Useless forcing students to attend lectures physically, if their mind gets to be elsewhere

Carmelo Abela | Compulsory attendance, or redundant intendance? It is useless to force students to attend lectures physically, if their mind gets to be elsewhere

File photo
File photo

As a result of the nature of free education in Malta and its accessibility, the share of the Maltese population having tertiary education has been continuously increasing. In 2005, this number stood at 10.3% whereas, in 2020, this number had almost trebled, going on to stand at 28%. It goes without saying, therefore, that improvements are being made, at least on paper.

Statistically speaking, more Maltese students are graduating from university and other colleges than ever before, and they’re being rewarded for their studies once they enter the job market for that matter.

However, if there’s one thing that remains to be addressed, it is the critical thinking aspect. I’m saying this because we should not satisfy ourselves with the attainment of degrees and diplomas. The attainment of certificates is important, but what’s equally important is the ability to use one’s intellect to question, and to challenge the status quo.

This is something that must also be addressed in our schools. Youths should not be addressed as robots but should be treated as what they are: distinct human beings with tremendous amount of potential. For this to take place, however, more interaction is a must. One cannot expect that lecturers narrating recycled PowerPoint presentations will somehow lead to students achieving this much needed critical thinking.

On the contrary, this level of much needed critical thinking can be achieved through increasing activism and experiences, as well as more interactive lectures. Most university graduates that were active on campus will say that what made their university experience truly one to remember was not the material that they studied, but the things that they learned when they were active in debates, organizations and events at university.

To make matters worse, not all students have the same study preferences. Some might prefer to go through the reading materials by themselves and to study alone, whereas others might be more open to attending all lectures.

In any case, it is useless to force students to attend lectures physically, if their mind gets to be elsewhere.

What I’m getting at is the fact that in certain circumstances, attending lectures forces certain students to be less productive. This is especially the case since that time could have been invested elsewhere, in other activities on campus, that could have better equipped the said students with the capacity to think critically.

The way that I see it, compulsory attendance is a double-edged sword. Students indeed have to be active and committed to their institution and their course, especially since relatively all courses offered in public institutions are funded by the population at large. However, it is also true to state that compulsory attendance is not the best and only way to measure this commitment.

In other countries, different systems are utilized to get around compulsory attendance. I was told by a family friend that in Sweden, students only have three to four lectures per week, however, they are then expected to conduct readings by themselves to ensure that they get to cover the subject.

Another student who obtained a Master’s degree via distance learning told me that he too only had two or three lectures per week – which could either be viewed live or recorded and afterwards students were expected to conduct further research and to discuss their findings on online forums. This system could perhaps be explored by Maltese institutions.

Furthermore, a blended approach that balances attendance with student activism could also be explored. In such a scenario, students would be able to compensate for the lack of their attendance to lectures by involving themselves in different activities such as debates, seminars, and discussions on campus, ensuring that their time is invested in activities that enable them to be more productive. Naturally, if this system were to be tested out, exams and assessments will still need to be passed by all students, ensuring that those who obtain degrees are fit for purpose.

What I would say, however, is that degrees and certificates by themselves do not make a critical thinker. It is experiences and interactions that do so. And increasing these experiences and interactions on campus by incentivising students to be more active will therefore ensure that they will be better equipped to gain critical thinking skills.