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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 12, No. 4. May 4th 1949

Vogt asks... Why Freshers Fail

page 5

Vogt asks... Why Freshers Fail

I've been asked to write something about Varsity failures. The first point to make is that in the last decade rolls have roughly' doubled, but failures in several Stage I subjects have increased out of all proportion to the added numbers. Among possible reasons are:
1.Lower entrance qualifications, either because of too wide an intake or because of falling standards in our schools.
2.Inadequate staffing increases to cope with the greater numbers.
3.Inadequate library and study facilities.

Entrance Qualifications

In spite of squeals from the Chambers of Commerce and the occasional lament of northern Professors, I don't think falling standards in our schools are the cause of University failures rocketing skywards. Indeed, from personal observation and recollection. I don't think our schools are going down but up in the quality of the work they do. Nor do I think, as some people do without looking at the evidence, that we've reached a sort of intellectual saturation point. At any rate in two classes in which entrants have been tested for a decade, the Departments of Education in Otago and at Victoria College, the wider intake hasn't reduced the average I.Q. The ability remains constant to a couple of decimal points, and still the failures go up in almost all Departments.


Staffing is another matter. Teaching has not been a long suit in the College, since the early days of the heroic four who set things going, and certainly in no classes where the numbers have exceeded thirty. I've been a teacher long enough to know that no-one can "teach" a class of over thirty effectively; and I've been on the receiving end often cough to know that a series of lectures hasn't necessarily got anything to do with teaching, and sometimes nothing to do with learning. Lots of youngsters who are getting the opportunity of going to Varsity won't have a chance of making a success of it unless staffing is increased so that classes can be brought back to reasonable proportions. When there are a hundred or more in a class they might as well get their "lessons" through a tie-up between the College and 2ZB.

Study Facilities

The same holds good for library and study facilities. I'm not just referring to the sardine-size seating accommodation for those who want to work in the building, but to books available. A hundred odd students have been known to get reading lists with titles which are available in the library in a handful of copies, and which aren't purchasable in the city bookshops at all. The lucky ones scrounge copies and the unlucky ones loose marks. However, the situation shows slight promise of improvement in that departments have been granted small amounts for the development of class libraries. A good deal remains to be done.

Learning and Teaching

But if these factors contribute to a rising percentage of failures, there are other factors in the school and university set-up which have always caused unnecessary wastage. In my opinion the schools still 'teach" too much, and the University too title. The entire school life of a child should be a feeding-cum-weaning process, designed to set the adolescent on his feet as a young adult. But in practice, even now, the typical high school product has been disciplined so much by the teacher that he hasn't learned to discipline himself. The University on the other hand doesn't take up the slack. It frequently outlines a course, fills in some bits, and leaves the student flounderine. It is only fair to state that a number of departments are now giving greater assistance than was formerly given; but with huge classes there is little personal contact between the lecturer and the student and neither knows who is the goal till the axe falls.


The solution is a dual one. I'd throw a lot of the responsibility over to the schools: not asking for higher standards of scholarship, but for scholarship achieved by better means. At every stage the youngster should be given increasing freedom with increasing knowledge. By the time he is in the senior forms his attitude to study should be adult, and his relationship to his teacher egalitarian. The University on the other hand, should accept the responsibility of developing adult material in an adult fashion, I don't think that, notes read verbatim to a roomful of students." who scribble what they, hear for upwards of an hour without looking up at anything but the clock constitutes an adult situation. It isn't efficient, if only a duplicating machine could do the job better. It isn't psychologically or pedagogically sound, because the student loathes it and learns nothing unless he can decipher his scribble later, when making up for wasted time.

Why not give out notes in advance, or as summaries of essential points covered and use lecture periods as they should be used (and are used by Professors and lecturers who really teach) for tutorials and discussions?

Anton Vogt.