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Heading Towards a Better Education: The Right Classroom Environment in a More Nurturing University Atmosphere
Undergraduate studies have become a necessity in the modern world for those who want to get a decent or a well-paid job. This does not mean that the only purpose of joining universities is about jobs and salaries, because we are in a progressing world where everything develops and changes in a matter of seconds. Therefore the exact purposes of university studies should be to develop young minds, empower youths, and enable them to face the future, armed not just with knowledge but with the right personal skills and an entrepreneurial initiative. To do this, we need to have many factors available at universities, but the most important thing of all is providing the right classroom atmosphere for undergraduates.
A bad classroom environment causes various problems, not just to the undergraduates, but also to the society, because employers do not find the suitable type of graduates they wish to employ. For example, many Egyptian graduates lack communication and teamwork skills and of course this is not favored by employers. That is why universities in Egypt face a lot of criticism nowadays, especially public ones.
There are lots of reasons why people think Egyptian universities are not top-notch and surveys show that many Egyptian students prefer to join foreign or private universities, in Egypt or abroad, after completing their high school studies. This is because the classroom in Egyptian universities does not provide the students with the kind of education they seek. Lack of funds causes universities to provide bad or no facilities at all. In addition, the way the teaching staff is appointed, according to their grades, leads to having non-social staff who cannot communicate with students appropriately. Moreover, there is no enough supervision on the commitment of the staff and their in-class performance; a university professor or a teaching assistant can torture the students any way he/she likes, no one can prevent this! Each tutor gets to plan his assignments with no general overall planning or coordination among other tutors; therefore, students find it very hard to manage their time because they are most of the times overloaded with so much work to do and so many deadlines approaching.
However, these are not the only problems students face in a bad classroom environment, whether in Egypt or otherwise. There are plenty of obstacles that some undergraduates face inside the classroom like racism, sexism and dictatorship. These problems are not only related to universities, but to the society as a whole, because a classroom is indeed an essential part of the society, and therefore the problems of any society are to be found at universities as well.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the classroom environment in any educational system is like the mould that shapes the student. If this environment is nurturing, then the system can develop the right kind of students. So, what is this 'nurturing' environment that we seek?
Starting with the simplest things, students have to be comfortable in their classroom; they have to feel like they are home, not just strangers staying at a place they cannot wait to get out of. Furnishing, airiness, lighting and space should be as appropriate as possible. Also, students must not be crammed in large numbers in one place, there has to be a suitable number of people present in a certain space, according to how many this space can accommodate. As for the classroom activities, they should be various and fulfilling the syllabuses' requirements. Multimedia aids should be used in lessons where possible. Students may be given documentaries or movies to watch. For example, medical students can watch filmed surgeries, literature students can watch movies about the novels they are studying and engineering students can watch documentaries about relevant factories. The advantage of doing this is that students get to see what happens in real life and how useful their studies can be. This helps in motivating them and at the same time makes it impossible to forget this piece of information that they have watched in the classroom. All in all, educational materials should be suitable and related to the syllabus so as not to distract students and at the same time benefit them.
These are not the only ways by which the classroom environment can be improved; there are more things that can be done. Teaching staff should be appointed according to not only grades, but also based on an interview where their personal and communicating skills are tested. Also, all the staff should act in accordance to a certain well-put previously-set plan so as to give students time to work on their assignments and projects in enough time. Added to that, staff should be given periodical self-development sessions about how they can develop their teaching techniques by showing them the modern educational techniques used in other countries.
Another way to improve the level of undergraduate education is to ask students about their perception of the learning environment and seek improvement according to students' opinions and views. There should be interactive and creative methods of teaching and a two-way dialogue between the lecturer and the students (educational games can be beneficial in that case). Added to that, semester time should be divided so that exams do not take up more than a certain percentage of the time (in developed countries it is about 5% of the school year) and there should not be a big chunk of the total grade on the final exam only but also on the term's assignments, research and projects. This brings us to another point: research and creativity should be encouraged and developed further among students, as well as seminars and data-show presentations; because such means would help students overcome shyness and improve their social skills.
Furthermore, laboratories and students' equipments should be up-to-date. During practical sessions, there should not be more than two students sharing the same equipments and materials, because this would affect their level of understanding. Lectures' time should be limited so as to keep students focused without losing their concentration. Besides, exams should not be too difficult or too easy and should really test the students' level of understanding of the syllabuses and not how much they can learn by heart and recall.
Finally, if all the above improvements are applied, then we can have the "right" classroom environment, and therefore better universities as well as highly qualified generations of graduates who are optimistic and self-confident about facing the future.