Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Teaching Adults: The Question of Migrant Students

Something I learnt reading Stephen Brookfield, but now tested it in the classes I took and become an absolute believer: If you are teaching adults, it is absolutely crucial that you encourage the development of a positive self-concept.

In short, that's obvious: Don't teach adult students as children. In fact, it is better to assume that they know what they want even when you may have an urge to 'teach' them. The point is that they can decide. Post-compulsory education is all about choice, and they have made the choice to sit in your class. Whatever barriers you may want to erect, if they choose to walk out, they will.

This is a particularly important understanding for me at work. We have a number of overseas students at the college. The current UK Border Agency norms hold the college responsible for the conduct of their students and hence, give a lot of power to the college over its students. In a way, this is problematic and show how little the bureaucrats at the Home Office understand, or indeed, care about education. They are in favour of an administrative straight-jacket: They have made employers responsible for the employees they bring to the country, and used the same formula for the college-student relationship. This is quite blind to the fact that while for an overseas employee, employer is the customer, in a college-student context, it is quite the other way around.

This makes running the education business one step more complicated. In this inverted relationship equation, it is easy to be patronizing to the students. Telling them what to do is exactly what the Border Agency expects you to do. But, on the other hand, this is contrary to Adult Learning 101: You treat adult students as adult students, respect them and try to understand them. There is no way you can build an effective learning environment without positive regard for your students, without facilitating their own positive self-concept. Assuming that they are all waiting to run away, which Border Agency norms want you to believe, runs counter to every norm of good adult education.

It is difficult to resolve this paradox without courage to take risks and start treating your students as partners, responsible adults who want to develop their professional skills. Rather than falling into the slippery slope of suspicion and disrespect, it is much better to keep the values of education non-negotiable. And, indeed, treating adults as adults, encouraging them to find their own path and unerringly helping the development of their own self-concept are these core, non-negotiable values.

This is one of the key things I shall work on the New Year: How to comply to Border Agency requirements while, at the same time, keeping the values of adult classrooms untouched? The easy answer lies in building a better system of recruiting students who will invariably comply: In short, export the compliance function to the countries where student comes from. This is where the British model of recruiting through agents will come into question. This is indeed the cheapest model to recruit internationally, but in compliance terms, the weakest: What one trades off for the cost of recruitment is the control over the quality and background of the students. It is much better to evolve an alternative model, let's say one based on scholarships or student funding, which allows better quality recruitment with greater control.

This is obviously not an easy thing to do. This will break all the norms and displease a number of people. The usual argument one would be faced with is that all universities recruit through agents as well. That, obviously, does not make a bad model any better. I shall argue that the Border Agency's current problem with student compliance starts with the implicit encouragement of the agent driven recruitment model. In fact, the British Council, which is in turn funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and is an organization tasked with the promotion of British Education and Culture, has developed a significant commercial interest in the promotion and propagation of the agent driven recruitment. The problem indeed is that their commercial interests come in conflict with the control requirements that a high quality recruitment system must have.

2 comments:

Nicola Bate said...

Hi Supriyo - hope you are well, i read your blog with great interest, and hope to see more on this subject - it is very interesting indeed!

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Nicola

Many thanks for dropping by. I maintain this blog to reflect upon my day to day life and to converse with others. I am grateful for you visiting and leaving a comment, and hope to continue a conversation on this issue and others.

Supriyo

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