Traditionally, education has been thought of as something that is given ‘to’ students. The students are often thought of as passive recipients of information, theory and facts. Teachers talk ‘at’ their pupils, and they are considered to be learning simply by being present in the classroom. Although education has evolved, many teachers consider being questioned to be an insult to their professional prowess, and prefer blind acceptance of the information being provided. Schools are measured by how many of their pupils have achieved success in examinations, and many parents choose schools for their children on the basis of these reports. If schools are considered to be the arbitrators of academic success, students and parents can be forgiven for thinking that the professionals within are entirely responsible for learning. Didn’t understand a question on the exam paper? The teacher didn’t cover that. Traditional attitudes to education absolve the student of responsibility for their own learning.
The increasing prevalence of essay writing services implies that many students are turning to plagiarism in the event that their teacher has not delivered every academic tool and piece of information required for success. There are many organisations, both in the UK and worldwide, who provide ‘model’ answers to essay questions, based on the ‘requirements’ of the paying student. This suggests that some students who feel ill equipped to succeed at their course believe that the only option available is buying what they need. However, students who do this are missing the point of education entirely. What merit is there in having a piece of paper that proclaims you qualified in a subject you don’t understand? Indeed, there have been reports in the press that some universities are complaining that school leavers are coming to them woefully unprepared for the rigours of academic life and the demands of a degree course.
Academic success is not about tacitly absorbing, copying and regurgitating. In order to get great exam results and succeed at undergraduate study it is essential to become an active learner. The student has to take responsibility for his or her own learning. Any information the teacher or lecturer provides should be thought of as an additional boost to independent study. Being an active learner involves becoming a researcher. Students should read as much as possible: that means attacking the reading list with gusto, as well as finding their own sources of information and reading ‘around’ prescribed topics as much as possible. In conjunction with reading, students who learn rather than awaiting being taught also question all information. They deconstruct ideas and information into simple note form, all the while questioning its validity. Discussion with other students, or even on online forums, can help with this questioning.
The more questions we ask, the more we can deepen our understanding of a topic. Depending on the subject, practical application of ideas and concepts can also enable learning. The key to academic success is not in looking to teachers and lecturers for all the answers: it is being an active learner who is continuously reading and questioning.
I'm a former English teacher and private tutor who is passionate about education. I've been writing professionally for the past three years and have written educational worksheets for use in schools as well as contributing to an educational journal. I've also written on every other topic under the sun!