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March 12, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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It just so happened that we were having a chat to some old geezers the other weekend. These were some old geezers who were at Vic back in the ‘60s–and the one nugget of wisdom commonly imparted by them all was how sorry they felt for students these days. Everybody emphasised that, in a time when assessment was done purely externally, the majority of the year was spent in pursuit of alcohol or sex. Now, these old geezers weren’t slack old geezers either. These were old geezers who, for the large part, went onto achieve greatly in later life–amongst them were judges, authors, Queen’s Counsel and even an ex-Prime Minister. This got us thinking about uni. Perhaps us kids do, in fact, have it hard.

On the cover of Salient this week we have claimed, somewhat boldly, that education is broken. By this we don’t mean that learning itself is wrong or that people should not be educated. Rather, the institutions in which we are educated are themselves broken, becoming increasingly inflexible and less responsive to the needs of individual students. Education has become a machine.

It is a machine in which success in an academic institution is measured by size rather than quality, where the worth of a discipline is measured by it’s vocational outcome, not its intrinsic merit. It is harder, as individuals, to seek the knowledge and skills we each want.

There are some among us who would have the whole thing burn to the ground; who believe the only way we might return to the roots of education is to climb the hill and listen to the unfiltered wisdom of some modern Socrates.

But while it is true that the machine is often cold and brutish, the systematisation of learning has allowed our community to come closer than ever before to making education the domain of all people. The fact is, machines like our University allow for the wisdom of some modern Socrates to be consistently available to people beyond a select few; there is merit in mass manufacture. And the thing is, the machine is here to stay, and stay it must if we believe all of us has the right to an education.

And we’re a part of the very machine we so readily criticise, and bear an equal responsibility for its condition. While we may be products of it, we needn’t be passive. Students are as vital to learning as teachers, and both are more important than the administrative structures of the moment. Change that which you can, make the machine more human where possible. Your learning is your own. The course is shit, you say? Make it better. The material out-dated? Say something new. Education is broken?

Fix it.

If there’s anything we can learn from reflecting on the way that education has changed in the recent past it is this: practices change and orthodoxies die. But this is only because we are committed to being learners, and all which that entails. Live up to that mantle, not because you are the university, but because you are a part thereof.

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