What is the purpose of education? Why do we spend enormous amounts of money to attend school? What is the point of sitting in a classroom for hours on end? Why are we even here?
You will get a different answer to these questions from everyone you ask, and that, in itself, is the beauty of education. It does not serve one goal nor is it uniform in any manner. However, after reflecting on our current system, I can confidently say that we have misconstrued our purpose. While this critique of objectives can apply to all educational levels – from pre-k to post-secondary institutions – I will focus my attention on higher education.
It is evident that we have a student population that puts a greater emphasis on grades, test scores and performance rather than actual knowledge and personal growth. This does not just exist at Chapman, nor is it unique to higher education; this is a problem everywhere.
To illustrate, we can look at the mentality of a student preparing for an exam. Is this student focused on truly understanding the material and using it to better their life? Or is this student more worried about what grade they will receive and how it will impact their grade point average? I would argue the latter.
Moreover, we can focus on the student with a reading assignment for the class they have the next day. Is this student motivated to dissect the text, make meaning of the work and use the reading to further their intellect? Or is this student more fixed on simply completing the reading so they feel prepared for the potential quiz or questions during the following class? Again, I would argue the latter. While this is not the case for everyone and is most certainly not the desired mindset of any student, I do believe it has become the norm. Students are essentially coerced into this mentality and it’s this idea that I’m attempting to address.
This reality is no one’s fault. We are born into this system and, as a result, hold ourselves to the same standards as those who came before us. So where does the blame fall? I believe it does not fall on any specific person or group. It falls on the students and instructors to bring about change. In no way am I saying that teachers do not like to teach and students do not like to learn; I am claiming that we have adopted the wrong trajectory and as a result, lost sight of why we are here in the first place.
The major question remains: how do we fix this? Both students and instructors have a responsibility to modify their methods so that we can solve this problem.
To the student: we need to enhance our desire to learn by caring less about the score on the test and more about the content we are studying. We must put in the proper time and effort in all that we do, while shying away from viewing class as a dreaded task. Yes, life can be stressful and challenging, but we ought to be here because we want to learn, not because we feel it is an obligation. Once we begin changing our own views, we will slowly begin to see a change in the overall system.
To the instructor: you need to adapt your pedagogy so that your classroom can transform from that of a teacher-centered class to one that is student-centered. Yes, the traditional method of teaching via lecture, midterm and final is quite simple and works to a certain extent, but students do not learn to their fullest potential. Do not teach a course to simply check an item off a list, such as a chapter, exam or assignment. Teach because you want to change the lives of your students and do this with discussion, tailored curriculum and unique modes of professing – which undoubtedly will further students’ critical thinking abilities.
Education should not be about a letter on a test, a number on a transcript or a title on a diploma; education should be about knowledge, empowerment, understanding and growth. If we continue in our ways, we will restrict our ability to take advantage of all that our educational system has to offer. We need to redefine our purpose.