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Education: Modern vs Traditional

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Image of a professor and students in class. The traditional method of education.
METUans attending a lecture in one of the classes.

Most students of METU NCC have a difficult time adapting to the education of various courses. Many may point fingers at either the student or the teacher. But, maybe it’s actually something we don’t think about very often. Maybe it’s about the method we use to approach these courses?

Introduction

Yes, there are numerous ways we may classify our approaches to studying and/ or learning. One of the most common ones, and the one we shall be reliant upon here, is the difference between traditional and modern education.

Concept picture showing some of the differences between Modern and Traditional education

What is Education?

First and foremost, what do we mean by education? This may seem like a very annoying and unnecessary philosophical complication. However, this question is the foundation of this argument; thus, it is of high significance. Well, I believe the following two questions could perhaps clear the fog:

1- What do we want from education?

2- How should we conduct it?

What we expect from education is the intellectual development of the individual to become capable of performing far more tedious and complex tasks for the sake of better contributing to society. In other words, things that may have been once deemed to be out of reach are now within grasp. After all, we do live in an industrial age: an age where one’s worth is mostly determined by their assets and work. As of to the “how”, well that is far more complex of a question, as the variables involved are of high complexity. That is why I’ve used the terms “traditional” and “modern” throughout this blog. Think of it as a generalization of sorts.

Second, what do we mean by traditional and modern education? Where do we place a line to differ between the two terms? Simply put, the difference lies in their objectives. The traditional method’s protocol is relatively simple: finish the material at hand. How it is done does not matter. On the other hand, modern teaching methods emphasize the student’s capability of retaining information.

Traditional Education

Traditional education may seem justifiable to many due to the fact there is so much to learn. The point is clear; it’s the teacher’s job to give as much information as possible, and the student’s job to fully comprehend this data. Assuming all goes to plan, it should end up as very efficient.

But what if it doesn’t go to plan? What if the student cannot retain the information? What if he/ she lacks the desire to study in the first place due to a hard time finding meaning to what they are doing? Why don’t we analyse the methods given by the instructor, and how they can sometimes lead to their disappointment, dissatisfaction, and feelings of pressure?

Education According to Plan

Should all go as expected, the student will attain a personality capable of handling almost any stressor. This student will not have only achieved critical understanding of the courses, but also developed the basic skillset required for them to make change where need be. No matter how bad times can get, their desires will always get the better of them. University has supplied them with both academic and personal development for them to overcome any struggle.

The Shortcomings (Teachers)

It should now be quite apparent where the flaws in this approach lies. In short, it is very grueling for both teachers & students, as it places both of them in an unforgiving environment. Teachers who come with the dream of seeing kids grow, learn, and develop end up riddled with the impractical expectations placed upon them. They hope to see these supposedly enthusiastic students gain the experience and skillset for them to achieve their biggest dreams.

But instead, they find themselves tensing up over both the intensity and strict time constraint of the course. Topics that they would like to elaborate on and share their personal experiences in are now under strict supervision. They shift their focus from teaching students to finishing the material on time. Thus, they are forced to push students off their nests. Although the instructor would like to witness all of the hatchlings to spread their wings, it becomes utterly impossible for them to do so.

The Shortcomings (Students)

Many things may go awry for a student. This standard of education is very unforgiving; hence, the popular view of it as insensitive. Should the student be facing any issues- regardless of whether they may be personal or not- they cannot shift their focus to relieve that stressor. Instead, they have to constantly carry that stone over their shoulders until they complete the task at hand.

What’s worse is the fact that the open-minded, curious students we once knew in the beginning become anxious and depressed. What little anticipation they had to embark a fun journey is now gone. They are programmed to think in a very industrial manner. Whether this is good or not is debatable. What isn’t debatable, is the fact that many students who expect themselves to graduate with great knowledge end up not attaining much of a skillset; hence, obtaining many regrets they shouldn’t have.

Modern Education

Throughout the past few decades, people have noticed that things rarely go right with traditional standards of education. Because of that, some professors decided that it was a time to change their styles a bit. Popular examples of this method would be Richard Feynman, Walter Lewin, Dmitri Mendeleev, and many others.

Their emphasis lied in ensuring that the students processed the information. Some utilized entertainment:

Others relied on the student’s familiarity:

The most common approach would be to just inch out models of any kind to simplify an initially sophisticated concept (e.g. Mendeleev’s periodic table).

What do we notice in all of these methods? The approach of teaching was very different. Rather than blame the students who want to learn, they point at themselves for not being capable of understanding the subject in a manner that they are familiar with. This isn’t to say that teachers are to blame. This just means that the teachers considered themselves as students themselves: learning how to teach, how to learn, and so on and so forth. But the same question arises; what if it doesn’t go as we first thought of it to be?

According to Plan

Success has been very noticeable utilizing this method, and rightfully so. Humans are hardwired to solve problems (whether that is a result of nature or nurture is not of concern here). This style never ceases to surprise us with how little we really do know of our universe; as for every answer we receive, we can ask more questions. It embraces the fact that students will only rigorously study a subject if they deem its questions worthy of asking.

These teachers will perceive the world very differently from us. Although they have the answers to many of our questions, they realize that they know nothing. Thus, they seem all the wiser and sincere to their passions.

Shortcomings

The funny thing about this style is that there simply cannot be any flaws that reside due to external pressures. Any flaws in teaching or learning exist due to our lack of knowledge/ experience. This is obviously inevitable. A good example can be shown in the video below:

In the video, the reporter asks a question to which Richard Feynman answers by stating that he cannot answer unless if the reporter had some background knowledge, as he is not familiar with what the reporter will understand.

Comparison

This isn’t meant to place any shame on our ancestors nor upon anyone who still utilizes traditional techniques. After all, not everyone has had the privilege to experience what many of us have today. Although there are many flaws in the traditional education system, it should still be held with strong respect due to the fact that it has created many hard-working, vigilant, and disciplined workers throughout history.

What Does This Mean for METUans?

Well, many of us interact with one another, whether that may be with teachers or other students.  It should be our responsibility to establish clarity for any situation. We should be able to provide information in a comprehensible manner to others. That is communication.

Besides, learning and teaching shouldn’t only occur in the classroom. You can be in SI-PASS, a leader in a society, a manager of a group, or simply helping a friend out. Although non-academic skills may not need as much rigor as we put in class, it still requires us to analyze and adapt to any situation at hand. Thus, we gain adverse attitudes, personalities, ideas, and values, all of which may be negotiated civilly. If you’re interested in reading more about education here and how life is at METU for a student, browse through some of our other articles here.

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