The problem with a performance-based mindset in PSE

Many students enter university with the mindset that they need to perform well and succeed highly to make it through post-secondary education. Students want their minds to be able to consolidate all the information they memorize, just like professors say they should. Professors encourage sleep, but also suggest studying 12 hours or more each week. It is rare for students to find a way to do both, and it is often at the expense of friendship, careers, family, food, and even their mental health. 

We are told that as long as we get our homework done, as long as we study often and only sleep a little, we’ll make it through. All the while, our minds are swimming with thoughts like “Will this ever end?” or “Will I ever be good enough?” 

Why is this what our schools are telling us? Why do universities encourage us to stay on our campuses all day, get involved in every little ounce of spare time we have, and then go home to study all night? Why do our professors often encourage us to go-go-go and only sometimes mention the importance of time for ourselves? Why is the focus of our early 20’s so centred on academic achievement?

Students so often experience a sense of inflicted fear from administrators and professors. Professors seem to think that a sense of anxiety will increase the value that students place on academics. However, research demonstrates that when anxiety increases, students’ academic achievement decreases, and this is true across all IQ levels. This could be in part due to the fact that anxiety makes it very difficult for students to move from one task to the next and ignore distractions. When students can’t focus, it becomes difficult to succeed. One resource also shows that academic pressure is associated with suicide rates.

This pattern of fear-driven influence should not reflect the typical university experience. The best approach to teaching is to create comfortable environments for students that are free of competition and criticism. Many elementary and high-school administrators have begun to adopt this idea: the idea that when students are relaxed, they are ready to learn. Students have been successful with this method. Some professionals also suggest giving students opportunities to recognize and correct errors before finalizing their work and handing it in. Clear instruction free of ambiguity is beneficial for reducing anxiety levels. Furthermore, this type of environment is best fostered by faculty who are focused on teaching and dedicated to their students. It is important for educators to be dedicated to pedagogical practices to ensure that students receive a healthy university experience.