Western countries.
While tai chi can be a form of meditation, a method that can be practiced by anyone anywhere could be as simple as finding an object nearby, focusing your attention on it, and then refocusing your attention when you find yourself losing focus.
Spend at least five minutes on this activity each day, then gradually extend the time as you progress. This training, over time, can lead students to develop an improved ability to concentrate and absorb information, which in turn can lead to reduced academic stress and anxiety, which in turn can lead to greater self-esteem!
Meditation very often helps with this because meditation stimulates the hippocampus and frontal lobes, the parts of the brain most involved with memory storage.
I’m privileged to have taught and consulted with the thousands of students I’ve had over the course of my career, and it’s out of both concern and care for both them and Shenzhen society as a whole that I make the following appeal: Be kind to your mind. It is like any other tool. The more gently it is treated, the better shape it will be in to take on any task that comes your way!
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