Student anxiety and class presentations, necessary torture?

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Teachers and employers agree that the skill to speak in public is essential. However, for many students who suffer from anxiety to give presentations in class is torture. Should this be an optional activity?

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For Karla, a Mexican student of Animation and Digital Arts, presenting in front of her classmates is an anxiety trigger; she answers in a faint voice while her fingers play with the wires of her headphones: "I do not like being forced to give presentations; I don’t like being forced to participate in class either".

For many students speaking in public is torture; in front of their classmates and professors, they feel judged and tense. In this regard, the psychologist Cristina Penin Viola, in an interview for Universia, points out that in the school presentations there is an explicit evaluation component, that is, the classmates are more aware of what the student says and if they say it well. This evaluation aggravates by the presence of the teacher or another authority figure.

Likewise, Penin Viola explains that the phobia of speaking in public is a subtype of social phobia. She states that it is normal to experience some adaptive anxiety, as it activates people to face challenges in an appropriate way. Only when anxiety exceeds certain levels, it is harmful and results in poor student performance.

student giving a presentation

Recently, The Atlantic, reports the growing aversion of American students to speak in front of their peers. The article highlights a Twitter message published by a 15-year-old student who claims: "Stop forcing students to present in class and give them the choice not to." To date, this tweet has almost half a million "likes."

For teachers this "evil" is necessary. Martha Elena Núñez López, teacher, and director of the Department of Industrial Design in the South Region of Tec de Monterrey points out that students of any profession need to develop communication skills. She affirms that, if students don’t know how to present projects effectively and if there are no negotiation skills, ideas fail. To better prepare her students she tries to instill this ability: "From the first day of school I explain that at least once in the semester they will have to give a presentation (...) they know it is a rule."

Likewise, many students are clear that they must have communication skills to face the demands of the work. Alejandro, a Mexican economics student, likes to give presentations and feels comfortable doing so: "I believe that in all careers it is necessary to know how to speak in public (...) you have to present projects or something and you have to know how to say it."

For employers, it is necessary that students graduate with solid communication skills. Teachers and most students agree that these are fundamental abilities. For students who suffer from anxiety, the picture is different.

Is it discriminatory for teachers to demand classroom presentations from students who suffer from anxiety? Should this be an optional activity for them?