It is interesting to see the Universities, or rather the Presidents, getting a bit of a bollicking from the Minister for not coming up with suggestions for making changes to the points system. They walked themselves into this, really, as the problems with the Second Level system are immense and probably beyond their expertise. Furthermore, the Second Level system is already much too dominated by the Third Level sector, the entire focus now being on preparing students for what is little more than an entrance examination for the Universities and other Institutions.
My own view is that the Third Level sector needs to get its own house in order before meddling with the Second Level sector. Yes, I know that incoming students are not well prepared but we still have four years to knock them into shape. If our graduates end up below par, it’s a bit rich of us to blame the Leaving Cert.
A number of people, the Trinity Provost being one, have lamented the fact that we have to spend first year ‘de-programming’ our students. As an aside, I note today that the Provost has made the following comments:
“The points system fails some of our best students, and higher education can and should be transformative for the life of each individual student”.
“This new generation must be more globally competitive than ever – they deserve an education system that is prepared to recognise and reward creativity, leadership, and independent-thinking”.
I’ve no idea what any of this means but it sounds good!
Anyway, so what if we have to deprogram students? All organisations, especially multinational companies, like to instil a certain ethos in new employees. They like to create the worker in a certain image – one of the reasons I would hate to work in such an environment. Too much like a cult. The real issue, for me, is that we are not, in fact, de-programming students at all. Yes, we develop new modules in ‘creativity’ or ‘critical thinking’ and have lots of online stuff but that is a token effort. The managers of Universities should actually chat to students and see how they think and see how committed they are. I do this a lot, especially during Labs, and the rote learning culture is alive and well, especially in the high stakes final year. Huge numbers of students are aiming at 40%, not 70%. My colleagues and I discuss this regularly at exam board meetings but I get the impression from colleagues that they are effectively paralysed by the immensity of the problem. And so, things stay the same, or get worse. Condoned failure remains rife.
The problem is that we perpetuate the rote learning culture of the Second Level system by increasingly spoon feeding our students. This is fostered to a significant extent by the T&L ‘movement’ which is obsessed with gimmicks, especially ones involving web-based teaching tools.
Deep down, there is a huge fear factor at play. We know that far too many unmotivated students are going on to study at Third Level and if we try to give them a traditional University education, where they actually must attend lectures and study hard and independently, there will be catastrophic failure rates. One can only imagine the political fallout, not to mention the personal fallout for the students themselves.
Finally, and this is due to my wife who says I need to be a bit more positive and stop ranting! Here are a few good things that happened this year………….
1. One of my third year students presented me with an answer to an engineering problem that was very elegant and far better than the solution that I have been presenting for the last few years! It’ll be included in my book – giving credit to the student of course.
2. One of my final year project students got some really nice data on diafiltration and I’m also going to put one of his graphs in my book.
3. I learned MATLAB after years of procrastination!
4. I learned lots of new ‘tricks’ in Word.
5. I’m co-author of two papers with the word ‘exergy’ in the title. I never thought I’d see the day
6. I started this blog!