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.
Philip is a photographer and course leader at the Utrecht School of the Arts.