Education content and methods
When development domains in student learning from pre-primary to tertiary education are considered, the highest systemic and targeted focus is placed on knowledge in various school subjects. However, insufficient attention is given to the holistic personal development of students. The Learning Makes Sense findings indicate that at schools, less attention is paid to developing the personal characteristics of students (motivation to work and study, communication, entrepreneurship, creativity, etc.), along with ethical behaviour, active citizenship, critical thinking and learning in context.
Analyses of the findings also show differences among schools with various school founders, and between various educational stages, as previously indicated in interviews carried out in the Learning Makes Sense data collection. Based on the data analysis, one of the main findings is that kindergartens and special primary schools tend to create conditions for the holistic personal development of children. However, primary and secondary schools focus their attention on attaining literacies (reading and financial), according to school principals. Secondary school students participating in the questionnaire survey confirmed that secondary schools place emphasis mostly on knowledge in their school subjects, adding that they do not consider the knowledge provided to be up-to-date. Differences exist between various higher education institutions and also in what higher education institutions abroad focus on. The Learning Makes Sense survey findings reveal that while respondents from private higher education institutions perceive that their school develops them in domains such as motivation and learning to learn, at public higher education institutions emphasis is put on knowledge and mathematical and logical thinking. At higher education institutions abroad meanwhile, respondents claim their school develops their abilities to learn in context and across various disciplines, and to think critically and accept diversity.
The education content, and its holistic and up-to-date approach (or lack of therein) in secondary and tertiary education, is also reflected in the responses of HR professionals. They expressed their views on how schools prepare their students in relation to employers’ requirements from prospective employees, and based on that, they also assessed school graduates. Employees with low, middle and high qualifications only partially fulfil the requirements of employers. Moreover, they fall furthest below expectations in precisely those domains which are most demanded (motivation to work and learn, ability to learn). Most job applicants actually meet the formal education criteria, yet employers put the lowest emphasis on that in the hiring process.
The learning environment quality affects the ability to develop a broad range of skills and competences. The data from the Learning Makes Sense survey indicate that at all education levels, the prevailing teaching method is lecture, together with a discussion about the topic, according to a responding teacher. In the survey, secondary school students noted that another frequent teaching method is dictating notes. Higher education students responded that their teachers also read from textbooks aloud in classes. Active teaching methods are only applied to a limited degree, despite such approaches making learning content more attractive to students and easing their learning. According to teachers at kindergartens and the first four years of primary schools, experimental and exploratory activities carried out by children were often preferred. However, even at these education levels, lecturing as a teaching method is prevalent. When teaching methods are explored, teachers mostly responded that their students work in small groups, but this runs contrary to the finding that lecture and discussion about a topic are the most preferred teaching methods, indicating a preference for teacher-centred approaches. Teachers at primary and secondary level education who apply active learning methods and student group work reported several challenges and barriers to this approach. A frequent barrier perceived is a lack of time for more complex activities, related to 45-minute school classes and the impossibility of teaching in longer blocs. They also experience a lack of methodological and professional support in their own experiments with new teaching methods. Excursion, as a teaching form, is used by teachers at kindergartens and secondary schools. Despite the various education levels differing in their further use of excursion outcomes, teachers see it as a chance to link the education content with the world beyond the school gates. Apart from excursions, at secondary schools and higher education institutions, internships are a tool to link education with practice. Most internships undertaken by students form a compulsory part of their studies. Although only a small proportion of surveyed students participated in voluntary internships, they tended to perceive internships more positively than their peers who completed compulsory internships.
The teaching methods applied and focusing attention on a broad range of knowledge and developing literacies have an impact on methods for assessing learners. In the Learning Makes Sense questionnaire, teachers claimed that to assess the knowledge and skills attained by learners, they mostly use announced written tests or oral evaluation at the board. Using these tools, they are mainly assessing memorised knowledge, and in the case of well compiled tests, also the degree to which students can apply their knowledge. Such an approach to knowledge and skills assessment is in line with the student development domains mostly focused on by schools – acquiring knowledge in school subjects and basic competences. One positive finding is that almost one in four teachers also assess students based on presentation of school projects. These form a part of school-leaving exams at some secondary schools, aiming not only to assess their subject-based knowledge, but also students' ability to apply specific knowledge in solving a complex task. Portfolios are only rarely used by primary and secondary school teachers, as confirmed by secondary school students. Paradoxically, despite student assessment at schools being mostly based on memorised knowledge, the students themselves responded in the Learning Makes Sense survey that they are satisfied with the way they are being assessed at schools. It can be argued that these students do not have experience with any other knowledge checks and student assessment methods, because the methods currently applied have prevailed for several generations.
Findings from the analysis of qualitative and quantitative Learning Makes Sense data are examined in more detail in the following sections:
Education content in pre-primary to tertiary education
Education content focuses on acquiring knowledge and basic competences, yet it does not concentrate on overall personal development, active citizenship nor ethical behaviour of students
Presenting the learning content
Instead of creating a learning environment for systematic learning and exploration across disciplines, the lecture as a teaching method prevails at schools and students are passive recipients of information
The content of education is not set up in such a way that would enable learners to gain important knowledge and develop the skills they need at the same time. The learning environments do not support active exploration, nor do they develop critical thinking, ethical behaviour, creativity, co-operation or active citizenship. The education content and teaching methods mostly focus on acquiring a set of subject-based knowledge at primary and grammar schools, or knowledge in a specific field of study at secondary schools and higher education institutions. The development of soft skills, critical thinking, creativity, co-operation, ethical behaviour and active citizenship is not systematic, and only a small proportion of schools consider it a priority. The focus on acquiring isolated pieces of knowledge is further strengthened by the teaching methods applied at schools, where students are mostly passive recipients of information. The underdevelopment of skills such as; learning strategies, communication and co-operation with other people, openness to change, resilience, problem solving, active citizenship and ethical behaviour, can consequently form a barrier to nurturing a successful personal, civic and work life. A variety of skills and personal characteristics, rather than isolated pieces of knowledge, are a prerequisite for creating a vision for one's own life and exploring routes to its fulfilment. This is the reason why education content, teaching methods and assessment approaches should change in such a way that they contribute to complex personal development, and develop the knowledge and skills conducive to a meaningful life.
Petra Fridrichová and Stanislav Lukáč