Modar El Hazar is an engineer in mind and an educator at heart. He has been teaching math and science in the middle east for the past 6 years. He has been seeing practices that he wasn’t too thrilled about in the teaching department which led him to being a head of math department at a school in Al Ain, UAE, but he felt that he would be better off being with the kids he teaches instead. He is passionate about teaching the future Emirati generation using the best practices he has come across during his research because he was brought up here and hence believes that he should be a part in the country’s growth to success by igniting the fire in children’s souls.
We live in a world today where education in schools is moving forward and towards student centered learning. Schools are continuously trying to expand on asynchronous learning, especially after face-to-face learning took a big hit thanks to CoVid-19. Educators are engaging in more professional development sessions on topics such as flipped classrooms and creating experiential learning environments in a way that allows students to be responsible for their own learning. The idea of “studying” is escaping the mindsets of school stakeholders while terms like “Project Based Learning” are making their way into the system. It is, however, ironic to see the time, research, and efforts of schoolteachers and leaders go to waste after their students graduate from school.
Universities up till this day are teaching in a teacher centered format. You don’t often hear people say that they’re going to lessons, but instead lectures because that is the norm. Being a student in school was very experiential and hands-on, group work always took place in classes, performance tasks thrown out left and right, acting classes in English periods, real life science experiments taking place in labs, and much more. The school built such incredible hopes for what it is like to grow up and become a university student. I sought after what was supposed to be known as being a mechanical engineer who will use his expertise to design a formula 1 car or discover how turbine blades should be designed through trial and error in the aerodynamics or fluid courses. This is where the cricket noises chorused.
My hopes and dreams of seeing how the engineers designed the cars or cooling systems fell to hit nearly rock bottom. I didn’t give up entirely. Listening to intelligent minds who give their life experiences through stories and explanations was motivating. It is unfair to my university to say that lectures were boring or non-educational, on the contrary, they were very informative. My bachelor’s project is where things became more hands-on and less guided. I started feeling autonomy in my degree for the first time. I was going to workshops and asking for all the bits and pieces that I needed to build and design my bullet bicycle which ended up looking like Pacman and had nothing to do with what we learned in our engineering degree. My simulations, report, and my presentation was on point. We were so used to getting everything right on paper, even if it was innovative and new, but it was painstakingly tough when it came to telling the factories to make sure they meet your deadlines or readjust any errors caused by them.
In terms of the engineering knowledge, our students were some of the tops in the region, but I can safely say my graduating year had little to no work experience. As students studying in Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, finding engineering internships was difficult to say the least. Other majors made internships as part of the degree’s credit hours so that they can graduate with some experiences to write on their CV.
The questions that came to my mind were “why should students go and look for internships in pharmacy and not the universities bring the pharmacy life to the students?” or “who is going to hire me without any work experience and take my word for it when I say I’m the best there is?”. This is where I felt our system needed a change. The way teachers in school aspire to ensure that students are in charge of their learning must continue all the way to university. The main reason anyone, including myself, gets a degree is to secure a job. Seeing as the education system in engineering should change, I decided to enter the realm of teaching to ensure that this learning experience goes all the way up. Things didn’t go exactly according to plan.
I slowly came to realization that the workplace is an environment that admires and appreciates innovative and creative ways of teaching and getting the student to learn new themes, ideas, concepts, and much more, but the result is still going to be the same. We will end up making sure students do well in SAT’s and IELTS to secure their seats in colleges, practice enough MAP questions to earn better rankings in official inspections, respond to parents’ single and common question of “how much is my child getting in school?”, and much more. In essence, practices may be different, but the result is almost the same. It’s understandable because if you open any university admission website, they all have the same metrics of requirements.
In conclusion, I believe it is paramount that the metrics for college applications to be revised globally because we as educators can’t be asked to differentiate our lessons according to the learners needs and have all learners face the same test of college admissions. It is also important that universities start investing more in the curriculum development of their courses to ensure that students are getting a more hands-on learning experience while always keeping a place for lectures. We as educators have to try and break the paradox of enforcing student centered styles in our classrooms then going up to only professor centered by making our voices heard to the giant examination boards who set bars for all students to be the same yet preach individual needs for specific learners.