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And the Battle Rages On…

April 7, 2009

The Toronto Star published an article entitled “Profs blast lazy first-year students” and the article has created quite a bit of debate both in the schools and at the dinner table.  Apparently, professors feel that first year students are woefully unprepared for the rigors of university life.

This is where the blame game begins.  The professors blame the students and the high school teachers.  The students blame the professors and high school teachers.  The teachers blame the professors, the students and their parents.  Finally, the parents blame everyone, etc.

The following is my response to the article which the Star didn’t bother publishing….

As a high school business/economics teacher I read your article with great interest.  Many of my colleagues and I have seen the writing on the wall for quite some time.  Our secondary and post-secondary schools systems have been moving in opposite directions for years now.  University has been exposing undergraduate students to an environment filled with large (200-500 students) classes, multiple choice testing, 50% (or more) final exams and lecture-style “teaching” for many years.  The difference is that we used to prepare our students for this reality with the old OAC courses.  I remember OAC exams worth 35% of a students mark along with Independent Study Units (ISU’s) worth 25% on top of that.  This environment prepared students for the harsh realities of first year university.

Personally, I have never really agreed with the method of teaching that professors engage in for first and second year students, however, I resolved myself to at least prepare students for what was to come.  Since the courses I teach cater mostly to university bound students, I saw no harm in doing so.  Over the past few years, the pressure to change from the Ministry of Education has been immense to say the least.  Now, we are expected to teach using a more student-centred approach.  Grades are given in levels and marks are produced via modal analysis (most recent and most consistent).  The result has been grade inflation which provides the students with a false sense of security entering university.  The methods we use to calculate grades now are inflating grades to the tune of 5-7% over the previous weighted-average method.  This results in students entering university programs that they probably would not have qualified for 10 years ago.  Students are also now used to a more hands-on approach to learning as opposed to note taking and lectures.

Therefore, I don’t really feel we have a generation of “slackers” on our hands.  What we have are two systems on divergent paths.  The universities are clinging (it is more cost effective) to the old  “Sage on the stage” method while secondary schools are exploring student-centred learning via technology, project based learning and a more holistic approach to calculating grades.  Both have their own merits, however, the whole thing comes to a grinding halt when the two worlds collide.

I went on to suggest that perhaps standardized entrance exams would probably be the end result if the two camps could not resolve their differences. Either way the bickering between the two Ministries governing universities and secondary schools in Ontario must come to an end for the sake of the students.

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