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Taking The Next Step

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• Rena Wong •

Moving on to a higher platform of learning requires a student to be of a certain calibre. No longer are good memory work and excellent regurgitation skills sufficient to get him through, let alone enable him to score good grades.

The student now has to negotiate more intricate concepts, give responses demonstrative of deeper understanding, extend his perceptions so as to obtain a “macro” view of the situation, and develop autonomy. While education at lower levels was seen as the mere pouring of facts into empty receptacles, tertiary education now places teachers in the role of facilitators rather than providers. Knowledge is no longer about the mere dissemination of facts; it is about how these facts are challenged and built upon. In short, tertiary education enables one to:
•    analyse and evaluate issues;
•    form personal opinions;
•    problem-solve creatively and constructively;
•    think critically;
•    adapt well to dynamic situations;
•    apply what he has learnt in a scenario.

Preparing for the journey ahead
While all that has been mentioned so far may sound daunting, gearing up for tertiary life is really quite easy. A simple change of mindset and greater maturity on your part will go a long way in helping you cope. The following are some pointers you could use:

1. Accept responsibility.
How often have you heard someone say, “I failed this subject because my teacher was lousy”? While excusable where younger learners are concerned, for older students a complete reliance on one’s lecturer or tutor must be avoided. As mentioned above, teachers should no longer be seen as providers of information but rather guides; if a student does not understand something, it is up to him take the initiative to find out more on his own through research or by asking other people.

2. Read up before and after.
In the past, you may have felt that textbook material was sufficient. Not anymore. Each student is expected to do his own outside-of-class research on what was taught or discussed. Handouts and other material given out during class usually act as starting points to learning, or else are meant to be supplementary content to topics assumed to have already been read and understood.

3. Understand, don’t memorise.
Old habits may die hard, especially in a closed-book examination system which rewards those with an elephant’s memory. In tertiary institutions however, open-book examinations are increasingly becoming the norm, so pure memory work is not enough anymore. Instead, the focus is now on comprehension – show that you grasp a problem completely and can offer an innovative take on it and you will score.

4. Question and challenge.
Never accept blindly “facts” that are thrown at you, even if they purportedly come from a reliable source. Knowledge is constantly evolving, even more so in this day and age where computers and the Internet have brought about the biggest information explosion ever. Tutorial sessions and private consultations with your lecturers or tutors are opportunities for you to discuss what you have learnt and raise issues of concern so as to further your understanding of the subject matter.

5. Be inquisitive.
Being a tertiary student entails knowing not just about your own field of study but others’ as well. Jobs today require all-rounded individuals who can demonstrate multi-disciplinary characteristics to a certain extent. An engineer with good linguistic skills who is up to date with the latest happenings in the stock market, for instance, will definitely raise employers’ eyebrows. Keep your eyes and ears open, and remember that no knowledge is bad knowledge.

6. Have fun.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” A cliche no doubt, but still true. Insightful learning takes place only when peppered with a dose of spontaneity, so the trick to becoming a learned person is not by sticking to one’s books and notes all the time and becoming the nerdiest of nerds, but by going out there and experiencing the world and its people, in the process taking in a large breath of fresh air.

7. Reflect on what you have learnt.
A significant but often underplayed part of education is reflection. Take some time off at the end of each day to think about what the day has taught you, and what you feel you have become wiser as a result of. Reflection encourages and therefore enhances self awareness, and any successful learner will tell you that without it, you will never be able to grow not just intellectually, but as a person on the whole.

Treat higher education not as a new, separate phase in your life you must tackle, but as a bridge between youth and adulthood; a transition from studying to working life. Galileo once said, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.” Successful tertiary education is really a voyage of self-discovery that every human being should go through.