Recently, I had a conversation with a student that encapsulated the education problem in the 2020s. Students feel entitled, are nonchalant and smug in their approach to education. Effort, discipline, and responsibility are not part of learners’ vocabulary. The conversation, in short, went like this.
Me: This is week 14 of the semester and I am double-checking my records
Me: My records show you have not submitted either of the two take-home assignments, have not participated in the two in-class assignments and have not submitted the take-home midterm exam. Is this correct?
Student: I think so.
Me: Have you submitted anything? The online classroom does not show anything.
Student: I did not submit anything
Me: You have only attended six classes. According to school rules, you can fail the course if you miss more than three classes without a valid excuse. Do you?
Student: No. Okay. So.
Me: So, what do you think? Are you aware that you are in a position to fail the course?
Me: Do you plan to submit anything to the class?
Student: I will try
Me: If you do not, you will fail the course.
Student: Okay (shrugs and walks off)
Other students in the class, who were missing assignments and absent more than allowed, offered some degree of apologies, excuses and promises of handing in assignments later. Hope? However, this type of conversation is becoming more common. Students think that appearance and likes are enough. Everyone likes positive reviews.
Learning is active and requires discipline. Constant participation and doing are necessary for achievement and maintaining status. Top YouTubers are always busy and many burn out after a few years; thus, the number one spot keeps changing.
The blasé attitude is typical of students who have gone through a system that encourages students to be entitled and refuses to fail. Not to mention parents who expect their precious only to do good. Teachers contort themselves to help students; however, this exception has become the expectation.
Gone are the days of one final exam at universities. Lecturers now break up examinations into smaller chunks to not pressure the students and test different aspects of the student’s abilities. However, these more minor examination points have evolved into the art of grading. Where, with weighting mechanisms via the power of Excel, students with little competence can pass a course.
I have taken to asking some students NOT to attend my class. While it might seem contrary, unprofessional and unethical, this action is warranted. Those who attend class can participate and learn more by eliminating the dead weight. I have seen a university student spend 30 minutes of a 45-minute guest speaker’s talk watching football on his tablet and boldly saying afterward that he attended the talk to learn! He and others were busy on social media and did not see me sitting in the back of the class. Friends of one student who was told not to come to my class came to class and, after a few weeks, was talking, participating and learning. By removing those that distract, others learn.
There are some bright and intelligent students who put in the required effort and are justly rewarded. Sadly, they are lumped with too many others as graduates. Some students try and need extra help. Teachers tend to be too distracted by the noise of attendees and thus cannot give attention to those who are trying and would use the assistance.
Teachers, with good intentions, say that the students will learn. Give them a chance. And so pass the problem onto another teacher until that student graduates from university. Employers are thus rightly complaining about the immaturity, fickleness and unprofessionalness of GenZers.
Parents are one edge of the triumvirate of educators. Teachers and society are the other two. Parents need to be actively and positively engaged with their children. Do not just farm out learning to the schools. Many parents say their children would learn at school and do nothing else. However, the cycle of education means that parents need to ask their children questions about school regularly. Spend the time to learn with their kids. Ask questions like;
- How are preparations for class going?
- Have all the assignments been handed in on time?
- What lessons have you got this week?
- What are the teachers’ expectations?
And so on. Being responsible helps teach children how to be responsible. Do not complain when your child receives a low mark. Investigate why.
Parents call the university and complain when the students do not pass or get a low mark without addressing what the student was asked to do and did. Universities wanting to be relevant, have happy customers and stay in business generally oblige. Hence, some lecturers use university-level text, high school-level exams (Bloom’s Taxonomy), and middle school rubrics (if there is one). This acceptance of mediocrity feeds into a society where young workers feel entitled and much superior than they are. Thus, when faced with the complicated and sometimes stressful world of work, they quickly jump ship and complain. The environment is not conducive to personal growth; there is too much pressure, unsuited to my style and a myriad of excuses. The reality is that they have not made much effort or have been seriously challenged at home or school.
Society and social institutions (temples, community groups and so on) need to realize and actively participate in promoting a learning environment. Going to university is NOT for everyone. There are other ways to learn. One may block others from learning if you are in the wrong learning environment. Parents, teachers and society need to act on this. Thus, refusal to a university program is often suitable for the student. Microcredits, online learning, trades and other forms of education exist. Society must accept that we learn differently. If not, there will be more misplaced people in an increasingly unhappy society.
So, my student, chances are, will be given an Incomplete grade (not a fail), a chance to repeat the course, or a special assignment that would be leniently marked and progressed through the system. Almost everyone is happy.