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to be sick of feeble uni students? and want to know how to fix the education system?

(160 Posts)
Anna1976 Fri 19-Aug-11 05:29:06

I get the joy of dealing with uni students of a variety of backgrounds in the medical sciences. I've had it up to here with the feeble ones who don't have a sense of ownership of their own education... and expect to be spoon-fed on how to do things... and never just get on and find things out. What is so hard about putting in the effort to be able to defend your point of view? We don't expect you to know everything, just know how to learn something and defend it.

I've just finished suggesting to one that as he will be defending his PhD in under 6 months perhaps he could go and read the literature on the techniques i'm teaching him, and thus be able to make choices about experimental design in his own PhD, which is meant to be his own original research.

Based on the discussion on the life skills that all children need thread - how are these kids getting so far into tertiary education with this kind of approach to learning? What needs to be fixed to make people be a bit more proud of their ability to sort themselves out and learn independently??

( Arrggh.)

Mitmoo Fri 19-Aug-11 05:36:39

Prepare for that to get a lot worse, next year they will be paying £9k a year for their university educations, they won't be expecting to be told to just "get on and find things out" as in the good old days, they'll be expecting more input for their investment.

Anna1976 Fri 19-Aug-11 05:51:57

thing is, some of the most labour-intensive uni systems manage to turn out some of the most motivated students. Not sure if htat's causation or just correlation.

But lots of people on here must have ideas on how to motivate young people to learn - would techniques of potty training be of use? I don't know... i jolly wish I did though, since I seem to be hopeless at this lark of motivating people who irritate me with their feebleness...sad

gailpottertilsleyplatt Fri 19-Aug-11 05:53:12

The exam boards could start by not handing out As and A*s like they are sweeties.

Anna1976 Fri 19-Aug-11 05:58:16

I'd perhaps sound old and curmudgeonly if I agreed too heartily, or if I said that I think universities would be better with 1/10 the current number of students and maybe 1/100th the number of PhD students...

if only we could remove the idea that everyone needs to go to uni and the only respectable professions are ones that require a degree.

this PhD student giving me the irrits is apparently very into motorbikes on the weekends, builds his own from spare parts, would probably make a great mechanic - and is clearly so much more motivated to be questioning about some bit of a 1982 Ducati or something, than about medicine...

sabi333 Fri 19-Aug-11 06:17:58

I'm a uni student (arts too shock ) and am excellent at independent study and defending my arguments with the grades to prove it. I have to be as I only see my tutor once a week and while they do provide guidance if needed, they won't write my work for me. I think its unfair to generalise all uni students to be like the one you describe.

I also think its fantastic that so many people attend uni. I think study helps open minds and give people different perspectives and that can only be a good thing for a country. But then I'm one of those people who thinks education is more then about careers and money.

Imo the problem is that universities should not be treated as businesses out to make a profit but a place for education and research.

Iggly Fri 19-Aug-11 06:22:05

Maybe, just maybe, it starts earlier in the education system. Teachers have to teach to the curriculum because league tables are the be all and end all (which Education Secretaries do nothing to rectify) so they spoon feed the pupils. Schools on the whole don't have time to encourage more independent research and learning for fear of results not being obtained. you even get some parents who will do homework for their kids, not letting them think for themselves, and so it goes on.

cumbria81 Fri 19-Aug-11 06:33:03

I work in a Univeristy and see this all the time. I agree with the poster above who says that it starts at school and continues.

The problems is now exacerbated by the National Student Survey which final year students complete and whose results are published. Universities are so scared of getting a low score that they bend over backwards to give students what they want which, more often than not, is not in their best interests - ie spoon feeding them.

jeee Fri 19-Aug-11 06:34:13

The problems are set up by the schools. My DC have already been taught that projects are simply a load of down-loaded pages. Their attempts to do their own work are marked lower than their plagiarised efforts.

BertieBotts Fri 19-Aug-11 06:49:51

This will probably sound controversial, but I think schools are too rigid and too focused on teaching concrete things which can be measured. I think they should focus more on key skills, including how to find information if you need to and encouraging general enthusiasm to learn rather than focusing so heavily on certain parts of each subject. I've been totally turned off certain subjects at school that I've learned bits about as an adult and realised I actually found really interesting. My mum saw something about fractals on a programme and started talking to my sister (a maths whiz) about it and made a connection for the first time, in her 50s, that maths is what makes up the universe, and is in everything, not just those things obviously connected to numbers.

I was watching something on Horizon the other day which was basically a mash up of their programmes on children and learning/behaviour techniques over the last 50 years, and the clips from one in the 70s on the difference between progressive schools and traditional schools (at primary level) were fascinating. The traditional school was as you'd imagine, lots of rote learning, children in rows of desks, etc, and the progressive one looked more like a modern school, but the different classes all spilled out into the corridors and shared equipment and stuff like that. Subjects weren't taught separately, but things like maths, science, music, english were combined to be taught in the context of a particular topic. The schools were thought to be really forward-thinking at the time, hence the name progressive, but when they tested both sets of pupils, they found the traditionally-schooled ones were further ahead. So some of the elements of progressive schools can be found in our schools today (teaching of art and music, child-led learning in Early Years, learning more via objects than abstract concepts at primary level) - but I wondered whether perhaps the progressive schools had other benefits which wouldn't show up on a test. I don't think that testing is the best measure of how much you are learning, really. It's a similar concept to autonomous home education, which I can see would be harder to implement in the sizes of schools we have now, so maybe it's impossible in the short term if it would require such a massive change to the entire school system.

Sorry if that was all obvious/common knowledge, BTW, I just hadn't heard about it before, and I found it really interesting.

BertieBotts Fri 19-Aug-11 06:51:24

PS, you know we don't just talk about potty training here, don't you? grin

InMyPrime Fri 19-Aug-11 06:51:49

Don't know what field of medicine / biotech you're in but in my experience, PhDs in that area are being churned out 19 to the dozen with little regard for quality anymore. A PhD is just becoming a prerequisite to get a job of any kind in the area, rather than a specialist piece of independent research that you're dedicated to.

Most people in the field that I know regard their time doing their PhDs as a horrible chore, just something to get through so they could get a job. Anyone looking to become a consultant doctor is now expected to have a PhD, for example, even though they might not have the least interest in a research career and just want to practise medicine, hands-on. It's a bad development because universities just get clogged up with jobsworths on a treadmill instead of people who are passionate about learning and research.

VictorGollancz Fri 19-Aug-11 07:17:11

Universities aren't there to teach; they aren't an extension of school. They are research institutions, in which students will learn to become self-directed researchers. The sooner society as a whole gets that through their head, the better prepared our young people will be for university.

Yes, of course teaching takes place, but there aren't enough hours in the day to cover every single student's individual interests. University hands over the broad building blocks; further detail can be gained by booking personal tutorials. The rest of it is up to the student.

You are being unreasonable in wanting to cut the numbers attending - there is every indication that entry requirements across the board are rising. It's particularly unreasonable that those who have had a university eduction want to pull up the ladder. An educated population is not bad thing, and not only for the job you get out of it - though in fact the only people I can see linking degrees with the expectation of employment is the current government!

EuphemiaMcGonagall Fri 19-Aug-11 07:19:50

Gail Can you provide a link to the evidence that "The exam boards [are] handing out As and A*s like they are sweeties" please?

AlpinePony Fri 19-Aug-11 07:29:23

Yanbu and you know it.

victor you contradict yourself, you are absolutely right when you say that universities are research institutions and should not be spoon-fed extensions of nursery schools. But I believe the contradiction lies in that very fact, the masses don't want to find their feet and research for themselves, they're going to university because it's 'expected'. sad we all know darned well that half of them are 'thick as mince' and half the jobs asking for a degree don't 'need' one.

euphemia if you've got access to the internet, you should be able to Google any major media outlet and read yesterday's and today's stories on the subject. Try putting 'modular' and 're-sit' in to the search engine.

mumblesale Fri 19-Aug-11 07:32:39

Having just adopted a secondary school age child we're horrified at the school system. DS has done a project on The Simpsons which involved downloading crap and pasting in pictures.

I think they should provide the 'class' on DVD for the child to watch the night before and then spend the classtime discussing it. It would make them think more and watching the DVD would be easier to supervise than homework.

DP has a PhD but took an MA last year. He said they gave them work sheets to use and didn't expect them to even look at the reading list. They were actually surprised when DP asked about it.

mumblesale Fri 19-Aug-11 07:33:39

Oh, and the other project DS did was Eastenders! They are scared to teach them anything they might not be initially engaged in.

robotlollypopman Fri 19-Aug-11 07:38:19

euphemia I imagine there is no evidence. This time every year, the media is full of stories of how easy exams are these days. So our youth is hammered if they drop out of school and have their achievements/hard work belittled as passed off as easy if they do well.

AfternoonDelight Fri 19-Aug-11 07:38:41

well the problem is schools throughout their whole life they have been set up so they go, they sit there and get told what to learn and do and when they get to uni you are expecting them to learn in a completely different way.

Plus they are taught mainly how to pass their gcse/a levels instead of taught the subject. So alot of people are getting good at passing exams while not knowing an awful lot about the subject.

not their fault imo

VictorGollancz Fri 19-Aug-11 07:38:42

See, AlpinePony I genuinely don't think they are 'thick as mince'. Woefully underprepared for what university is and having to waste precious time learning that, yes. Thick, no. They're all capable and courses aren't dumbed down - AQSS would have something to say about it if they were!

If you teach the masses how to research, then they will. They should know this by the time they get to undergrad, but they don't. They fecking well should be comfortable with self-directed research by the time they get to PhD. I'd be very interested to know more about these PhD's that are being 'churned out' - what about the academic pride of the external examiners? How are these students getting through their vivas? A PhD student of the kind the OP describes would surely fail?

I don't think a degree should be entered into if it's a job you're after. That's a false link, a hangover from the time in which jobs were rather more plentiful and the (smaller) university populations were comprised of students who would have got a job anyway, with or without a degree! I don't think that 'employment' is the point of a university education.

AlpinePony Fri 19-Aug-11 07:45:25

Perhaps things were different in faculties other than mine, but when I went the only people doing doctorates were the truly brilliant.

And yes, I stand by my 'thick as mince' comment. Not everyone is academically gifted, not all have drive and ambition. It's about time we, as society, stopped pretending that if you just learn one more sheet by rote you're tertiary-education worthy.

VictorGollancz Fri 19-Aug-11 07:50:22

But those truly brilliant individuals doing doctorates are now the external examiners! Have they all lost their brilliance to the extent that they are awarding doctorates to those who don't deserve it?

StrandedBear Fri 19-Aug-11 08:21:08

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

stressheaderic Fri 19-Aug-11 08:32:15

I'm a secondary school teacher and I believe the current education system model is not working at all. You are all correct in saying that students are spoonfed - they are, we have to hit increasingly high targets with no room for enjoying learning anymore.
Every effort is thrown at students to get them to pass the exam, it appears the results are the only thing that matters.

Plus the general dumbing down of what they learn, as we now have to make learning fun. If you look at new textbooks being published, compared to the kind of thing we used at school, they look like a kids comic - minimal text, big pictures, everything made into a game or quiz or put in the context of the bloody Simpsons etc.

Also we are directed to heap praise upon very minor achievements, and not draw attention to weaknesses - this leads to students having an inflated sense of themselves.

VeronicaCake Fri 19-Aug-11 08:35:14

Completely agree with strandedbear, it is very sink or swim when you get to university. But it isn't quite true to say lecturers don't care about how their students do. It is true that teaching is only an element of our jobs, but most of us would have questions to answer if students consistently did poorly in our modules, or if they raised concerns (via the dozen different mechanisms we have for doing this) about the quality of our teaching.

As for the OP, I've never found the magic wand that could motivate me to study something I have no inherent interest in and have got where I am through a combination of luck, aptitude and the privilege of working in a field I'm fascinated by. It makes no sense to imagine I can magically make others more motivated than I am myself. So I try to just enjoy teaching the students who show both aptitude and enthusiasm, offer support to those students who have enthusiasm but lack aptitude, and not waste too much energy getting annoyed by the middle 60%. They are adults, they will probably still graduate with a moderate degree from a good uni and hopefully they'll find something more to their liking later on.

I have never noticed a problem with PhD students not being motivated but that is probably an arts/sciences thing. In law (my discipline) students approach potential supervisors with their plans for projects, we try hard to secure funding for them, admit only handful a year and so the ones who get in have total ownership of their projects from day one.

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