The value of education

Once in a while, a white envelope emblazoned with the maroon coat-of-arms of Queen’s University adorns my mailbox amongst the various flyers and bills. Regardless of the subject of the letter inside, I am always struck by the unassuming text at the bottom of the letterhead, reminding me that I am part of an institution that is “Preparing leaders and citizens for a global society.”

When I first saw those words on my offer of admission, I was confident in their validity. Half a decade—and almost $40,000—later, I’m not so sure.

In recent history, postsecondary education in the western world has focused on the training of hyper-competitive graduates to meet the grade-point average benchmarks of postgraduate study and industry, which I believe is to the detriment of the preparation of well-rounded, altruistic and critical thinkers of tomorrow. Two weeks ago, my colleague and friend Katrina Ludlow wrote that her experiences at the Journal have been a “diamond in the rough” of her university education. Many other Queen’s students feel the same way about their contributions to competitive teams, art and cultural groups, or activities that help benefit fellow students. With so many of my peers considering their time out of the classroom to be the most valuable part of their experience, it’s interesting that the formal evaluation of our worth as students pays little (if any) attention to these contributions.

Universities, strapped for cash and desperate to attract not only students but also faculty and the research dollars that follow, have struggled to market themselves as the “best” in every area. In undergraduate education, that means producing graduates who have the highest marks and the best test scores. Because of this, universities have, by necessity, drifted away from an atmosphere
of community learning and discovery, and instead choosing to focus on packing as much training on repeatable and testable technical skills as possible into the precious few years that students spend here.

I submit that this focus on meeting a measure of “excellence,” which has been defined as the ability to regurgitate a brain full of information gained through rote learning rather than on the more essential
skills of inquiry, discovery and criticism, is doing a disservice to future generations. There’s still time to put our collective house in order. More and more, measures such as the National Survey on Student Engagement are placingpressure on universities to look beyond the base curriculum by attempting to quantify the quality of a post-secondary education without simply looking at marks, attrition and employment statistics. As for our own institution, we remain fortunate that students have created and continue to run many of the broader-learning opportunities that I mentioned above. If we value our education, and the education of our successors, we should continue to place emphasis on the
continued support of experiences which will truly serve to help us contribute to the global society.

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