Students have called on the Education Ministry to give them more say in improving the quality of schooling.
"We have some professors who just read out the 45-minute lectures they prepared 10 or more years ago and have been using ever since," said Peter Milík, a student at Bratislava's Comenius University. "They never even try to open the floor to questions, because it just might force them to face a discussion."
Student groups are hoping the ministry will act on their demands during preparation of a university reform bill that is to be submitted to parliament this fall. The ministry appears to be listening - the university reform bill currently includes a clause which would give students the right to evaluate their professors' work by filling out an "anonymous questionnaire concerning the quality of their education".
Peter Mederly, head of the Education Ministry's University Section, said that the completed questionnaires would be analysed by each university that distributed them. Professors receiving consistently low marks from students would be called to account by the heads of their academic departments, while the survey results would be made public for the larger student community.
Milík, like many students who spoke to The Slovak Spectator in a straw poll in Bratislava May 28 to 30, said that the questionnaires would be mutually beneficial to professors and students. On the one hand, he said, students would ultimately enjoy lectures more by having an active role in their education, while teachers would gain more satisfaction from addressing an eager audience rather than auditoriums full of "sleeping students".
Some Slovak universities say they already use such questionnaires to generate ideas on how lessons could be made more attractive, informative and useful for students. The reform bill, if passed, would make the quizzes mandatory.
Similar systems, where students evaluate a course they have just completed as well as the course instructor, are common at western European and American universities. Nancy Henley, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), said that her university, like most in the US, "typically conducts such surveys at the end of each course. They provide a way for students to express their approval and appreciation for good teaching, and also a means to inform a bad or lazy teacher that his or her work is not appreciated," she said.
Henley added that the evaluations were also useful in determining raises and promotions. "It's possible that bad teaching evaluations can lead to [the teacher in question] losing their job," she added.
Although job security has not yet been discussed by the university reform bill's authors, the ministry's Mederly said that "at least some kind of public pressure will develop" with the regular surveys.
"People will be able to see the evaluations of different teachers," he said. "Then, the students can decide for themselves if they want to study with this teacher, at this or that branch, or even at which university."
Miroslav Beblavý, an education analyst with the INEKO think-tank in Bratislava, said that he suspected older professors with longer tenures would object to the evaluations.
"I think the older generation is more likely to be offended by it," he said. "The 'old school' teachers think of themselves as authorities whose work is not to be debated or questioned in any way. But a discussion of educational techniques, materials taught, and the way they are presented is necessary if quality is our common goal."
Viera Bajová, vice-dean of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Košice, was against the questionnaires, questioning whether university students were equipped to assess university teachers fairly and accurately.
"They are not mature enough to judge teachers' work," she said. "We fear that students will give high marks to those [professors] who are less demanding, and criticise those who make them work hard, which is really only for their own benefit."
Renáta Králiková, head of the Slovak University Student Council, and a student of psychology at Bratislava's Faculty of Arts, said that Bajová's fears were ungrounded. "We are adult people," she said. "The surveys themselves won't solve everything, but we really need to establish better channels of communication with our teachers."
Sample university students questionnaire*
1. When you joined the Medical Faculty, did you intend to study a particular field of medicine?
2. Did you change that intention during your studies?
3. Did you change that intention based on the quality of lectures in that particular field of medicine?
4. Did you change that intention based on the quality of internships, seminars, or practical workshops?
5. Did you change that intention based on the situation on the medical job market?
6. How long did it take you to find a job after graduating from the faculty?
7. Are you happy with the current position you have at work?
8. Were you fully prepared to carry out the practical tasks required by your employer?
1. Do you think the requirements put on students at Med School are demanding/average/low?
2. Is the school equipped with adequate technical equipment for proper medical training?
3. Which fields of study or lectured subjects do you consider to be done most professionally?
4. Which fields of study or lectured subjects do you consider to be done least professionally?
5. Which fields of study or lectured subjects do you consider to be most useful for practical purposes?
6. Which fields of study or lectured subjects do you consider to be the least useful for practical purposes?
7. Do you think the system of evaluating students by written tests, oral exams, practical tests, credits, and state exams is sufficient?
8. Do you think the system of evaluating students at Med School is objective?
9. Have you ever been subject to a non-objective evaluation, or a witness to such an evaluation?
10. Have you ever been subject to degrading behaviour by a teacher, or a witness to such behaviour?
11. Is it very difficult/somewhat difficult/not difficult to graduate from Med School?
12. Have any Med School teachers become your "role model doctor"?
13. With the experience you already have, would you apply to study at Med School again?
14. To be admitted to the Medical School, did you have to intervene in any way?
*provided by the Medical School of Bratislava's Comenius University
3. Jun 2001 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová