Rethinking our education

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, said no one ever right now.

It is exam period, more or less for everyone; high school students are sitting their National 4s and 5s, and Highers; university students are sitting exams – can you not feel the positive energy?

At this time it is more prevalent than at most other times of the academic year that “you have to get good grades to get to university”, and “you have to work hard now to get a good job after university”.

The importance of striving to achieve our best for the next challenge – university, work, family, mortgage – is always the driving force behind much of education nowadays, and yet I question if it is actually having any positive impact.

After conducting a fairly small-scale survey recently, I discovered that the vast majority of university students are unsure about their job prospects after graduation. Of the 19 respondents, 61% said they “don’t know” whether they will land a well paid job after university.

One of the biggest problem for graduates today is such a large amount of competition. Sitting in my exam today, I was struck by the sheer number of students who were also sitting in the hall: 332 students in all.

In years gone by, university students were very much sought after; now we are seen as the norm. With that in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that 44% of those surveyed said they are “probably” going to go on to further education in the form of an MA, PhD, or Professorship.

This begs the question: how do we motivate students when there is simply not an awful lot to feel motivated about? Fewer jobs, greater competition, high accommodation costs, thousands of pounds in debts – it’s a bleak prospect.

It is my belief that education must steer away from this career-driven, CV-oriented nature to one of education as something leading towards self-fulfilment.

A quarter of the way through my fourth semester, I decided I would be going to go on to do a Postgraduate. Political theory had seized my imagination, and I wanted to go on to study it further, perhaps even research for a PhD in the end.

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I want to do this because I thoroughly enjoy my subject, and because I feel I am actually gaining something from it. If education simply becomes something teaching people things because they have to, or should do then we are going down the wrong track.

My survey found that 77% of respondents felt they went to university because “it was the natural thing to do”. Second to that was “a degree helps you get a job” at 56%. Admittedly, enjoying the subject and learning were joint third at 39%, but still a long way down from the other two. Is this right?

What learning must be focused on is self-fulfilment and enjoyment. Ask a child their impression of school and the chances are it will be a negative one. Learning just is not fun when it feels like you have to do it.

Why? What if I want to spend my life studying; reading anything and everything I like? “Ah, but that is nonsense. You need a job”. The world is very job-centred, and I feel it is perhaps unhealthy.

Marx would certainly have a thing or two to say about feeding the capitalist beast, but it is true that our thirst for knowledge and learning is diminishing as the prospects of an office job and paperwork loom ever nearer.

So, perhaps it is time to rethink learning: who are we trying to benefit? The person, or the job opening? Education must be person-centred, not career-centred, and maybe then people will enjoy their education, and perform far better in it.

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