C/O Leon Wu

Confining students to mandatory courses early on hinders their learning

By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor

In Canada, most students start post-secondary programs between the ages of 17 and 20. Such endeavours require us to make decisions that will ultimately dictate the kinds of careers — and overall futures — we can achieve. 

Although this has been normalized in most modern cultures, is it really reasonable to ask such young citizens to make choices that will have such potent and long-lasting impacts on their lives? This is an especially insightful inquiry considering that most youth value exploration at this stage in their lives, as opposed to being limited by mandatory course requirements and ‘streams’ that prepare one for a specific profession. 

Although taking a gap year, or even multiple years, to work or travel before post-secondary is an agreeable solution, universities should also become increasingly flexible to students changing interests as they move through their educational journeys.

Even for students who begin their studies believing that they are completely sure of their chosen route, new opportunities can diverge these seemingly set paths. For example, engineering majors who happen to take a business elective may find their interests are more aligned in the latter’s content. 

Engaging in extracurriculars like orchestras and sports teams may also expose individuals to ideas that they have never considered before and inspire them to pursue different endeavours from those they originally intended. On average, one third of undergraduates will change their degree during their post-secondary years and 61 per cent of students would have chosen different programs if they could go back. 

The endless ways to get involved – whether on campus, through jobs or volunteer activities – should be seen as inspiring rather than worrying for students who are supposed to have it ‘all figured out’.

Although most educational institutions have a myriad of courses to cater to various interests, mandatory courses for specific programs offset these offerings. Consider some programs that do not offer electives until third or fourth year and instead focus on courses all contained under one umbrella. 

While this ensures full concentration for those who desire the singular focus, it may be disappointing for those who are not certain of their future career or educational paths. Moreover, it may act as a barrier for some individuals in finding new interests that they never would have considered before. 

Instead of nurturing development and exploration, these regulations only place limits on young minds.

One way such institutions can help foster growing and changing minds is by allowing for a general year – or even degree – and more chances for unlisted courses. 

Some programs such as engineering and commerce offer a general first year to allow students to explore the different streams under each area. This way, students can decide whether they enjoy chemical or mechanical engineering more, or whether they prefer marketing or accounting. 

However, students are still limited to concentrations specific to these programs. Offering a fully general first year in which any student can take any course will not only aid students in finding out what they are really passionate about, but it will also appeal to those who did not consider post-secondary in the first place. 

Overall, the notion that student’s need to start post-secondary with their lives concretely planned is a burden on their growth and development. Educational institutions need to realize where they contribute to strengthening these barriers and adapt their strategies accordingly. 

The world’s youth and emerging students are a reflection of our ever-changing world and we need to be prepared and able to adapt to this changing world. 

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