Education must be a modern and relevant experience for students
My average day at class goes something like this: I walk in relatively late with high hopes, pay close attention for the first half and then slowly lose interest and begin to stare at the clock. The thing is, although most university lectures are surprisingly quite informative, there is an overall atmosphere of awkwardness with the whole institution of learning.
Firstly, education doesn’t get a fair introduction to the student. Many children are traumatized by their first encounters with the complexities of thinking and sharing. The rest of the innocently curious minds must navigate a minefield of awkwardness such as potty training, nose picking and name-calling. This is of course not to mention the poor student that falls in love with the teacher who then calls her mom.
The process of education is also quite paradoxical in practice. If you get too good at it you are rewarded by the elite and despised by your peers. Thus, there is a tradeoff between cool-ness and school-ness. Inevitably this leads to most people developing some form of taste aversion towards class time because social lives are important (say leading scientists).
In kindergarten and elementary school, our opinions were cherished and applauded simply because they were offered. In high school, participation was often judged and mocked by our peers. Eventually we realized that there was more to life than opinions and we (hopefully) began to let go of our authority. Now in university all that we can do in participation is offer a few passively critical remarks, which are undoubtedly held to the highest scrutiny.
So, how could it be unexpected that many students would develop an apathetic view towards education? School must compete with a broad spectrum of non-scholarly interests in the lives of students. It may be a requirement for the type of life that students desire to lead in the future but that doesn’t prevent more pleasurable short-term desires from taking precedence. Instead school turns into a business transaction instead of an inquiry from genuine interest.
This doesn’t mean that there is no hope left for education. Yes, the “average” day in class is, for the most part, forgettable and dull.
But some teachers possess a special gift for enlightening. These teachers do not try to force their own methods of learning onto the student. Instead, they recognize that each generation of students is bound to possess their own unique learning tools and that these tools work much better in certain circumstances over others.
We can all recall at least one or two teachers from our childhood who truly connected with the students and made learning an enjoyable activity. It was as simple as smiling more often or being more patient to understand the “odd one out,” or being more tolerant of natural human error. These experiences peak and stand out above other learning experiences because of the necessary human connection with the teacher.
Without this connection teaching becomes less of a guide to the rational life and more of an authoritative indoctrination to rules and regulations. In the case of university classrooms the students explicitly recognize the professor’s authority and are more accustomed to their role. However, this inevitably leads to passivity in the learning process and degrades the quality of the education.
University professors are in a unique position of liberty regarding how they choose to manage their teaching methods. In addition to this advantage, university students generally have longer attention spans than younger students and are thus capable of following along with more novel styles of learning. With the combination of these two elements, classroom participation can evolve from a bland, repetitive formula into a dynamic process that fosters active debate and discussion.
The social environment in the typical classroom is awkward and passive; the world outside of school is scandalous and full of stimulating activities to partake in. Both teachers and students alike are well aware of the colorful hedonistic aspect of life that many people adopt after work hours. Instead of rejecting this laissez-faire environment it can be harmonized with the established order so that the institution of education can develop in parallel with modern society.