Is Education Getting Lost in Consumerism

By ShuYi Tang

When we talk about the role of students, oftentimes we agree that students are learners who are seeking knowledge. It is still true that the goal of students should be to become independent scholars? Today, however, consumer culture is influencing the mindset of students to a greater degree. Consumerism is by no means a bad thing, but it’s also subtly nudging students into forgoing their true passions or ideas in favor of pursuing a path that will guarantee them social and economic success. If students see education as an investment that will secure them happiness and success, they will paradoxically become less concerned with being genuinely educated.

With today’s society being more competitive, students tend to focus on gaining professional skills that allow them to compete and survive in the workforce. For these students, attending colleges or universities are acted out of necessity and pragmatism. Education now merely becomes a product or tool for them to polish the abilities and skills, rather than an opportunity to develop sophisticated values and challenge themselves.

Students see colleges and universities as being there to serve and satisfy their demands. For instance, tour and visitation days allow a ‘shopping period,’ which is becoming more common within colleges and universities. The ‘shopping period’  allows a period of time for the students to drop in and out of any classes without making any commitment, to experience the classroom atmosphere and instructor’s teaching style before choosing a class. The students without realizing behave like shoppers in Walmart, enjoying the freedom to compare and pick out the favourite product.

Undeniably, the ‘shopping period’ allows the students to choose classes that really suit their interests and personalities. However, the way students pick classes often based on their preferences of the professor’s personality and the level of enjoyment gained from the classes. The way students pick classes exhibits the classic example of the way shoppers choose different  products. Because education is now seen as a product, students focus more on the packaging, such as the beauty and the appearance, instead of the subject matter.

Students start to loose sense of  their roles as students. Conventionally, colleges and universities exist to create and spread knowledge that helps students to develop cognitive and communication skills. Students are encouraged to go beyond their boundaries, challenge the status quo and test new ideas and grasp different realm of knowledge. Yet these days, society views higher education as a training ground to develop vocational skills and it is more important to gain necessary skills than to equip yourself with knowledge.

As much as people blame society for pressuring the students into this mindset, students have the responsibility in shaping their choices, too. The new generation of students chooses to dwell on possibilities that distract themselves from focusing on their role as learners. Students need to develop their learning skills and their understandings towards a subject. They need to expose themselves to facts and information, raise awareness towards an agenda and challenge the existing norm, to contemplate important ideas and to acquire new skills.

In conclusion, higher education is not just a place to get a skill so to have a better job. No one says learning will be easy. Students should spend time understanding the purpose of higher education. Ultimately, students must realize that education is not simply an investment. The purpose of education is not to give students the tools to succeed in society, but to transforms them into active learners and participants in life.