Alienation on campus
Large class size, lack of time
increase social distance

By Doris Cheung

While many sociologists are trying hard to find solutions to the problem of interpersonal al- ienation, the problem is eroding teacher-stu- dent relationships inside campuses.

Scholars attribute the phenomenon to the rapid expansion of tertiary education and some deeply rooted traditional values.

Twice elected best lecturer last year, Dr. Chan Kin Man, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said large class size is a barrier between teachers and students.

He said, “I can't memorise all their names, let alone know each of them well.”

Besides, he regarded a heavy workload as another hindrance.

“I have to prepare for lectures and to assist the postgraduates with their theses,” he said. “Besides, research work and meeting publication requirements add to my workload.”

With the heavy workload this year, Dr. Chan had to quit being a tutor, which he regarded as a valuable opportunity to communicate with students.

He said, “Occasionally, I stayed and talked to the students after the tutorial sessions. We even went for lunch together.”

Miss Rebecca Choi, a freshman in the Business Department at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, agreed.

“It is almost impossible for lecturers to talk to students individually during classes,” she said.

Moreover, some students find themselves too busy to approach the lecturers.

Mr. Daniel Or, a freshman majoring business administration at Lingnan College, said, “We have to cope with our studies, to take up part-time jobs and to participate in extracurricular activities.

“Students skip lessons occasionally due to the lack of time. Thus you can image how little time is left to interact with the lecturers outside classrooms.”

Mr. Or revealed that it is difficult to meet with the lecturers. He said, “The lecturers are usually not available in their offices.”

Besides, some students thought that certain lecturers were asking for more respect than they were paying to their students.

Miss Carol So, a Year 2 student studying history at Baptist University, said, “They are much influenced by Chinese traditional values, holding an attitude that students should obey every word they say.

“What students ask for is just a relationship developed on an equal and friendly basis,” she added.

Dr. Chan of the Chinese University admitted that some lecturers position students as enemies.

He said, “Teachers might think the quality of students is deteriorating. Some of them are reluctant to face challenges and criticisms, since they are afraid of making mistakes in front of the students.

“This phenomenon seems rare among younger lecturers, as they are relatively open-minded and know what the students want,” he added.

With regard to the solution, Dr. Chan said that a system of colleges could help. He cited Yale University, his alma mater, as an example.

“The size of Yale is similar to that of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, but it is composed of eight to 10 colleges,” he said. “Each of them serves as a basic unit which is responsible for organizing activities. There are tutors in each college to help students.

“The university as a whole creates a spirit which makes all students feel proud of their school. This enhances their sense of belonging and avoids the splitting effect among students at smaller colleges,” he added.

Dr. Chan also regarded sufficient dormitory space for both teachers and students as useful in establishing harmonious teacher-student relationships. He said, “It takes time and patience to know one another,” he said.

Besides, Dr. Chan thought that students can help strengthening the relationship by giving up the old method of learning which was used in secondary schools.

“Lecturers are not always correct. Students should not just accept whatever their teachers say without in-depth thinking,” he said. “Raising questions is another form of communication.”

Besides, Dr. Cheng Kai Ming, a former lecturer in the Department of Education at the University of Hong Kong and now a visiting professor at Harvard University in the United States at present., recommended that lecturers should treat students as equal intellectuals.

While alienated teacher-student relationships are not a fresh problem, they are likely to remain unsolved within a short period of time.

“All changes take time and resources,” Dr. Chan said. “I don’t think the solutions can be reached shortly.”

November 1996

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