Curriculum needs updates

I’m a Teaching Assistant (TA) this semester for an introductory level transportation course. I do not have much TA experience, so my original expectation is slightly different from the reality happened later. In short, the students did not do as well as I thought they would be. Then I dug out the reason behind it: a large portion of the students chose this course because it is on the curriculum. The major name is Civil Engineering. Civil Engineering has many branches that only have a weak link with each other. Transportation is an area evolved from Civil and became a semi-independent discipline. My undergraduate major in China was Traffic Engineering. Even with Transportation Engineering, there are system-related area and infrastructure-related area. Last year, I noticed that I haven’t used the mechanics knowledge (which I learned during the first two years of my undergraduate study) since three years ago. Then I told my advisor that. He said, “I haven’t used that kind of knowledge for almost twenty years.”

This phenomenon exists in disciplines more than Civil Engineering.

The purpose of higher education should not stop at education. One goal of higher education should be prepare students for their career. Certain courses are in the curriculum because, at a certain time in the history, the knowledge was necessary for the corresponding occupation. In order to fulfill the future professional’s duty, they need to learn the knowledge before graduate. As time goes, new skills are required for certain jobs. New courses about the corresponding skills were added to the curriculum. However, the old courses are still in the curriculum. I’m not saying the old courses are no longer useful. They are useful for certain occupations but not useful for the newly evolved occupations.

I heard that after students graduating from colleges, the knowledge they learned has already been old fashioned. Then the internship becomes more important than the courses they learned in school. If that’s the case, why should they waste the time in school?

The C-level students may not have an awful mentality. The awful thing is that the universities pretend certain knowledge is useful and it’s for the students’ best to force them to learn. I heard an expression many times, “that is just too academia.” What brings such a reputation for academia? We need to think about it.

*The author wants to thank Conghui Wang for the discussion.

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