Learn to learn by doing; do not outsource your education

Friday, 26 August 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Untitled-1“...Tell me I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn,” said Benjamin Franklin. 

 Then, how do you feel about the students who do not listen to what you tell them, who do not study what you teach, and who do not get involved even if you want them to, and, most surprisingly, still produce good results by outsourcing their learning? 

I never expect to meet anyone like that in any of my classes as a university lecturer, however, this is my fear about the future of our nation, looking at some alarming new trends in the Sri Lankan education industry.

Educator’s dilemma

Last week I was going through a set of assignments submitted by my students from a university I work with. Some assignments were absolutely amazing, with a large number of additional research supporting their arguments from various schools of thoughts. I marked them proudly thinking about that extra mile my students have gone in to research in the filed I have guided them to learn. 

There was another set of students, who have linked to the studies done in the class, and supported the arguments with their very own experiences, making me proud that they have understood how to apply what they learned in the class to practice. 

I think I was more attracted to the assignments where students discussed their own experiences, as they truly demonstrated their knowledge and experience. The other group who went to that extra mile to research more and submit a good assignment had no authentic experiences shared. They earned good marks as they have aligned with the requirements, however, in my heart I wondered whether a few of them actually wrote those assignments by themselves. Especially the slow performers in the class, who had the worst grammar and style, did not have even one grammar or style error in their assignments. Could those assignments have been outsourced? 

Assumption can’t be used during examinations, so that there was no way I could reduce marks for those assignments. Students walked out with excellent results to the big world, to lead the future of our nation. This kept happening at an increasing rate.

The shocking truth

Today, in Sri Lanka, there are contractors who undertake assignment writing, thesis writing. They are in every little corner around the universities. They go public, with advertising campaigns offering their services. 

Every day we get on the road fighting for the future of our country. Isn’t it the time for us to protest against the people who are supporting to produce a set of useless degree holders to lead our nation, before it takes over our education system. Tomorrow we may find assignment contractors having their little office spaces inside the universities. Maybe it’s already happening without our knowledge. 

So, why don’t all the intelligent, honest and ethical students and teachers get on the road and ask for these assignment shops to be closed? This will be a campaign I would support, as I know how much I have learned by doing my doctoral degree on my own and how difficult was the learning process of doing it the right way. If someone can’t commit to learn, they should never enrol in a reputed university degree, when they can buy one of those cheap online degrees available in the market.

‘Assignment undertaking’ is not new in some countries. However, in those countries students have other opportunities to learn, or, in other words, if the students want to learn, they will learn by engaging in work they love doing. In our little Sri Lanka, students spend very little time engaging in non-education related activities while they are enrolled in a degree.

So, where does their energy and time go? When the assignments are undertaken by contractors, what would the students do? What sort of future leaders are we producing through our universities, both public and private? Do they have any respect for their university system or the education rather than waiting to receive that final piece of paper they can use to find work? Further research in to the area is need here to understand the mindset of the students who outsource their future.

The change we need

It’s time we propose some changes to our assessment system in education immediately to minimise the impact from such unethical practices. A quick social media based research suggested that in university degrees, at least 70-80% of the total marks should be based on classroom activities and the individual exams. 

Even though it is difficult to recognise carefully outsourced work at PhD and doctoral degree levels, supervisors and examiners should be instructed to work harder to ensure the work is done by the students, by themselves. There should be a close relationship between the supervisor and the student to ensure student master the subject, rather than just buying a degree from a university.

Another scary fact is that students’ work is contracted out by parents even at nursery education level. There is a tendency today where even homework of nursery kids is getting outsourced. As an example, how many parents get their kids’ Easter hats or Vesak lantern projects outsourced? If you are one of those parents, it is time to stop it now. The change has to start from that point. Let’s teach our children to learn by doing, to build a productive nation. Not to outsource their education.

At any level of study, primary, secondary, tertiary or professional education, it is clear that assessment based education needs disciplines and ethics. The disciplines and ethics that build a foundation for good governance! Therefore, every citizen has a responsibility to ensure Sri Lankan education system maintains its standards to continue to be recognised as a true measure for someone’s academic excellence, by eliminating such unethical practices from the system. 

(The writer is a visiting lecturer to many Sri Lankan and foreign universities, Chairperson of Global Institute of Project Management, President of Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and CEO of Innova Strategies. Dr. Madhu can be contacted on madhu@innovastrategies.com.)

Recent columns