So today an article has been published by BBC News Education Reporter Hannah Richardson that points toward pupils / students believing that ‘teaching’ was better when they were at school as opposed to when they were at University. The statistics come from a study of a thousand final year university students commissioned by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), so immediately we can ascertain that being not independently commissioned already casts doubt over the legitimacy of the results and / or agenda behind the study.
As usual, the general rule with these studies is that what is reported is almost purely quantitative information. I would like to point out some fairly simply facts that I learned whilst studying at postgraduate level the subject of research methods. Quite simply – quantitative research tells you only about the existence of a phenomena in anything remotely sociological in nature. To ascertain the reason for the existence of that phenomena you absolutely require either a mixed methodology or the use of qualitative research, where people are required to qualify the answers they give to questions. This way, answers given on irrelevant grounds, misunderstanding of the question or in response to emotive motivation etc. can be weeded out more easily.
In other words, the facts and figures discussed in the BBC article actually tell you very little at all that is actually useful. As such, in my opinion the only completely useful information is contained at the end of the article when Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK said that comparing teaching at school to teaching at university is “nonsensical”. She went on to say:
“Higher education is about students interacting with tutors, lecturers, researchers and their peers and being encouraged to think independently. Teaching excellence at all UK universities is what makes them so attractive not just to UK students, but to students from around the world.
“We agree that high quality teaching in schools can have a profound effect on whether a young person enters higher education. Nonetheless, the different but complementary roles played by the schools and universities do need to be recognised.” (Richardson, H; Teaching ‘better at school than university’ – survey, 4th October 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-15150382)
This is the reality. The rationale behind teaching at university is completely different from the base level up at univerisity, hence the fact that there are different teaching qualifications for school teachers than there are for lecturers. The main role of University teaching is in my opinion to gradually develop and foster independent thought and opinion based on underpinning theory and facts relating to any given issue. The ability to be self disciplined, to learn how to study more effectively and to actually synthesise information. It is a step up from school teaching whereby teaching is to equip pupils with basic knowledge and understanding, and general problem solving skills. There is a gradual move away from the ‘teacher’ giving all of the information to the pupil then read back to them through class tests and exams, towards the student taking more responsibility and ownership of their studies, preparing them for the real world beyond education.
As such, I personally believe the two areas are utterly incomparable, and studies like the one cited by the BBC of little relevance or usefulness to either educational sector (School or University).