Structure is often considered a good thing because of the certainty that it can provide in our lives. However, the current education system, despite its importance, is made up of a structure that has a largely negative impact.
My first criticism is mandatory textbooks. Students pay between $100 to $200 a textbook per course in university. While some courses only recommend textbooks as an additional learning resource, many classes actually state them as mandatory, forcing students to fork over a significant amount of money. These books are also often dedicated to a single term and cannot be reused for another year.
This is an issue that many students deal with at Dalhousie University.
“One area I think the university can improve on is by providing more ways for students to get access to resources like textbooks, for instance being able to borrow ebooks,” said Gabriel Orellana, who is getting a masters in computer science. “Overall, I feel like [the university structure] prepares students for life after university because they put you in challenging situations much like life will.”
Five courses in the fall term can cost upwards of $1,000 in books for just four months of class. This is not including the differences in currencies, depending on a student’s nationality. Either way, for both local and international students this sum is a significant amount of money, on top of tuition. The key issue I find with this is that it undermines the value of taking the course itself.
These textbooks may include assignments, homework readings, lecture slides and exam review material. If a student chooses not to buy the book or can’t afford it, they face a significant risk of not performing well or failing. This raises a key question, if a course cannot be taught without a mandatory textbook, then what is the value of paying to go to such a class?
A joke at our expense
The idea of paying huge sums of money for a textbook that is the course is utterly ridiculous. There is no clear benefit to paying large sums of money to attend classes if there isn’t any clear, unique value. This turns the hard-earned money students’ struggle to pay into a joke at our expense.
Another flaw in the university structure is its reliance on exams as an effective tool for measuring success in a course. From personal experience, I have written exams worth from about 10 per cent to 70 per cent of my course grade. The more an exam is worth, the more stress that it brings to students’ lives.
These exams don’t accommodate for various external factors that could be impacting a student’s life. From financial issues to mental health to physical problems like sports injuries, students are people who face a variety of issues daily. These issues are real and may significantly hinder a students’ ability to write an exam reflective of their knowledge and abilities.
“I don’t like courses where there are small chances for error,” Yanqing Wang, a third-year computer science student at Dal. “For example, continuous assignments that depend on one another or heavy exams cause a lot of stress and I think it’s bad for the overall learning purpose.”
Mental illness is one of the most common external factors that can affect a student’s ability to function during an exam. Although many universities now offer accommodations to many of these issues, they’re often difficult to come by or discounted immediately. On the Dalhousie exam accommodations page, it says that “exam anxiety may interfere with your ability to demonstrate your knowledge, but it’s not by itself a condition that would lead to accommodation.” If a student does have a legitimate mental health issue, but is unaware or lacks the paperwork needed, they’re out of luck.
One bad day
All it takes is one bad day, or a few bad hours of an exam for students to risk losing a significant portion of their grade. The low grades that can occur from exam struggles have the potential to impact student loans, bursaries, and other financial implications.
The issue isn’t with exams themselves, but rather with the idea that the performance on a single day being evaluated is a true reflection of a student’s abilities.
There are many solutions to these issues. Courses need to be structured by professors in a way that all the important material can be covered appropriately. This would restore the value for courses at university and would also save students significant money. For exams, it may be worth taking a deeper look at the purpose and what an exam truly measures.
Our university structure is deeply flawed, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed for the better.