college life

Transitioning from Secondary School to University Life

(by Leann Kendall)

Transitioning from secondary school to University life is linked to the preparedness and readiness of the student as they begin their journey towards higher learning. With any transitory period, hurdles are expected and the university experience is no different. This adjustment from secondary school to university can be difficult and the most critical change in environment is a significant reason for this.

Human beings experience discomfort or tension to some degree when a change of environment is engendered. The way they react to this change in environment results because of their own peculiar characteristic traits. Because of their idiosyncrasies, persons act accordingly, ultimately shaping their behaviour; both publicly and privately and students are no different.

As the largest tertiary education institution in Guyana, a Guyanese student heading to the University of Guyana from another Guyanese institution of learning will be faced with a change in environment. The change in environment, and the things which come with that new environment, are especially stark for the student coming from a secondary school.

A student’s ability to successfully transition from secondary school to university is largely dependent on the level of secondary education they received as well as the student’s own proclivities and personal background.

Students who attended sixth form before entering university have been found to acclimate to university life quicker as opposed to those who had only attained a fifth form education. When examining the freedom of choice which immediately greets a first year university student on arrival at university some students may respond adversely to such independence at an academic level.

Wanda Ferreira-Agdomar a holder of a BSc in Biology from the University of Guyana, on reflecting on her first year of study at the University noted: “My first year of study was crazy; I felt as though the lecturers just came into the lecture theatre, taught and walked away. They were emotionless”.

Melissa Chapman, a current third year sociology major of the University of Guyana, highlighted facing similar hurdles during her first year as well. She stated, “My first year was strange, tough, and challenging. The environment was totally different and teaching techniques were much more advanced than I had expected”.

Wanda and Melissa’s thoughts are simply a microcosm of similar reactions from numerous students over the years. A great part of education depends on the student’s response to the physical institution itself. The environment contributes largely to the learning process. And, the environment in which learning takes place in high schools differs largely from a university setting.

In secondary schools students are members of a fixed classroom location which provides much needed stability for that period in their lives whereas universities have varied instructional settings; lectures, tutorials, practicals, laboratories, field work, and more. This shift in environment does not always auger well for many students who are transitioning from fifth form education to university.

For Wanda who came immediately from fifth form and Melissa who only completed one year of the two yea sixth form programme, the shift in learning environment took some getting used to.

It is not just a change in environment which marks the difference between the two modes of education. Another factor to consider is the disparity between teacher/student contact at secondary schools in comparison to university.

In secondary schools the contact between student and teacher is closer and much more frequent unlike a university where lecturers are generally formal and sometimes carry out their duties quite impersonally. There are less contact hours with students per week at university than high school directly contributing to the climate of the learning environment reflected in the “strange feeling” and “emotionless” nature of lecturers experienced by Wanda and Melissa. It is that transition from childhood to adulthood evinced by the analogous change from high school life to university life.

In considering this change, however, final year sociology major of the University of Guyana Taralyn Harris reflects on her first year different from her colleagues. “My first year at university was admittedly, a new experienced however, I was able to adjust to the changes therein and motivated myself accordingly to cope with my new workload”

It is possible that Taralyn’s disposition and the ease with which she transitioned could have been directly linked to her personal upbringing, but of great significant too is Taralyn’s sixth form education which doubtlessly played a contributory factor to her quick acclimation to university life.

An integral aspect of transitioning to university life is navigating between learning styles. In secondary schools much absorption of information with much regurgitation takes place; in contrast University education promotes critical thinking to a larger extent and the generation of new ideas is imperative. That potential middle ground between regular high school and university becomes significant because at the senior secondary schools which offer sixth form education, teachers make a decisive move to demand more critical analysis and input from students.

At university, students are expected to show a greater degree of independence and the study load is notably more intense. This is why the two years at sixth form could provide such an essential period of transition for students as they get more used to intense critical work. Ultimately the onus lies with the student to inculcate preparatory measures for such a transition.

However, in considering the state of the education system in Guyana and questions about preparedness of high school students for university life it is significant to mention that the admittedly small numbers of sixth form schools in the country do provide, with their two year programme, a preparatory mechanism for students moving on to university school life. And, ultimately, the student from fifth form least prepared for the changed environment is assured success at university life if willing to adapt to changes in environment.

Leann Kendall is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Guyana. She is currently on study leave pursuing a Master’s Degree in Psychology and Behavioural Sciences.

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