Why did I not speak in class in the first two years of my bachelor’s program?

Why did I not speak in class in the first two years of my bachelor’s program?

It was not my English proficiency, though it took the form of a fear of being misunderstood. It was not a lack of things to share, though it involved questioning if they mattered. It was not a personality idiosyncrasy, while it involved reflections on my identity. It was not pride either, though I felt like the study program I followed infantilized me. 

An education in a ‘developed’ country is an (oftentimes unreachable) ideal for many students from countries termed ‘under development’. For those who can afford the tuition fees, it comes with an awareness of the financial burden placed on families who stay back in places like Moldova, where the minimum wage is 200 euros. Yet, together with supermarket anxiety upon converting the bread prices to home currencies comes the hope for a liberating and empowering education. 

The good news is that the marketing worked on me and many others; the bad news is that it lied. While the material conditions of the university exceed the best classrooms in my home country, the educational culture I encountered left me disillusioned. 

While the benefits of offering an education to as many students as possible do not elude me, I wonder who benefits the most

Instead of small classrooms with vibrant discussions, one gets huge auditoriums with little interaction. Instead of meaningful feedback on one’s learning experience, one gets a score on a multiple-choice exam. Instead of an appreciation of what one brings to the classroom, a culture of assimilation prevails. And while the benefits of offering an education to as many students as possible do not elude me, I wonder who benefits the most from the current university model. 

Termed a banking model of education, it primarily functions on the assumption that the role of the university is to deposit knowledge into the students’ heads so they may be promptly sent off into the job market. Is that all there is to education? Many have argued otherwise, voicing concerns that resonate with my experience. 

Paulo Freire and bell hooks have worked towards changing the educational culture to one that nurtures students’ ability to transform the world, an education in the world rather than about the world. This is what I longed for.

I did not speak in class for the first years of my bachelor’s program because I felt cheated – a difficult to articulate experience for someone who left a place ‘under development’ for one of abundance. ‘Cheated’ is difficult to reconcile with ‘lucky’, which I also am. Testimony of my luck is that I now speak. 

VALERIA CERNEI

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