From education to employment

Boring Students and the Zombie in Uniform, by Daniel Wallis

Britain suffers from an acute case of boring students, writes Daniel Wallis for FE News.

The affliction extends from comatose school pupils to zombie bodies sitting in college and university classrooms. It is feared that some students may test positive for boringness even after they have finished their studies, and may even remain boring until the end. Boringness is spread by association, and in places such as schools and colleges where young people gather it is particularly dangerous, as it can progress quickly and is not easily treatable.

Activism? No Thanks, We”re British”¦

In many countries the first voices to speak out in response to national issues often come from students; there, colleges and universities are forums for political and social thought and debate, where young people learn about the issues of life as well as the courses they are there to study. The association with other people provides a rainbow of idea and opinion, particularly on cultures or areas of society you may not be familiar with. In some cases, student voices can influence the opinions of the whole surrounding country, and kickstart people into action: America went into Vietnam, and the students went to the streets. Britain went into the Middle East, and the students went to the bar.

Most young people in Britain are actually quite intelligent. They are far more politically-savvy than the cynical press give them credit, and with media exposure at an all time high few people in our colleges can claim actual ignorance. So why are they so dead, apathetic and plain boring? Why are some student papers more concerned with ipods than Iraq? The answer may lie in the way that students are mistakenly perceived by society.

Students are just older pupils, and college students are dumb or failed students. If not in college, they would be up to no good. Or, even worse, on the dole. After college they will be trainees, or juniors, or assistants, until the age of thirty when their expanding waistlines and receding hairlines mean that they have to be finally and reluctantly accepted as full adults. Their opinions are hopelessly ignorant and do not take in “the big picture”. If given actual responsibility or authority, they would probably just waste it on parties. Or ipods. Unsurprising, then, that some students may feel apathetic towards politics or other national issues; no-one is listening to them anyway.

NUS Speaks Out

Recently, NUS VP Ellie Russell spoke at the ALP annual conference on student views and input, or the lack thereof. She too is worried about the view that some institutions have that students are too immature, or irresponsible, to have an intelligent and sensible input into the running of their own education, and that some institutions are merely humouring their students” views in the same way that you allow your children to believe in Santa Claus; student liaison committees are set up as just “another box to tick on the performance sheet,” and are not genuinely considered to be of any real relevance. The irony is, as Russell is representing a student body, the same mentality will doubtless be applied to her, with that sly sideways glance of “here we go again!” before she has even taken the stand.

People do not go to colleges and universities to learn as children, and neither do they expect to have their opinions treated as such. The danger is, by stifling student voices some institutions may actually be stunting the growth of young people into adults; if a student feels their opinion does not matter in his classroom, they are not going to feel particularly strongly about protesting against foreign wars, erosion of civil liberties, class disparity or the like, always half expecting their opinions to be mocked as “incorrect” or “silly”.

Noticing Problems

Another reason some institutions do not pay much respect to student opinions is because often, student suggestions and demands are spot on; if there is a problem in an education institution, the first people to notice it will be the students, and any open forum would only expose these needs with uncomfortable accuracy. Better then, to simply ignore student voices, or hear them without listening, as to act on them would probably be annoyingly costly, tedious or difficult to achieve. And they would only be silly requests anyway.

The perfect student, in this case, is one with no opinion and no views whatsoever, or “blank sheets” as Ellie Russell referred to them in her speech, the idea being that it is the institution that provides the ready-made user-friendly easy-to-handle opinions that learners should have. This goes against the real purpose of education, particularly training that prepares people for the “real” world; it would be like the government counting all votes for other parties as irresponsible or silly, thereby defeating the purpose of democracy.

Real education should therefore do as much to support student opinions and views as actual lessons and courses, and help them to develop and interact with the learning provider itself, a move that would also prevent views from spilling out in less admirable ways. And if education institutions find themselves to be uncomfortable with the idea of student views, maybe they should consider selling cars instead.

Daniel Wallis

Stay at FE News for the latest in the FE sector!

Related Articles