The Purpose of a Student

As a student, I think we individually know what is our main purpose being in university: to study. But, what kind of study would be considered fitting for a university student? Surely we should expect more coming from someone who has upgraded himself or herself from secondary school.

Is it enough to simply memorize facts and “vomit” them out during exam time? Then, forget almost everything? That is more similar to a copier than a student, let alone a university student. Knowledge is not to be copied and pasted, rather it should be analyzed and applied. But I guess we are more concerned about our grades than anything else.

What if grades don’t haunt us as much as they do? Imagine two scenarios:

A university student achieved a 4.0 CGPA, but is unable to fully explain what he has learned in class to other people. He memorized a lot of facts, but he didn’t understand them.
A university student achieved a 2.5 CGPA, but is able to effectively explain and extract lessons from what he has learned, and apply those lessons to better his life and the lives of the people around him.

The scenarios above are simplistic, but adequate to raise a simple question: between grades and understanding of the subject matter, which one should be the priority? Many can answer that question correctly, but few are brave enough to implement it.

There is at least one reason why it is so hard to implement correct priority in university is because of the apparent importance grades have on the immediate future of a student. Grades are tangible things that we can see, and we prefer tangible things because they are easier to measure.

Measure what exactly? Well, if we consider the original purpose of an exam or a test, it is to measure how much a student understands. However, do we stay true to its original purpose or have we gone astray from it?

To examine that, we can simply look at how many students view their grades. Rather than viewing them as measurements of understanding, which should be a positive constructive feedback for them to improve, they view these grades as the projection of their future. A good grade would mean a good future, and a bad grade would mean a bad future.

There are students who take this a step further by viewing these grades in comparison to their self-worth as a person. A student might get seriously depressed with a bad grade and feels like it is reflective of his quality as a human being. That is simply not true, but time and time again we see signs that many students do think that way.

Why do many students committed suicide over a bad grade? This could be one of the possible reasons.

In an ideal world, of course we would prefer to have good grades and good understanding of the subject matter. But in the real world, those two things don’t necessarily go hand in hand, for various reasons. When we find ourselves in a situation where achieving both is less likely, which one would we choose?

A real student is one who can look far ahead and see that the world needs a problem solver, not a fact memorizer. Though memorization is a part of learning, it is not the point of learning. The point of learning is to better understand the self, the other, and the world in which we all live. Stemming from that understanding, we seek to better the quality of the life we are all living together on this tiny planet.

Would simple rote memorization enable us to become problem solvers? That is a question worthy of investigation.

The thing is, new problems will come and they will keep on coming. Simply memorizing answers that fit the narrow answer scheme on an exam won’t cut it because you can’t fit all the answers to the world’s problems in an answer scheme. Our excellent grades have no use if we cannot add value to the society.

What is the difference between a memorizer and a problem solver? Well, consider these two hypothetical scenarios: Student A and Student B, both are taught in class that 2 + 2 = 4. Student A memorizes that answer, while Student B tries to understand why does 2 + 2 = 4. Student A gets the facts down, while Student B understands where the facts are coming from.

In an exam, surely we can safely assume that both students are able to answer if the question 2 + 2 was asked. But what if a different question was asked, like 10 + 3? Student A doesn’t know the answer because that is not what he memorized, or as he might put it, “That’s not what my teacher taught me.”

Student B, on the other hand, is able to answer that question, even though the question is different from what his teacher taught in class. Why? Because he understands the concept behind the question, hence he is able to answer any variations of the same question that fall within the same concept.

Such is the purpose of a student; to become independent of the answer scheme and to be able to find the answer himself. Because the teacher can’t be there all the time to provide answers that he can memorize.

Spoonfeeding time is over. It is time to learn how to find food on our own and feed ourselves.

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