Academic success and what we can learn from primary schools
‘At the start of the academic year, I can immediately tell which students will pass my course and which ones won’t,’ claimed a lecturer last week during one of my meetings with 100 lecturers. Another lecturer was irritated by this: ‘You then create a self-fulfilling prophecy, while, as a lecturer, you can make the difference. Take a critical look at your own role: you can personally increase the learning outcomes of your students.’
And then there was the discussion that arose in response to the question of who is responsible for academic success: the lecturer or first and foremost the student? Two of the participants in this meeting had worked in primary education, where it is inconceivable to allow students to fall between the cracks. More than that, the Higher Education Act requires primary schools to make every possible effort to help children reach the finish line. ‘A university of applied sciences feels more like a company than a school to me. It is much less hands-on here than in primary education,’ commented one of them. Some lecturers confirmed this, others to a lesser degree. It is clear at any rate that a commitment to students is essential for academic success.
Over the hurdle
How far do you take this? There are lecturers who believe that the lecturer must do everything in his or her power to ensure that students succeed. This is not done by lowering the hurdles, but by helping students over them through effective interventions. Another lecturer responded, ‘We can get the students over the hurdles, but you have no idea how many crates and chairs we’ve stacked on the other side to make this happen.’ He believes that this goes too far and has his doubts about the quality of the education that remains. He also feels that thinking in terms of ‘yield’ – we receiving funding for every student who reaches the finish line, so as many students as possible need to succeed – is too dominant.
Academic success is a team effort
But a high dropout rate is not primarily a financial issue, as yield thinking implies. The dropout rate says something about the quality of the education. As far as I am concerned, improving the academic success rate and preventing dropouts are two of the most important pursuits of the lecturer teams. A good team looks for possibilities each and every day to help students progress further. Lecturers who say that they can immediately tell whether or not a student will succeed should use this knowledge to help students at risk stay on track. Higher quality education is also a goal for 2017. The Hague University of Applied Sciences is not an education factory, but a community that invests in personal contact with students. We can learn something from primary education!
I talked to more than 100 lecturers in recent weeks and plan to talk with large numbers of students this coming year, as was agreed with the students in the General Council. I am curious to learn how students view academic success and what they believe the school can do to increase this.
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