Higher Education?October 1, 2008
For this entry I have turned my blog over to a friend so he can write about his experience of teaching, in the next level of the education system:
As a friend of Oldandrew for many years I agreed to write a guest entry for his blog. Unlike Oldandrew, I have not become a school teacher but have experience of teaching undergraduates at University. I have been teaching mathematics to students in a computer science department in a University whose computer science department is one of the top ten in the country. Here are a few of the important rules for teaching we were given in how we should handle students:
- Answers need to be marked for presence not correctness. These students are not mathematicians and are studying computer science so we can’t expect them to be interested and intelligent enough to be able to answer these questions correctly so as long as they attempt an answer it is fine.
- International students cannot fail. International students pay a lot of money for their tuition and if we fail them we may not get anymore and this will reduce our income.
- Teachers must teach at the speed of the slowest, one must never stretch the smartest students.
Sadly, the introduction of tuition fees has greatly influenced the attitude of students. It becomes increasingly common for students to demand good grades because they pay for their degree so they deserve to get a first. Similarly, students will refuse to hand in work at given times because they pay the wages of the lecturer.
International students also cause further problems for lecturers in that in some countries there is no concept of plagiarism. This means that even though students are made to sign an agreement not to commit plagiarism and the concept is explained to them in detail, international students regularly do. International students are nearly always caught because the quality of their English is below the standard of that used on Wikipedia and so whenever they cut and paste written extracts from Wikipedia it is stands out like blood in snow. If you point out to students that they are committing plagiarism then they will accuse you of racism because either you do not understand their culture (special sessions are now being put on for staff to help them understand the cultures where plagiarism is acceptable), or that you are expecting them to have too high a level of understanding of English.
A few words are in order about the ability of students from school. As a rule the only students who are actually capable of the work are Germans and Indians. The English students are often completely incapable of doing mathematics at a university level. When I went to university we did not cover anything we had done at A-level but instead starting doing new work but this is very rarely the case except at the very best universities, now the A-level syllabus is recovered in the first year so that all students are at the same level for their second year when they can be taught new material. In fact the ability of English students is so bad that at one point I was trying to prove, by induction, that something was divisible by three and I had shown that it was divisible by six. I then had to explain repeatedly that since six is three times two, anything divisible by six was also divisible by three. I even had a couple of students claiming that six was not three times two. It is at this point that I should point out that these students all have A grades in A-level mathematics.
Even when I was at university various courses were being moved from the second to the third year so the dumbing down of university of degrees has been going on for a number of years. Our education system is failing students and a lot of universities are doing their best to compensate, but this means that a lot of degrees have been dumbed down to the point where they are useless.