Countering student apathy at the university level

Raihan Amin | Published: July 02, 2018 22:12:11 | Updated: July 03, 2018 22:11:17

Being comparatively new to teaching, student assessment at the university level presented a challenge for me. It was largely heuristic. Fortunately, I had a longish bank career to fall back on. Both formative and summative assessments are part and parcel of teaching. In Bangladesh, the majority of instructors are not professionally trained. Moreover, ongoing professional development does not get the importance it deserves. Two additional factors complicate the issue. Whereas most university teachers have had stellar academic records the average student is very weak in English.

The implication of the first point is that there is a big cognitive deficiency in average students, tending to frustrate the best intentions on the part of teachers. The second point means that students continually struggle with texts written in English and, I feel, are afflicted with self-pity. The milieu in which these texts are written are foreign and distant to us. Moreover, many textbooks are increasing in size every year. 

In the faculty where I teach, Business & Economics, assessment consists of quizzes, assignments (typically a term paper or presentation), a mid-term exam and a final exam. Students give the impression they are blissfully unaware that exams will someday catch up with them. Few seem to be attentive and serious from the beginning. 

Most observers would agree that the lecture format bores young people. Their attention span is very short and they get distracted easily. The classes have to be made more interesting and entertaining, by involving and engaging students. Agreed, it is not easy to devise interesting class work all the time. Instructors should try to align each lesson with the course syllabus which, in turn, should tie in with the programme curriculum, say BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration). Students will immediately notice the change and hopefully react favourably. University authorities owe this to students and their financial backers, the parents.     

If marks are deducted for faulty grammar and spelling there is nothing left in the pot. In my experience, an overwhelming number of students do not engage in reflective thinking before answering essay type questions. This is suicidal. Most students remain tight-lipped and poker-faced in class. As a result, teachers remain clueless about their level of understanding and/or interest.  It is therefore suggested that universities run workshops on effective study habits. Such an eye-opener is to be thrust at the students at the beginning of their academic journey.  

To a large extent, lack of motivation is to blame for both attrition and poor results. You can bring the horse to the well, but you can't make it drink. Commentators say that Bangladeshi youth suffer from a sense of hopelessness and have trouble setting goals. A diluted value-system and the vitiated political atmosphere tempt young people to adopt unethical and questionable means to reach goals. They have few role models to look up to. It is also apparent that many students do not share their problems with parents, especially the male student gradually becomes distant with his father.   

Unfortunately, the one we are talking about has no seat at the table. Students have no representation at either the Syndicate or the Board of Trustees. Student unions are absent. In such circumstances I would urge all stakeholders, including the University Grants Commission, to undertake wide-ranging research and dialogue in order to get to the bottom of the problem of student apathy.                     

Raihan Amin is a part-time faculty, United International University.

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