In Turkey, students are admitted into universities through a nationwide test. After the students take the test and receive their scores, they submit a list of choices of the institutions and programs they want to attend to a nationwide center which places them to one of their choices. This placement is a result of not only the test score of the student but also the relative scores of all other students who made the same choice across the country.
Getting into a university programme is a highly competitive process, often called a race, which requires a high investment on all fronts, in terms of the hours students spend studying after school and taking practice tests to prepare for this one big exam; in terms of the money spent on the part of the families since the students often attend extra courses at the weekends or take private lessons to do better on the exam, and in terms of the focus in the classroom in high schools since all the attention is geared towards getting the students better prepared for this exam during their last year.
The result is generally twofold: a tired student body entering into university life and a considerable number of students who are placed into programmes, and therefore into professions and futures, that they do not like to begin with.
The tired student body entering into university life is a factor which reduces the quality of higher education when students get into university after one or two years of intense, non-stop studying. Especially if they come to study in a city where they won’t live with their families for the first time, they often end up going out and enjoying life without enjoying the educational experience that they have worked so hard to attain. They mostly study just to pass exams; although they are clever and can do better, they have high rates of inattendance and read almost nothing outside of the minimum assigned for their class.
Of course this cannot be said for every university student. There are some very motivated students in higher education. As I don’t have statistics, I cannot give an exact number about the rate of students who are placed into programmes they don’t like. However, from the informal conversations I have had with students over the course of the years, I know that the number is far greater than many academics would like to admit. The number is also enough to make teaching a challenge.
In the short term, this process results in an unmotivated student body, disconnected from the classroom, uninterested in the topic they study. In the medium term, it creates a body of fresh graduates out of higher education who don’t know what to do in life. In the long-term, it causes a part of the population being unhappy with their jobs and their lives.
Since changing departments or universities is very difficult (which means either you have to retake the test or you try to get a good GPA to qualify for a transfer to another department, which in itself is difficult since the process is only open to students with a good GPA, something a student is not likely to have when he/she does not like his/her department or if a student applies for a double major which again has the GPA requirement) and since the investment to start over is too high, the students are stuck in their majors.
Teaching intensively in the classroom, it’s been a huge problem for me trying to reach out to these students, engage them, attract their interests and feel that I am able to teach them something about the substance. I am not in a position to suggest solutions to this nationwide problem. However, I must find ways of reviving my class atmosphere when I have such a group of students.
Linking topics with the everyday lives of the students is one way of engaging them. Group work asking students to deal with the topics among their peers and using teaching methods which include material such as films, cartoons, and songs which the students find easier to relate to is also important.
Since I teach international relations, doing the above is not difficult, as events of international politics are on the news everyday. I wouldn’t know what to do if I were teaching a different topic not so closely related with our everyday lives.
Any other suggestions would surely be welcome…
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed