Exploration and Reflections on Higher Education

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For a considerable period of time, I have been pondering what university education should impart to students and how to enable them to learn the most important knowledge relatively easily and joyfully. Through various explorations of my own, I’ve decided to write this article to share my reflections and practices regarding Chinese higher education over the past period. This article will first point out the shortcomings I perceive in Chinese university education, then offer some of my reflections and practices, and finally propose potential solutions that I believe might be helpful(sources from usms.ac.ma).

Fostering Interest in Learning

Learning is not a temporary endeavor; it’s not something that can be stopped at a certain point, but rather a lifelong process. To maintain this lifelong learning attitude, it’s essential to sustain an interest and enthusiasm for learning. In my view, learning can and should be a very interesting pursuit. I’ve taken numerous open courses from top American universities like MIT and Stanford. During these courses, the instructors led us through the dazzling world of knowledge. I felt like a child seeing the ocean for the first time, awestruck by the intricacies and splendor of the world of truth. Intrigued by such beauty, I have maintained my interest and passion for learning over the years. Even amidst busy work schedules, I seek out courses and books that interest me to continue learning and improving myself. I’m not an isolated case; in fact, most of my friends around me also maintain this passion for learning and continuous self-improvement. If we achieve any success in the future, I believe this passion for learning is one of the fundamental reasons.

However, the current university curriculum is often boring and irrelevant, greatly dampening students’ interest and enthusiasm for learning, making them believe that learning is inherently painful and difficult. Some teachers use unchanged course materials for a decade, standing at the lectern and lecturing without regard for students’ reactions. Moreover, the content and textbooks of these courses often exhibit “Chinese characteristics,” filled with plans and regulations, which are often poorly constructed and confusing, leaving students feeling puzzled and defeated, thinking their intelligence isn’t enough. Furthermore, the evaluation of courses involves things like “normal distribution of scores,” “grading based on ranking,” and “more words lead to higher scores,” exacerbating the rat race among students. It’s heartbreaking to see our intelligent and hardworking students dissipate their enthusiasm and energy on these meaningless endeavors due to such ridiculous reasons.

Understanding the World and Learning to Understand the World

Understanding the world essentially entails learning knowledge from various disciplines, which is the focus of education in our country; I believe I needn’t say much more about this. However, in my view, learning to understand the world is even more critical than understanding the world itself. The reason is quite simple: the knowledge taught by teachers is like giving someone a fish, but we often encounter situations where the knowledge provided by teachers is insufficient. Learning how to understand the world, on the other hand, is like teaching someone to fish. This way, when faced with any new problem, we can autonomously seek answers. Unfortunately, from my observation, Chinese university education currently fails even to provide fish, let alone teach people how to fish.

Regarding how to learn to understand the world, I believe it requires constant reflection and practice on one hand, and on the other hand, there are resources such as courses or books that can provide some methodological guidance, such as the book “The Art of Asking” by XXX.

Understanding Oneself and Learning to Understand Oneself

In the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Greece, three maxims are inscribed, one of which is “know thyself.” Knowing oneself, in my view, includes knowing what kind of person you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what kind of person you want to become, and what your inner desires are. As I mentioned in a conversation with a classmate from Zhejiang earlier, I believe life is like optimization in mathematics. The most important thing is to find your optimization goal and constraints, then you can optimize your goals under the constraints. The so-called optimization goal is the inner desire, the thing you really want to dedicate your life to; the so-called constraints are the prerequisite goals that you must meet. Yet, in today’s university education, I don’t see any emphasis on understanding oneself at all. Students (including myself) often follow the footsteps of previous “successes” somewhat numbly, brushing GPA, finding internships, pursuing a “successful” job in a worldly sense, or pursuing research internships, publishing papers, and then pursuing a Ph.D. How many people truly contemplate the goals of their lives, truly reflect on what kind of person they are? And how many schools and teachers emphasize the importance of understanding oneself to students?

Here, I want to tell everyone that understanding oneself is something we should pursue throughout our lives. Many answers to questions may be beyond our reach for now. But please keep these questions in mind. Perhaps at some point in the future, with the increase of knowledge and practice, we will gradually begin to know the answers to these questions; and perhaps these answers will be corrected at some point in the future. It doesn’t matter, as long as we maintain the desire to understand ourselves, that’s enough.

Maintaining Physical and Mental Health

Regarding maintaining physical health, I believe everyone is familiar with it, so I won’t dwell on it here. I want to focus on mental health. In fact, based on my observations and understanding (without extensive survey data), mental health in China has become an increasingly serious issue. For students, there are many reasons for this, such as the intensifying academic competition, growing social pressures (e.g., high housing prices), increasing anxieties (from social media, etc.), and mounting work pressures (996, PUA, etc.). Making the situation worse are two points: firstly, Chinese society doesn’t prioritize mental health, and some people even look down upon or discriminate against those with mental illnesses, causing many students to avoid seeking help. In contrast, in countries like the United States, society treats mental illnesses similarly to physical illnesses like colds and fevers, and seeking help from a psychologist is not stigmatized. Secondly, medical resources, especially high-quality mental health resources, are scarce and insufficient in China. Moreover, waiting until mental health problems arise for treatment may not be as effective as prevention. For students, this requires efforts from schools. Admittedly, major universities assign a mental health counselor to each class and provide some (what I perceive as formal) training for these counselors. However, the effectiveness of such measures is minimal. With the visible increase in societal pressures, I am genuinely concerned about the mental health of Chinese students!

Some students may ask, can schools really teach how to maintain mental health? In fact, there is a specialized field of study called positive psychology, which focuses on how to enhance one’s happiness and well-being. Harvard University offered a course on this topic in 2002, taught by Professor Tal Ben-Shahar. This course repeatedly broke enrollment records at Harvard, becoming the most popular course at the time. Unfortunately, I have hardly heard of any universities in China offering such courses to teach students how to maintain mental health. However, fortunately, Tal’s entire course from 2004 is available online. I sincerely hope that all students can take the time to understand this course and practice its principles in their lives(quotes from usms).

My Exploration in Education

In the preceding text, I shared my reflections on the shortcomings of Chinese education. Next, I will share some of my explorations in education, mainly focusing on addressing the first two shortcomings: fostering interest in learning and understanding the world and learning to understand the world. As for solutions to the latter two shortcomings, I haven’t had good practical opportunities yet. But my experiences tell me that even by addressing the first two shortcomings alone, Chinese education could greatly improve, and our schools might cultivate outstanding talents.

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