09 September 2007

dumbed down university graduates

From an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Erin O'Dwyer,

For centuries universities have been held up as hallowed halls of light and learning. Even in this country, where a decade of budget cuts has crippled classics departments and left research funding pools in drought, universities are valued for their contribution to intellectual debate. They are also seen as a salve for unemployment and social disharmony.

But Australian educators face a serious problem: how to enliven a student body that thinks googling a wiki is a serious academic endeavour. In a world swamped by information, many students have little interest in accessing it. We have law students who have never read a case, English students who do not read books and journalism students who do not buy newspapers. Don't laugh, it's true.

Each semester I ask my students how many of them buy newspapers. Five at most raise their hands. The showing is even more dismal when it comes to listening to radio. Television and online news sites are more popular. But when I ask how many get their main news from headlines on their Yahoo! webmail there is a round of sheepish laughter.
Another law faculty lecturer recalls how her discussion about Nixon and Watergate drew a blank. No one had any idea about either.

A health sciences lecturer recalls how she played her students a YouTube clip of geriatric musicians covering the Who's My Generation. "My students had no idea who the Who were," she says. "And no idea why it was significant that the single was recorded at Abbey Road."
Plagiarism is rife. Academic references include wikis and lecturers' notes. Cut-and-paste technology has made libraries redundant. Many students do not know where the library is and some leave their laptops only reluctantly to attend classes. Some academics believe that in an industry worth almost $10 billion, as many as one in two students are cheating.

It must be said, this is not a criticism of students. Students for the most part are doing it tough. Most full-timers work part-time jobs and all part-timers arrive straight from work. ...

What must be addressed is the ideology of the ignorance. Students know what needs to be done and they'll be damned if they'll do any more. One colleague pointed me to the book Age of Extremes, in which the historian Eric Hobsbawm recalls a student asking whether the description "World War II" meant there had also been a first world war.

Sadly, I tend to agree with what Erin O'Dwyer wrote. Not only is general knowledge lacking and any interest in the world at large, but standards of literacy have also fallen. Too many young people have appalling spelling and grammar skills, even those attending university. Not only that, but they don't even care to learn from their mistakes.

After such a busy day yesterday, I finally managed to do the laundry and do some grocery shopping. I was meant to visit Devi for afternoon tea, but did not make it. This meant I missed out on her home made Portuguese custard tarts. Serves me right.

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