Good intentions holding back uni students
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Good intentions holding back uni students

Good intentions are robbing students of their true potential. While it might seem contradictory, giving our students more opportunities to challenge themselves actually leads to a better understanding of the requirements of a fulfilling life, academic material, and social interactions.

The pendulum has now swung to an extreme position where students are not learning, interested in learning, or meeting the learning requirements. While lecturers need to provide support and guidance, contorting ourselves to satisfy a petulant customer is devaluing educational accomplishments. By setting and sticking to clear standards (high but reachable), expectations and goals, we can realise the value of educational attainment and students' possibilities.

"Give the students a chance", "they try", "they have problems", "we should help", "they will learn", and many other phrases used in Thai schools indicate some of the contortions made to accommodate students. The results are that students do not learn to build intellectual muscle but how to game the system because their teachers would always "help". This assistance means the exams would be easier, the standards would be lowered, deadlines would be missed, and so on. No one truly benefits from this devaluation of education when we should be building individuals who would build themselves and society.

There will be students with genuine problems requiring flexibility, but the exception has become the rule. Students use teachers' ratings to compare teachers and push administrators to change educators when held accountable to perceived challenging standards. Thus, lecturers who insist on deadlines are considered too strict, harsh and demanding. Learners, lecturers and administrators know this game. Yet the system remains because changing requires admitting something is wrong, and no one wants to deal with the problem.

Students need to learn that actions have consequences for themselves and others. Thus, while a deadline may not seem important at school, it may mean millions of dollars at work or worse. Setting ambitious standards leads to continuous improvement, which helps companies grow, innovate and adapt. Settling with low standards means businesses would not change processes easily or quickly, hence being inefficient or causing them to cease operations. Technology masks some of the incompetence and inefficiency. Being held responsible and accountable at school means that the individual would more likely be responsible and accountable to society in public life.

Another example is asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. This question is supposed to spark the exploration of possibilities and decision-making with the answers changing over time. However, some teachers avoid asking these types of questions as they see it as putting pressure on kids and limiting options. The result is that many university students do not know what they want or are interested in, thus making lecturing harder, materials used irrelevant to the student, and taking away effort from those who want to be there. Graduates find exploring for answers and making decisions difficult; hence, less competent graduates devaluing the value of a degree.

Intelligent failures are good. So, providing the environment for success and failure is essential, thus fulfilling the school's objective of providing a learning environment. Teachers try to protect students too much; hence, students do not learn to learn from small failures.

So, when they enter the professional environment, these graduates are prone to make more significant failures with more considerable consequences without learning from their mistakes.

We educators and society must realise that in everyone's interest, the substance of learning matters more than the appearance of learning. Challenging students would mean some unhappy students. But this is a small bump in the road to greater success.

Smoothing the road gets learners through the system faster but unprepared for life's many obstacles. Life-long learning is more than the typical 12 to 16 years of schooling.

Lecturers need to temper their intentions with honesty. Provide structure, guidance and support, but students need to do the required work to cross the hurdles to succeed. Learners will push themselves to improve if they see other students repeating years and grades.

Children are bright, working within and pushing boundaries.

The role of teachers is partly to guide learners in understanding the consequences of their actions.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions" should be restated so that teachers recognise that sometimes their good intentions cause more problems for students and society.

Mariano Miguel Carrera, PhD, is a lecturer at the International College at King Mongkut's University of Technology, North Bangkok.

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