By Essie Bester
At the start of each new year thousands of students arrive at campuses all over the country – full of hope that a university degree will improve their lives. However, the reality is that a degree does not guarantee this.
South Africa has an unemployment figure of 29.1%, which means that one out of every three South Africans is jobless. This is according to Statistics South Africa’s quarterly labour force survey (QLFS) for the fourth quarter of last year.
Yet business leaders still maintain there is work out there. In their view the problem is a lack of proficient talent. It would therefore appear as if there is a disconnection between universities that teach their students and the skills required in the market. Experts however say it has more to do with how students are trained.
Nowadays, more and more employers are not focusing on impressive degree certificates when appointing graduates. What matters for them is the way in which students learn, as this forms how they think and what they do on the job.
Pioneers such as Ernst & Young have removed degree qualifications as prerequisites from their entrance requirements because they no longer believe that academic success is always a sign of professional success.
A new kind of graduate
Employers now seek graduates who can think for themselves, who can readily fit into a work environment with a fast pace, who are willing to learn new ways of working, and who can develop creative solutions for actual problems – all capabilities that depend more on how they learned than what they learned.
In the traditional university model, “learning” meant access to information and knowledge, education resources and teaching expertise. However, today technology makes it easier for everyone to obtain information, knowledge and learning sources.
During the past 15 years we have made enormous strides in our understanding of how the brain works and how people learn. Developments such as these have completely changed the way we think about higher education.
Time to review old models
In many universities teaching still takes place in large lecture halls and the ability to remember and repeat information is rewarded. This is one of the most ineffective ways to teaching, as shown by researchers such as the physicist and Nobel prize-winner, Carl Wiesman.
Universities must reconsider their approach to teaching if they want to train people who can think critically, show leadership qualities and own the cooperation and problem-solving skills necessary for modern life.
Effective learning depends on three things
- Firstly, students must reflect on what they are learning. Reflection helps students to determine what they know and what knowledge they still lack. This also helps them to integrate new ideas and concepts with their knowledge material. While students reflect, they also strengthen the neural pathways in their brain and build new ways that link information not formerly associated with each other. These links make critical thinking possible.
- Secondly, true learning takes place when students stop being passive receptors of information and instead they become active experimenters. When students participate actively, they accept responsibility for the results and ensure that what they are learning is relevant. They develop self-regulation, motivation and curiosity – qualities that will help them to continue learning later in life.
- Thirdly, learning takes place when students apply new concepts or skills. This is the most natural test with which a student’s understanding of what he or she learns can be determined. To do something, receive feedback about it, refine the process and then do it again, also build neural paths for tracing and connecting
Universities are seen as the basis of the planning phase for that towards which a society strives. This is why it is universities’ duty to produce employable leaders – people who can contend with the challenges that hamper our country’s progress, people with the necessary skills and thought patterns. For this, universities will have to change the way in which they view learning methods, design and assessment.