While studying for my Masters degree at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, I have noticed significant differences between the general approach to graduate and postgraduate education in my home country Moldova and here.
Back home the focus is on theoretical side of knowledge, with this knowledge being “fed” to students. Thorough control of each student’s performance is done by teachers throughout the whole study period. Students are required to strictly “obey” the established curriculum, the teachers, and the university staff. Everything is quite formal and official.
This is a more or less opposite case in Denmark and other European countries. The stress here is made on self-education (autodidacticism); that is, every student “knits” his / her own study process.
Firstly, it is you who chooses what courses to take in each block and semester. Of course, there are some core and compulsory subjects you are required to have, but regarding their allocation and choice of elective ones – this is entirely up to you. Selection and allocation is performed by using the virtual system you gain access to before the start of the study period.
Secondly, the education process is constructed in a way to give you more applied side of knowledge and to help you develop corresponding competences and skills. It is not enough to just know how things work, you are required to understand the logic behind it and implement the obtained information and skills in the real world situations. In addition, learning everything by heart is not demanded here; on the contrary, you are expected to develop critical thinking by challenging the truth of theories and applicability of methods and instruments.
Thirdly, students are not obliged to attend any lecture or seminar. You are not checked for attendance and in most cases you do not get marks during the study period; you receive only the final grade based on your exam performance. However, it means that much of the studying is done through individual and group work outside lectures. So, your study and performance are your own business, but this “business” requires much time and hard work from you.
It seems that the self-education approach practiced in many European countries is the best one possible. Still, let us look at it through the “critical eye” and see what are the advantages (the “goods”) and disadvantages (the “bads”) of it.
The “goods” are the following:
– Opportunity to construct your own curriculum and study process – You know better than anyone else what you want to take from your education, so this allows you to align personal expectations and schedule with your studying;
– Focus on every student – This makes students feel themselves important and thus show more dedication to and involvement in the study process (it is like firms’ focus on consumer in a market);
– Informal environment – Students do not have “formality and hierarchy obstacles” to approach teachers with questions, proposals, feedback, etc.;
– Alignment with the real world – Accent on the applied side of knowledge makes it easier for students to understand and transfer it “beyond auditoriums”;
– Opportunity to make and correct mistakes – When you do not get marks, but receive constructive feedback from your teacher, you are not afraid to make mistakes and, most importantly, learn how to correct and prevent them in the future;
– Development of innovation and critical thinking – No doubt that these competences are very demanded on the global labour market, so their development brings significant added value to an individual;
– Team work and leadership experience – Studying and working on a common project together with other students helps you develop these two no less important competences and skills.
However, there are some “bads” here also:
– Somewhat complicated study self-service you need to understand and learn to use – It might be difficult to master the usage of the course selection, internal communication and other virtual systems, especially for the first time;
– Dependence on information technologies – Various system upgrade periods, bugs, viruses and other IT-related issues can pose certain challenges in registering for a course or receiving the necessary material on time, for example;
– Time-consuming – Self-education suggests there is a lot of reading, work on assignments and projects to do outside lectures and seminars. This fact makes it very challenging to get a job or to do something else (of course, if you really want to benefit from your education). And if you have no grant or scholarship to cover tuition fees and maintenance, then it becomes a very serious drawback.
So, as you see, there is no “perfect” approach to education (though many people equal the words “abroad” and “the best”) – each has both its strong and weak points. It is mostly up to YOU how the proportion of “goods” and “bads” will be managed. If you are of the “lazy and not interested” kind, then you will surely find dozens of arguments why current education does not satisfy your needs. But with proper interest and passion in the study programme, you will manage to get the most out of and beyond it despite the overall level of its development.
Certainly, the quality of education also depends on the state’s attention and care for it. If the state wants to have a well-developed internal labour market with high quality and globally demanded local specialists and wishes to prevent the so-called “brain-drain” phenomenon, then it should invest in the development of education and really “think out of the box” to maximize the synergy of the “goods” from various approaches and minimize the “bads” of each of them. Still, in some way it also depends upon you. If you just sit and complain, but continue to follow the established regime, then the state has no incentive to spend precious budget money for improving something where change is not demanded. On the contrary, if you take proactive role in addressing the education issue, then your voice has higher chance of being heard at the “tops”. Even if you cannot reach sanity and rational thinking of high officials, then at least you will be able to improve education quality for yourself and probably surrounding people.
Thus, perhaps we better stop whining and waiting for some imaginary “good and wise fellow politician” to come to power and change the education system for the better with a mere wave of his hand… and perhaps we should get our own minds and hands into it if we really desire an effective and efficient education for ourselves and our children.
As an American actor Jonathan Winters pointed out:
„If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it”.