By Senamiso Moyo | Wits University, RSA
We’ve all done it before, not everyone but most of us have, “chill” the entire semester then open certain parts of your textbook for the first time a few days before the exam and do just about enough to pass, maybe even pass well. Repeat this for a few years and you’ll be deemed ready to work in the desired profession. This to me is the first element of a flawed tertiary education system. Tertiary education is expensive, like a lot of things in life people want to see value for money and many would argue that the degree certificate and the opportunities it presents to a graduate are of great value for the thousands of dollars invested by parents and sponsors. The idea is simple, in a perfect world lecturers are meant to prepare thoroughly for each lecture they will deliver and students are meant to attend, sit attentively, take notes and study the material well in advance.
The reality is however this, lecturers regurgitate notes they prepared years ago, then basically proceed to read them out in lectures. Whether the students have understood is not his or her problem, he’ll probably say, “this is university, I expect you to be more attentive”. Well, the second reality is that a lot of the students actually don’t attend lectures and those that do are either day dreaming or outright sleeping, leaving only a few who actually pay attention and take notes. Most of us fall into the day dreaming category, walking into the lecture room only to count down the minutes until we are released. We then let the work pile up, enjoying life before studying frantically two weeks before exams, again not everyone but most. Now I ask, are the thousands of dollars being paid to colleges justified if this is how the system truly functions? Passing can be a talent, you may not attend class, be good at your work or understand it better than the next guy, but if you are blessed with certain qualities such as for example writing fast and a good memory, you’ll pass most of the time.
Think of the number of times your hand has gone numb in the middle of a sentence in an exam or instances where you have remembered something 5 minutes after the invigilator has said stop, not because you haven’t studied or worked as hard as the other person, but because you lack the qualities required to be good at an exam. When the results come out, you’ll be judged to be inferior to the guy who can’t communicate with others or think imaginatively, but what was able to regurgitate the textbook faster than you. Exams are basically a test to see how much stuff you can learn and then how quickly you can write it down, does this justify the thousands being paid? Many of you will accept the above points as true but will doubt that there is a better way than the “Read in two weeks and regurgitate in two hours” system.
The current system is probably the easiest and most convenient, but it is flawed in that we are obliged to sit alone at desks every year end to prepare for a world where we need to work with other people. The bottom line is that you can’t test a bunch of individuals, with different backgrounds, characteristics and qualities with the same means. It is thus the easiest but not the most effective way of educating youths. A better system would be one where lecturers are attentive to the needs of each individual, (YES every single one of them), they are not paid to simply read out notes that are a couple of years old. The students assessed by task completion with all resources available to them, which encourages more interaction than lectures. Then they will truly be value for money invested in tertiary education.