Over the course of several months, refugee, immigrant, and citizen student participants from Algeria, England, and the United States had the opportunity to take part in a dialogue concerning education. Their dialogue took the form of writing, drawing, and video. Some of their work is featured below. To read an edited transcript of their conversation, click here.

What do you see as the goal of a university education? Are you getting that education and/or reaching that goal? What needs to change for you to receive/achieve either?

Colin MacKenzie

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Going to a university rather than a college, in the U.S. at least, offers students the opportunity to explore more of their interests in course work. When I was applying to colleges and universities during my final year of high school, I was very cautious of the course selection I would have at each institution. This was very important to me because I wanted to be sure that I would be taking classes that I really intrigued me rather than felt mandatory in order to receive a degree. Growing up going to elementary school and high school, I felt that I was less motivated to go to class knowing that I was being forced to learn about something that I did not choose. Though I understand that it is important to share a common knowledge with peers, which is why most elementary and high school curriculums are very similar, I always felt like I wasn't retaining the information they were teaching us because it was forced upon me. So, in response to Snani, we are encouraged to choose our own classes based on the major we have focused our university studies. We are given the freedom to select topics we are interested in, which I find to be a major blessing. In addition to having the opportunity to ultimately choose which courses we are taking, depending on which major we are studying, specific courses are mandatory and encouraged by the institution. So-- An English major will most likely be required to take a specific number of literature classes, writing classes, and humanities classes--- within those categories, the English major is able to choose which courses will follow their personal interest and sequence.



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When it comes to discussing the efficiency of the university educational program, I find myself stuck in between. It's not all good and it's not all bad; personally I think my education is not only preparing me to pass my tests, but lately I have realized that it's helping me in discovering who I am and what I want in life. In the previous years, I was kind of lost because all I did was studying for my tests so I can past and that is it; but this year I've been exposed to so many great ideas and new dimensions of what I can learn and do. I'll give you an example, I was given an assignment in which I'm supposed to present what is identity, that is something you won't be able to find in a book or an article; identity is not something you can touch or see or measure, it differs depending on personal perspective, cultural background, and so many other elements; so building my own definition of what is identity will not only help me, but it will also help people and maybe teach them on how to answer the questions of who they are, what can they accomplish, and learn how to be proud of who they are, because confidence is a major factor when it comes to leadership.

Also in Psychology class, we're not only learning how to be teachers or how to understand the student's psychology, but also we are learning on how to read people's behaviors and act upon that, to choose the right method to deal with certain people; and that I believe is something we all need in order to be influential leaders in the future, because how can you convince someone to follow you if you don't know how to deliver your message correctly. I'm proud to say that in the past few years I thought that I was going to gain nothing except a diploma from my University education, but now , I know that what I'm studying and preparing and filling my mind with, is going to make me an influential person one day, as long as I speak up and try to help people so we can all lead our community to a better future, I have the tools and it's up to me to know how to use them.


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I am so glad that am having the chance to share with you guys my utopian vision about education and how reality changed this vision. When I got my Bachelor’s degree, I thought to myself “great, I am getting rid of the monotonous, dogmatic, boring, repeated basics points that are repeated over and over to generation after generation in boring classroom setting”, but I thought wrong! Things were just the same. So, the reality is that the current education system is made to create workers! I mean most of us are studying to get a well paid job--this is reality, let's face it. What's even worse about these education systems is the fact that what we learn in classrooms is much more different from reality, we learn things theoretically at school and when we go out to face reality and society we stand helpless as if we have never learned a thing, we cannot practice the supposedly learned things. What we see at schools is something and the reality is completely something else, we simply cannot relate things! For me, the ideal education system should be one that can make us enter and face a virtual world, experience and people. A one that can let us at any time, anywhere think and act the right way, a one that does not make of us machines that cannot react instantly to things or interact with people no matter who they are or from where they are, so this is my vision of an ideal education system!



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I feel I can relate to a lot of these experiences. I was the youngest school student in my year because of the way the education year falls. When I went to polytechnic (which became this university) in 1976 I was only just 18, and found the apparent sophistication of everyone around me pretty intimidating. I read all kinds of books that I felt I should read to acquire that sophistication, threw myself into student protest and set about gaining maturity. As a consequence, I got a third class degree in communication studies, felt I was really stupid, but knew a lot of stuff that was irrelevant to my course and no one really wanted to talk about. The reading habit never died, and actually the course I had done has prepared me for a lot of stuff later on, although I had to read things over to see this. I went back to study several times and eventually aged 30 trained as an occupational therapist; this enabled me to gain a Master’s degree, another masters and eventually a PhD. All this teaches you how much more there is to learn about than you can ever find out. For 14 years I have been teaching at the same university I performed so dismally at back in the 1970s, seeing some students doing pretty much the same thing I did. But you can't afford to make the same mistakes because whereas education was free in the UK it is not so now. All the same, a lot of people will take out a loan to study the professional programmes we teach. Overcompensating paid off in that I'm in a situation where I can do stuff like this, feeding into a very interesting project with all of you and exploring how other people think. I never imagined I'd be able to do this.



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