I’m becoming more and more worried about education.
There are several reasons to become worried and I will outline all of them below. Let me know if you feel the same way (or not) and if you possibly have any solutions left.
We don’t value our teachers Education is important. It prepares you for life. Teachers mold the minds of the children they teach. Improve on their capacity, or help where skill and knowledge is still lacking. What do we do to repay one of the most important jobs? We keep cutting pay and increase workload. This workload isn’t even increased in a single way: teachers have to teach bigger classes and they have to do more and more administrative work, which leaves less for teaching. Not that their pay is raised for any of these side-activities, increased hours and extreme stress. Oh no.
What bugs me most, is that in secondary education (sometimes it manifests in primary already too) it seems as if teachers have to suddenly co-parent. Instead of parents paying attention to their kids, helping them out with homework, teaching them discipline, common sense, basic manners and human decency this is suddenly left for the teacher to do? Excuse me. No. As a parent you have a job too. Do it. Because I have been taught in classes where most of the time the teacher was trying to settle down the class for longer than actual teach the materials. How am I supposed to learn then?
What I also enjoy (ironically) is the critique that teachers no longer have eyes for each and every individual student. I wonder how that happened? Is it maybe because of the class size and the increased pressure to have everyone attend the highest level of education? If you see your mathematics four hours per week, in a class of 30 people, and he has 5 of such classes, how are they supposed to give each student individual attention? How are they supposed to figure out who is struggling, why they are struggling and then help and guide them through that? That is not doable, without even considering the rough pay, the rougher hours and the fact that they themselves might have a life outside of their job too.
I know a lot of teachers can make a difference. I have had teachers who really made a difference for me. Those who saw potential instead of awkwardness and bad behaviour. That (on top of my mom destroying the primary school system), allowed me to skip a grade, which has made all the difference for me. I’m not denying that. But under the current pressure, no one is getting a good deal. The teachers are overworked, underpaid and what’s worse – leaving teaching jobs. The UK has a massive struggle with this. Supply and demand, darling. If the price ain’t right, no one is buying that job. Can you imagine the pickle we’d be in then?
Everyone suddenly has to attend Higher Education So the pressure is on for primary and secondary education, but let’s not forget about tertiary, because it’s shit there too. Class size is still an issue. Friends of mine who have studied engineering and economics found themselves in lecture halls that carried 500 people. My first question is: how?! My second is: why?
We have put an increasing value on university and on academia in itself. To get into my sector having a PhD will be a massive advantage, but does this emphasis on a university education for each and every sector actually make sense?
It seems as if everyone suddenly needs a university education to succeed in life. So, everyone makes sure they get there. Doesn’t matter if they need to be tutored all through secondary school to get there. They will make sure they get there in the end. But what does that do? It makes more people aim for university education. Even people that most definitely do not benefit from it, are now on campus. Some of my teachers have told me that exams are becoming simpler and simpler, just to make sure the majority can pass (which is another issue of education). We are dumbing down the highest form of education, to make sure everyone gets it. But that isn’t helping anyone. Those who are managing their studies well, are coping on a level that is too low. More importantly, those who can't manage their studies, are very prone to experience feelings of failure, anxiety and depression. This can be so easily avoided!
University isn’t and shouldn’t be for everyone. Many people don’t realise how weird academics are. Academia is super niche. It takes a specific kind of mind (or lunacy) to be able to learn a lot of theory quickly, to remember all of it, and to only solve theoretical issues. Sure, a lot of academia is research which can be much more applied. But university in its purest form is super theoretical. And difficult. It has even been criticized for being too complicated for the sake of being complicated, and too theoretical to even have real-life value. Keeping that in mind, if you want to do something practical that requires skill and craft, rather than years of accumulated theoretical knowledge, why on earth would you go to university? With the debt most people are in, the competition and the not-so-great economy, we aren’t even out-earning you anymore. Think about that.
We need to understand that a university education is one means to an end. But many roads lead to Rome. There are plenty of famous examples of people who dropped out and made it big. Google it, there’s a long list for every country. And even then, not everyone needs to make it big either (statistically very unlikely I’m afraid, even with higher education). It’s alright to have a job you like, for which you have a passion, rather than $1.000.000 on your bank account and be world-renowned. Fame and money do not equal talent and passion.
And lastly, do you need your plumbers, electricians, builders, primary school teachers, police force, craftsmen or your farmers to recite Nietzsche to you? Frankly, I’d rather they spent more time learning their skill and excel at that, especially if they don’t even like Nietzsche. Not everyone needs a university education. And we need to stop pretending that having completed a university degree is the best a person can do.
Increased emphasis on student satisfaction I have had to teach myself, and oh dear lord have mercy on those who had me as a teacher. If you don’t want to do your work, you can leave. I don’t even care if you don’t want to turn up. If you’re really late and entering the class, disturbing the others, I will refuse your entry. I’m hell. How do I know this? Because the students have told me so.
For every course at the end of the year, students get to fill in a survey on how they experienced the course. Was the course a lot of work, or not at all? What was the level of difficulty, hours spend on assignments etc. But more importantly (to me), what did they think of their teacher? Were they knowledgeable? Agreeable? Engaged? Stimulating? Nice? You explain to me why I have to be nice to you if you never do any of the work, always show up late and are a straight-up nuisance to me and your peers.
Here’s the kicker: the students that I did not kick out, who were on time and did prepare, thought I was great. Those who suffered because they wouldn’t comply with basic university rules thought I was awful. Now you figure out whether I’m a good teacher or not if you don’t know me as a person, and all you get to see is those scores, averaged out. Suddenly I don’t look too good as a teacher.
The movement towards measuring student satisfaction has been going on for a while. Of course, students are entitled to their opinion; voicing opinions is a basic human right. Regardless, how much value can you place on an 18-year old saying the class wasn’t engaging enough? Marketing 101 will never be engaging, neither with trigonometry, but you’re in the class now, so suck it up and do it. I don’t quite understand myself why courses have to be entertaining. Sure, if a teacher can literally talk a cup of coffee to sleep, it’s not good and it should be dealt with. Providing relevant and interesting examples does improve learning and should be encouraged. But I’m not willing to turn every seminar into a gameshow because my students otherwise will go on Facebook rather than listen to me (surprise, they do that regardless of teaching format). This is supposed to be an educational institution, not an amusement park.
So yeah, those are the three points I wanted to discuss, as this article has already massively over-extended my normal word limit. Of course, there are many other things to discuss: the importance (or unimportance) of grades, scores and other measures of testing. The level of mental disorders occurring in education as a side-effect of all things discussed above. What it means to be a knowledge economy, and what it means if a university is ran like a business rather than an educational institute. All of that is important too. So if you have anything to say about that, please do!