I was asked this question recently “is it better to study a course that I enjoy, or I am good at?” when I was supporting a student assisting them choosing an alternative course to what they had started off with. To put into context, this student had started a course last year but had failed in all, but one module and they needed to choose an alternative option. They were not sure whether to repeat the year or do something completely different.
They asked this question adding which option would give them the best mark. So, I asked them why they chose this course in the first place. They told me that they started on this course because their parents wanted them to do so. I persisted and asked what they wanted to do instead and there was a long silence, what they said surprised me. They said they never really thought about it…
I fully understood where they were coming from. In one sense that they wanted to study a course that is likely to give them good marks and hopefully get good jobs, hence the ‘I am good’ part as they would feel more comfortable and easier in managing their study if they were good at the subject. Studying at a degree level can however be more demanding than being good at a subject. Students are expected to do independent study and to keep on top of the assessments and tasks to strict timelines. Then they also have outside interests and socialising to do. Many have family commitments and jobs to keep them financially afloat. I have seen many students just getting by… But I have also seen others who are flying and discovering for themselves new talents and opportunities while at University. What is the key driving force for the latter group?
Is it simply that they enjoy their studies or more accurately their life experiences? They have sparkly eyes and keenness to grow, they are open to life and grabbing opportunities. They are not necessarily at the top of the class or academically gifted, some are quite the opposite. They are a joy to have in class as they have an enate thirst to question and discover, they are almost fearless in some respects in that they are not afraid to make mistakes.
As an educator these ‘keen’ students put me back a step at the beginning as I felt my ‘authority’ was questioned. But I am now glad they did. Yes, it’s easier to teach a class of ‘good’ students, the learning objectives will have been met and I would feel that I have done my part as a teacher. However, as I questioned my perspective on ‘good’ students and their ‘successful outcomes’ through the SEJ process I could see how learning and teaching in joy is a key fundamental aspect of education.
The progression through a traditional educational system is based on getting good grades and accumulating knowledge. With Covid we were given opportunities to question this norm and other areas of our lives. We had the chance to really question what matters to us and questioning our priorities and the purpose of education. Let’s not lose this opportunity and grab the chance to change the norm about our ideas around ‘education’. We had the opportunity to review and change how we deliver our curriculum, now is the time to review what and how we can teach the next generation. The time to put joy in education has arrived let’s meet this with open arms and a spring in our steps.
Dr M Howard-Kishi