(Every year, foundations, think tanks and various other organizations produce lengthy papers detailing what‘s wrong with the state of education in our public schools and colleges, and what can be done to improve it. Yet nothing happens. Billions of dollars are spent on technology but the scores don't budge, and the same (if not more) percentage of students continue to drop out of school or take forever to graduate. The tomes that the education experts and the educational-industrial complex produce to rectify public education have one thing in common: they rarely reflect what the students themselves think! It is as if they are convinced that students are not capable of analyzing what’s wrong with education, yet the pundits are full of suggestions as to how to foster critical thinking among them. The irony is obvious to everyone except the tome producers! This is the second of a series on what students think is wrong with our educational system and the meaningful and practical steps that can be taken to improve it. You can read the first part here.)
Kyle is frustrated that students are not asked how to improve their college experience. “Why not ask for firsthand experience from the students themselves? Students know exactly what they like and dislike about teachers and the type of education colleges provide.”
For Kyle, it comes down to teacher quality. “A motivational teacher can make a huge difference for students. Their success rate can go up dramatically if students come in contact with teachers who know their subjects, are able to make their classes interesting, and genuinely care about them. Unfortunately, after tenure, most teachers don’t care. They don’t keep up with advances in their subjects and they keep using the same notes year after year. If colleges can weed out bad and jaded teachers, and replace them with younger and more energetic teachers, very few will complain about education in America.”
Brett is wary of organizations that donate huge sums of money to schools to help improve the students’ learning experience. Often times, this money is spent on areas that do not directly help the students. “I am a current high school student. In my opinion, schools need to put the money into programs that emphasize the importance of graduation and events that keep the campus-life alive. Investing in counseling and mentoring is a start. Students desperately need guidance from counselors who can point them in the right direction. But most counselors are either under too much stress or they are simply incompetent. One way to energize campus and student-life is to come up with innovative programs. In my school, for instance, administrators put together a “Make A Wish” month where reasonable student wishes were granted. At the end of the month, a school-wide assembly was held where the most moving wishes were showcased. The event brought students together, reinforcing their loyalty to the school and to its values. Such events prevent students from dropping out because they feel they are part of a large and caring family. In the long run, test scores and graduation rates go up.”
Briana is convinced that schools and colleges put too much pressure on students, forcing many to simply give up. “Not only do you have to retake all these basic math and science courses and receive good grades, you also have to basically retake the AP courses as well. The whole system is dysfunctional. Why should a student majoring in history be forced to take math classes? Most classes are irrelevant to what the students are trying to do with their lives. The real reason why students take forever to graduate is because of this no-win system. The system forces students to waste their time, energy and money taking courses they don’t need. My uncle took ten years to graduate because he had to clear the general ed courses while working full-time and raising a family. If the system can be cleaned up by matching students with courses they need, and not require them to take unnecessary or irrelevant courses, you will see wonders happening in our schools and colleges.
Annie feels that to be good learners, students need to (a) understand why it is important to gain knowledge, (b) feel engaged in the learning process, and (c) understand how gaining this knowledge could have some positive influence in the world, no matter how small. “A common problem I have encountered in high school is not understanding why knowledge is important and how I, in particular, will be able to use it. Finding some ways to show how people in the real world use this information as part of their career or in some other way would be helpful. Bringing people from industry to mentor students could make clear that this is not just something to get though, but an opportunity to learn something that will have a positive impact on our future life. If students can visualize themselves working in a career using that knowledge, they will find more motivation to put in the hard work to acquire that knowledge. Instead of memorizing formulas and be captive students in boring lectures, students should work in small groups and discuss how they can use their knowledge to solve real-world problems. Even the best lectures are at most 10% effective. More group work and projects will motivate students to take charge of their own education.”
For Rahul, education is a liberating endeavor that serves two goals: one is to perpetuate autonomy, and the second is to provide a productive member to society. With an emphasis on these two goals, foundations, think tanks, and various other organizations have produced numerous papers trying to reform the education system. Many of these policies have been devoted to spending more money on creating different tools to address the same educational problems. Often these educational problems have been reflected through poor test-scores or poverty. At the top of the education pyramid is college, an unlikely dream for many students, a goal of many students, and a reality for many as well. The community college experience offers many opportunities for students to catch up, pursue interests, or get additional credits, yet these institutions need some improvement.
“I think a major problem lies with the pace of some courses compared to others. Some courses are meant to be taught over a longer span of time, while other courses can be taught in a shorter span. By subjecting all courses to the same year-round scheduling, we limit what an instructor can teach and cover, often leaving holes in learning that leave students unprepared for higher education. Many students feel overwhelmed by this dramatic change in pace in college. In high school we had an entire half school-year to learn the material. We were given more time to practice and experiment. In college the pace often lends itself to those who are quick to understand a concept rather than those who require practice, repetition, and methodical learning, which describes most of the student population anyway. College courses are fast to ensure that students are able to graduate in 2 to 4 years. Thus the cost of education is the driving force. Extensive funding is provided for administrators and technology to enhance the pace of learning. Studies have, however, shown that learning does not occur rapidly. True learning is often acquired through trial and error and empirically. To learn something, one must fail as often as they need to, so that they can find out why they are wrong or why a different method or way is better. Since experimentation is the key to learning, I suggest that we allow students to fail but give them another chance. If a student fails a test, allow him to retake another one on the same material. As an aspiring computer engineer, the first lesson I was taught was that it was okay to fail. It meant that we found an error that was fixable before it showed up later as a bug. Why should tests be a way for only government officials to measure what a student needs to learn? Why not let students use them as tools for measuring their own successes? By giving students this opportunity to do well in their courses, they can learn as well as maintain good grades. Students should have the option of retaking tests in a semester/quarter until they pass. If they fail, they may be behind, but still they will still have an opportunity to succeed.”