Since 2007 I have had a side-job teaching at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht (Hogeschool Utrecht). They have a minor in Photojournalism and Pictorial Communication at the Faculty of Communication and Journalism, the only possibility in the Netherlands to study photojournalism on this level. It's a mix of learning how to tell a story in pictures, theory about photography and trying to capture the essence of a newsworthy item. As with all minors, the abilities of the students are very diverse, which is difficult and challenging at the same time. For me it's also a way of keeping in touch with 'normal' higher education. After so many years in art school you tend to think that that's the way higher education works. Believe me, it's not…
This became very clear on the Friday when the weather was freaky and the news channels warned of mayhem on the roads. After cancelling a meeting in the morning I made my way from Deventer to Utrecht for the class at the HU. Not really to my surprise only 7 students out of 21 showed up for class. The Facebook page of the group was filled with excuses about buses not going or other problems. Needless to say I was seriously pissed off.
Of course I did plan lessons and after that had time to spare to talk with the students about their study and how things were turning out. One of the students asked about the difference between the Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU) and the University of Applied Sciences (HU). Oh dear…
I said something that is perhaps pretentious and debatable, but I'm going to repeat my answer here anyway.
I said that the level of self efficacy of the third graders at the HU was the same as the first graders at the HKU. Hence my big frustration with the HU: the teachers and the whole institution are treating all the students there as kids. The University is so large and the bureaucracy so overwhelming that it's hard for students to break free from this and create their own path. So one of the first questions I get when the minor begins in September is, "how many pictures do you want for a good grade?" The first time this question was asked I was stupefied. Now, a few years later, I really can understand where this is coming from. It's the system. Of course not always and not all the time (there are, of course, always mediocre students that try to score points with the minimal amount of effort, also in art schools) but it's a tendency that is recognized by the students and teachers alike. How to create independent, creative (photo)journalists in a system that crushes creativity and independent thinking?!
I can easily plug the video from my last entry, where Ken Robinson explained how we should alter the way we look at education. And not only in primary schools, but on the whole playing field.
Robert Philip is a photographer and course leader at the Utrecht School of the Arts.