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Great expectations: helping students weighed down by the pressure to succeed

Final year school students and university undergraduates are rushing towards an imaginary finishing line burdened by societal expectations about their future, leading to a state of anxiety that impairs academic performance and negatively affects decision-making.

That’s the view of University of the Sunshine Coast lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy Dr Shelley Davidow, who says it’s time for parents, teachers and the media to “release the pressure valve” and give university and high school students the time and space needed to make clear decisions.

“We need to change the messages we are giving to the next generation,” she says.

“A good percentage of mental health patients are young people with anxiety and it’s induced by enormous expectations they feel they can’t meet and a feeling they should never fail.”

Given the reality that today’s school leavers and undergraduate students will have a number of careers, “the whole idea of having to decide what you are going to be for the rest of your life when you’re 17 is a myth,” Davidow says.

While this situation is driven in part by our competitive, globalised world, Davidow advocates giving students the opportunity to “find their element”.

“The important thing is that wellbeing comes first. Academic performance will follow.

“If you come out of school not knowing what you want to do, that is fine,” she says.

“Even if you follow a path after school and down the track you change your mind, that’s okay too.”

Davidow joined Campus Review to discuss what’s driving this pressure and what can be done to ease the burden.

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