DIANA PHAM/THE VARSITY

Scrolling through my Facebook feed at this time of the year always floods me with a rush of nostalgia. However, seeing happy high school seniors posing in their prom pictures or preparing for their final exams prompts me to ask myself: are these kids ready for university?

The answer, as university students know, depends on a number of factors. For some, transitioning to university from high school can be the same as transitioning from the minor leagues to the majors. While some students are better prepared than others, the “first year dip” — an academic hit new students often undergo due to the increased difficulty and volume of material — is common during the first year of undergraduate studies.

With respect to the notorious reputations of schools like U of T, it is worth examining why high school doesn’t sufficiently prepare students to take on academic challenges following graduation.

The roots of this problem can be found in the history of public schooling in North America and Europe. During the Industrial Age more than 150 years ago, child labour was common as kids were beginning to replace adults in the job markets. As employees, children offered efficiency and cost less to employ. However, moral outrage eventually led to the implementation of public education. Its primary purpose was not necessarily to breed intellectuals, but instead to produce a new generation of better workers.

Education developed further over the subsequent years, along with the creation of the multiple-choice test. Originating in Kansas, USA, the multiple choice test was initially used to measure the intelligence of World War I veterans before integrating them back into the system.

The impact of this invention is huge, because the mainstream school system now often aims away from teaching the subject matter and toward being able to pass standardized tests. The Secondary School Admission Test, the International General Certificate of Secondary Education, and the International Baccalaureate are all standardized tests with emphasis on rote memorization.

Schools often teach strategies to do well on these specific evaluations, regardless of whether such methods account for mastering the subject matter or honing the ability to convey information in concise terms.

The inevitable result of such a system is the redundant question asked in high schools around the world: “Will we be tested on this?” This explains why a huge academic drop occurs when students graduate high school and are finally faced with questions that require deep critical thinking and logical reasoning.

Additionally, psychological reasons also play a major role in the first-year dip. High schools, by nature, provide a very co-dependent environment, where students are constantly reminded of deadlines. The faculty knows their students and families by name; teachers have enough time and resources to tailor their teaching style to the needs of their students.

This is a marked contrast to educational settings — such as Convocation Hall — whose mammoth-sized classes are large enough to destroy any sense of security or belonging. University professors teaching bigger classes unfortunately often results in little to no interaction with instructors or among peers.

Undoubtedly, this combined with the increased difficulty of academic materials creates a lot of unforeseen psychological stress. Professional, financial, and interpersonal responsibilities in university also seem to hit all at once without warning, which causes academic performance to falter. Seeing as how these difficulties are not uncommon, it is questionable why these issues and strategies to deal with them are not adequately addressed in high school.

Problems with the education system have been discussed and approached in different ways throughout the years. Many proposed solutions, however, represent changes to techniques and methods, not to the fundamentals. The system may have served well so far, but effective changes must be made soon. The rise of technological advances means that the world is changing at an exponential rate, therefore a new learning environment is more timely than ever.

For instance, artificial intelligence will eventually replace many existing jobs, so memorizing information and filling in Scantron sheets is becoming the most inefficient way to spend one’s high school career.

Instead, the aim of education should be to develop a person’s ability to ask provoking questions and think critically. Education should mean cultivating a love of knowledge for its own sake; it should develop morals and ethics that can be applied to solving our world’s greatest challenges.

Ahmed Salem is a second-year student at Woodsworth College studying neuroscience.

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