For a better education

2016-08-04 06:00

WORKING as a lecturer is one of the more challenging careers in the world today. There are many reasons for this and different people have different views regarding the challenges.

What is clearly evident is that times have changed rapidly for many lecturers who have been teaching at universities for decades.

The student of today is very different from the one of the eighties or even the nineties. For example, in the “old days”, the supposedly clever university students had to buy textbooks for almost every course, from first to final year of study.

Lecturers used chalkboards or simply talked for the whole lecture, expecting students to listen carefully, take notes and read in preparation for assessments. Technology was mainly experienced by the science students taking subjects where practical sessions required that certain techniques should be learnt. Today, teaching and learning at universities require some technology and all students are clever when it comes to communication technology.

While we should continue to accept that a university is a “place for clever people”, it is important to realise that South Africa is going through a transformation period. This means that the privilege of studying at university has been opened to many more people who were previously deliberately excluded.

The universities are now forced to educate many students who are not well-prepared for the “place for clever people”.

These people largely lack some basic skills that characterised those who were given better opportunities in the past or those whose families today can afford to move them from the majority, who continue to struggle in “poor schools” (define that in whatever way you want), to “better schools”. These basic skills are reading, writing and mathematics. Remember the days when there was standard-grade and higher-grade mathematics? It was truly mathematics.

It would be irresponsible to say we have to live with the situation. We have to make it work. Firstly, we need to have a school education that is equal for all, and which is provided by well-trained and dedicated school teachers.

The best place to train a teacher is a teacher training college. A university should be a place for a teacher to further his or her education.

Secondly, we need to create more opportunities to train artisans who will create self-employment, instead of graduates who add to the unemployment figures every year or are willing to do jobs that should be done by people with no degrees. These people can be trained by technikons, not universities. Many universities in South Africa would be well-placed as excellent technikons.

Thirdly, we need to have a new type of university teacher. This is not just a lecturer. It has to be someone who was attracted to teaching as a career because he or she truly believes that a university teacher has a complex task that provides personal enjoyment while also has a permanent positive impact on those with whom he or she interacts.

My philosophy is that everyone has something that can be learnt by others. Hence, everyone can learn something from another person (and the environment), regardless of his or her role in the classroom or the platform where knowledge is shared.

Being well-prepared is important for the successful sharing of knowledge. This allows interacting parties to recognise and feel the current, short-term and long-term effects of their interaction.

The current feeling should create an environment of shared space, where it is easy to give and take without any fear of negative consequences. This can be seen as a broadening of horizons in terms of knowledge. The short-term impact should enable the parties involved to solve the problems or challenges of today, while also provide critical solutions for the future.

This can be seen as the ability to perform well in theoretical and practical examinations to deserve a relevant award. The long-term impact should be measured in terms of the target outcomes.

This means being oneself, although you have a common identity of a similar qualification as others, and are able to acknowledge the impact of your teacher.

My approach to teaching at university in the past 20 years has always involved the objective of producing a better person in my student and myself. I have been fortunate not only to have the classroom as my platform of performance.

The fourth and last proposal I have is that all university undergraduate degrees should be done over four years to allow science students, for example, to be taught languages and social aspects of life, in addition to science. Humanity has the ability to make something of a better future from the past.

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