|Subject: The College Student and Higher Education
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Date Posted: 00:13:57 03/22/00 Wed
Undergraduate degree level education in PNG as we know it today dates back to the early 1960s and 1965 with the establishment of the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG). Until then PNG had mostly two-year post grade 10 colleges to service various state departments and almost equal numbers of Christian Church Seminaries and church workers training centers. The highest secondary education level within the Territory of Papua and New Guinea School Curriculum was Form 4 or grade 10. Preparation for college education was vastly inadequate by the beginning of the 1970s and would continue even to the present days. Students aspiring for tertiary level education then lacked the basic skills necessary for tertiary level education especially critical thinking. At the universities and the Goroka Teachers College students had to complete one-year general studies called preliminary year1, before enrolling in degree programs. The country began restructuring the secondary schools system to integrate grade 11 and 12 in the later part of the 1960s. What follows is a hypothetical experience of the effects of college education on undergraduate students.
Critical Thinking Skills
A trainee teacher enrolled for initial teacher training at a co-ed three-year education college, campus of the University of Papua New Guinea. He graduated in 1974 with a diploma in secondary educational studies. For seven years, he taught in a number of rural and sub-urban secondary schools. In 1983, he enrolled to complete the In-service Bachelor of Education degree at the UPNG. In the following are noted what teachers considered as the academic inadequacies during lectures and the ensuing group discussions that followed.
For many PNG students, teacher college education was a new and foreign concept. In the 1970s and even today there was general agreement that PNG students were unprepared for college education and to think in conceptual terms. Many felt academically challenged, and their lack of critical thinking skills impeded their drive to excel in the disciplines, which they were most interested to pursue. At the Three year college they did not think much of teaching which was the main mission objective of the college.
Critical thinking was essential at college, particularly during the 1972-1974 period. PNG was then preparing for independence from Australia. The Teachers' College syllabuses were built around the theme of political and economic development and scientific studies for national development. There were fierce debates on the type of political and education system that PNG should follow. Students were often emotionally charged on the political issues affecting the country, but rarely were their arguments organized in any logical order. In the lectures and after classes discussions, students could debate about the Tanzanian socialist system, the Israeli Kibbutz, the USA presidential system or the Japanese system but could not generate ideas and possibilities about combining the best of each system to fit the PNG context. There was much talk, but little by way of drawing conclusions to make decisions.
In secondary school students dreamed, that college education would help them reach the realm of intellectual heights as one of the top intellectuals in that time and their thoughts and writings would be read in PNG. However, whereas the college emphasized teaching and trainees were often told that's all that we needed to know. They felt that they weren't challenged to expand their intellectual thoughts and insights into critical issues. For a few Teachers' college seemed like secondary school all over again. Writing skills and presentation were poor in many respects. They had difficulties conceptualizing facts and researching assignments. Many enrolled for remedial classes to receive additional support in those areas where they were doing poorly.
Meaningful dialogue with other students was a major challenge, because of the barriers caused by sex differentiation. Some didn't think it was worth while since students would rather talk about things other than academic in nature. It was about that girl that has caught the public eye or how many bottles were downed over the weekend, that boy who keep bringing village girls to his room and the locals who fought the students during the last Friday night social at the college mess hall. For many the rest of the three years was spent working alone. After many years some think they know why Teachers' College hadn't meant much to them.
In the seven years after teachers' college, a number enrolled on a part time program in Liberal Arts program at UPNG to improve their knowledge base. Many felt for the first time the challenge so badly missing at teachers college. They could express themselves and question theoretical propositions rather than absorb everything the instructor dispensed with and their grades improved correspondingly.
Experiences Effecting Change
At the end of the preliminary year at Teachers' College, students were required to choose two areas of concentration. Often as a result of inadequate academic advising, many ended up taking bad combination of subjects and went on advice from a senior student. But many wanted more course material to build up their content base then in teaching methods. Many were totally disappointed with the program which required them to follow instructions then facilitate their critical thinking skills and looking for answers to immediate problems. In the years after they would realized how much they lacked in content knowledge, when they started teaching.
Those that returned for full time university studies in the 1980s were more confident. Many would have already decided their majors. They read more and debated the readings in classes more intelligently. Their papers were researched better and the grades for each paper showed remarkable improvements. They benefited from taking courses with other adult and individuals that were superior officers in the state department of education. Their exchanges on educational issues were broader and varied. Nevertheless, their views were often emotionally charged and the senior staff from the state department was often defensive when it came to discussion problems of school policy and administration. The ordinary teachers thought the staff from the state department misrepresented the discussions as personal challenge to them.
Experience in contrast with Peers
I n hind sight many think their peers fared better at the teachers' college. They socialized more with other students and females and appeared to conceptualize issues quickly and did better then them. These group remained social isolates and subsequently associated with other like-minded students who were not interested in doing well at college.
Most have been married for some years when they returned to the university. They were more serious and were determined to continue the good grades scored in distance education. They could interact with both male and female students. Many of their college counterparts had accelerated promotions as school principals and inspectors. Because of the diversity in experience, it was often fun to dialogue in intellectual discourse on the relationship between theory and practice of education. They thought the national academics learned from them as much as we did since most of the academics had no experience and gone straight to teaching university.
Effects of experience on perception of Students
Twenty years after many went to college some of the individuals represented in this piece still believe that freshmen entering first year of college degree have still not fully developed a capacity in critical thinking. Much of this problem has to do with the teachers, quality and standard of curriculum, instructional technology and support system at the secondary school. In taking cognizant of the issues and articulated therein, there is clearly a need to refine the curriculum in line with current market forces as regards mathematics and the sciences, critical thinking and discipline through policy interventions consistent with university requirements. Those that recognize the difficulties can become active members of committees to examine student learning difficulties and advice examination and selection panels about standards to be applied in selecting students for federal government scholarships, such as the 1999 federal policy that replaced the NATSCHOL with the TESAS. The TESAS has replaced the NATSCHOL with a system tailored towards specified federal programs in the sciences and medicine. This policy has implications on the secondary school syllabus, which must now satisfy university requirements.
Why Do We Need to Understand the Effects of College Education on Students?
College is where students seek out their education, settle into serious academic life, set own motivation to become involved in class and complete a degree. Students expect to do well academically and succeed socially. Many factors however affect how college experiences affect student development. Clearly, structuring the right balance between what may be perceived as good experience would be of interest to policy students. But in PNG there is a dearth of research that espouses patterns of conditional relationship between college and student. The above piece underlies the argument of institutional influences on college life in higher education. Access is seem to be the common denominator, but this is only half the story. The other is equal access to enjoy the full benefit of post-secondary education. Today our higher education has become a cooling out facility for under prepared students. The student deans' and the students; services offices have typically concentrated on student discipline, room allocation and catering but nothing to improve college life on campus. Few have taken appropriate courses in student learning and behavioral psychology. At least the major institution has not.
Student development cannot be ignored since major changes occur through students' interpersonal experiences with faculty members and other students in the first and second years of college. In the cognitive psychological paradigm, the freshmen to senior year experiences attested to increased knowledge and skill acquisition. These experiences are enhanced through personal reading, individualized instructional approaches, and peer tutoring and studying subjects for purposes of teaching. Cognitive competencies is clearly shown during the senior years as they show superior skill at understanding complex issues, and can develop abstract frameworks to deal with complex problems then freshmen and or sophomores. Time and experience is the essence of the seniors' gains on the measures of critical thinking and adult reasoning skills. Equally important is the role of the alumni, balanced curricula and commitment to general education
Direct student effort and the integration between students' academic and social life during college, also results with general cognitive intellectual growth. Experience of crisis engenders the making of choice among meaningful but competing alternatives. Making of choices may be associated with changes in identity status and level of ego functioning. Freedom from the influences of others, in non-authoritarian thinking and tolerance of other people and their views reflects the maturity of students' interpersonal relations, and their personal adjustment skills.
Campus residence is pivotal in intellectual disposition and the development of mature interpersonal relationships. Students change in their sociopolitical and religious view than off campus students, through peer association. Social interaction with peers and faculty is shown as having a positive influence on persistence and educational aspirations towards attaining a college degree and graduate school. Similarly, student occupational, political and religious attitudes and values would be related to campus residence peer interaction. In dormitory interaction would be ideal for intellectual interaction with roommates.
Resetting new policy goals in ways to promote learning and achievement of institutional goals in our universities as a way to promote cognitive and affective development. If indeed there is institutional commitment, then opportunities for student involvement would have been created. But the onus would be on the students and the faculty and the institutional administrators to follow through the practice. If there is no commitment the idea would be another wasted effort.
So we ask why we have bored students in our campuses?
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