The importance of learning and forgetting

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The importance of learning and forgetting

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
― John Dewey (1859-1952)

Reading research reports and newspapers is always educational to those of us who teach. I remember reading a study that said what we learn only really makes sense and is internalized three to five years after we have finished studying it. Another more recent study purported to show that college graduates forget 40 percent to 60 percent of what they learn within five years, and all but 2 percent within a decade after graduation.
This would seem to imply that by the time we actually start to understand and apply what we have learned, we have forgotten most of it. If that’s true, why bother going to university at all? Well, as a university employee I may be biased, but here goes.
I read in the paper that the new deputy minister of education is blaming universities for the lack of job skills among new graduates. This seems slightly unfair when you consider that universities have only four years to give students all the necessary education, skills, cultural awareness, sense of self, and professional integrity they need to compete in the real world.
Realistically, universities don’t have four years for this Herculean task. In my experience, it’s more like a year and a half to two years. Let me explain my reasoning on this.
The average undergraduate has completed the grueling years of high school, when the pressure is poured on to make sure they are ready for the university entrance exam. Having passed through exam and cram school hell, they are accepted into a college.
Their first year is spent enjoying all that the university has to offer ― studying comes after going to clubs, drinking, making friends and enjoying their first real experience of adulthood. In their sophomore year, they are still enjoying themselves, but will probably do some studying.
By junior year, they are starting to worry about grades because they will have to get a job soon. In senior year, the hunt for jobs is on, and they will skip classes for interviews and tests, playing Russian roulette in many cases hoping that work will save them from having to attend classes to graduate.
Thus, it would be fairer to say we have less than two years to overcome the previous 12 years of public school, social and family expectations, traditions and customs. It’s a lot to ask of us in only two years, but I don’t have to tell that to the new deputy minister. Then again, maybe he forgot.

by Tory Thokelson
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