Tuesday, 1 February 2011

California dreaming ...

Last week I was in California at the project bamboo face to face meeting. And while you're not supposed to enjoy work travel. I did. Berkeley was, well I was going to say enchanting, but that's not the right word - something like 'charming plus' - there was definitely something verging on magical in the atmosphere and in the coffee shops, all of which (a) had free wi-fi, and (b) filled with laptop toting students - overwhelmingly macs - all discussing and doing. Made an old man feel nostalgic for his student days - even if then it had been spiral pads and line printer paper.

And that really is the point of this post - I had the good luck to study at a university - St Andrews - that encouraged intellectual curiosity and hence an intellectually stimulating environment.

All of us who have had that experience will realise the value of it - essentially learning to think, and will recognise it when we see it elsewhere. However the current 'user pays' quasi vocational model adopted by many universities seems to militate against this with its emphasis on passing exams and gaining credits.

Not a lot of intellectual stimulation there. Of course I'm sure there are stimulating lecturers within such a system, but let us say increasingly university education is basically about bums on seats.

It is my personal view however that this short changes students. Of course not everyone can go to Oxford, or Berkeley, or St Andrews or wherever, and not everybody wants to. Some people undoubtedly only want a degree as it's a prerequisite for medicine or engineering etc, and provides some guarantee of basic knowledge. Students should have their curiosity encouraged. Learning how to ask questions is possibly the most valuable part of education...

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