Introduction: Big City Lights. Education in the Urban Area
The line drawn between the urban and the rural life is very thick; crossing it seems barely possible, and nowhere is the given phenomenon as obvious as in education the idea of an individual being able to fight the restrictions imposed by the outside factors seems extremely flattering, but the environment in which an individual lives shapes the specifics of one’s life to a considerable extent. Education is no exception to this rule; despite the fact that cities can offer a curriculum planned according to the latest educational theories and promote much more diversity in schools, the quality of education in cities suffers greatly due to the effects of urban life on education.
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When Economical Issues Come into the Limelight
Despite the fact that in most cities, much more is being offered to their dwellers in terms of technologies, communications, education, job opportunities, etc., the funding provided for schools often happens to be quite scarce, due to a number of other concerns that require financial support. As a result, economical and financial issues spawn a number of problems in modern urban educational establishments.
When there is not enough room: overcrowding
When it comes to comparing cities and suburban areas, the amount of the population is the first thing that comes to one’s mind. Indeed, in most states, the density of population per square mile is considerably bigger than in the rural areas. As a result, schools located in the cities often suffer from overcrowding, in contrast to the ones in rural areas: “Crowding in America’s schools is at crisis levels. Throughout the country, schools are struggling to meet the needs of growing student populations” (FAIR, 2002). While the idea of having many students learning in the same class does not seem that harmful, it is necessary to stress that by overcrowding, the lack of space and supplies per student is meant. To be more exact, the space of the classrooms in the big cities seems not to be enough for the students to feel comfortable and even to find a place where a student can be seated (Welsh et al., 2012).
As a result, the quality of education suffers. Because of the lack of space, students feel uncomfortable in the course of the lesson, which results in poorer performance of the students, lack of focus on the topic of the lesson and the following failure to understand it, as well as various misinterpretations of the teacher’s lectures due to poor acoustics. As Pink and Noblit explain, “Overcrowding is one of the chief challenges experienced by urban primary schools” (Pink & Noblit, 2008, 120).
Financial needs of the city schools: money
Needless to say, schools need a number of supplies to provide students with relevant knowledge and train their skills in the appropriate way. Consequently, schools need a number of various types of equipment, starting from maps as the most basic visual aids to such equipment as microscopes and voltmeters for conducting experiments in biology, physics, chemistry, etc. In addition, studying at school presupposes in most cases that the students should also get a proper physical education, i.e., take up such sport activities as basketball, football, etc. As a result, schools need sport supplies, i.e., basketballs, footballs, etc., not to mention the fact that all these items tend to become worn out in a couple of years.
It must be admitted that rural schools face similar issues as well. However, since the number of students in rural schools is considerably less, the school supplies have to be replenished not as often as in urban schools; thus, considerable amount of money is saved on a regular basis. With urban schools, the supplies wear out much faster.
Cultural and Communicational Problems: Searching for a Common Language
Just as much as economical and financial issues, the cultural and, to be more exact, the communicational specifics of urban life shape the education system in urban schools considerably.
Diversity and the related issues: culture, ethnicity and race
As it has been stressed, diversity is one of the basic differences between the urban and rural education system. Indeed, for a number of reasons, most cities have very diverse population, with a number of citizens coming from a variety of social, ethnical and cultural backgrounds. Therefore, in urban schools, the relationships between the students and teachers of different backgrounds can be controlled easier (Ladson-Billings, 2000).
In fact, the effects of the diversified population of cities on urban education can be traced on several levels. To start with, the relationships between the students coming from different backgrounds are likely to be less aggressive and more tolerant towards the representatives of the minority (Wagner, Hassanein & Head, 2008). Of course, diversity does not eliminate the possibility of conflicts between the representatives of different races; it allows, though, for a just and compromising solution to be found (Cotton, n. d.). The second level at which urban diversity influences the system of education concerns teaching staff and the career opportunities for the teachers belonging to different social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
What lurks in the social background: approaching difficult students
The pace of the urban life should also be given a proper mentioning. While big cities are notorious for their living in the fast lane and inability to appreciate the moment, it must be admitted that, with such a fast pace, people are able to process information much faster and, therefore, acquire the necessary knowledge and train the required skills more quickly. The given feature of the representatives of an urban area is doubtlessly a positive feature to be mentioned.
Opportunities and Career: Through the Lens of the Students
As it has been mentioned above, for a number of reasons, the graduates from urban schools have much more opportunities of enrolling into a college or university and, thus, getting better career opportunities. While in the country, new career options appear quite rarely, in the city, the amount of vacancies that are open for high school graduates is much bigger than in the rural area.
The phenomenon concerning the difference in career chances between cities and suburban areas can be explained by the fact that large companies, or any new companies, for that matters, are most likely to locate their headquarters in the city instead of countryside. In addition, knowing enough about the education options for urban and suburban students, company leaders will probably choose a city as the venue for starting their business and searching for employees. The attempts to diversify the leaning process have been unsuccessful so far: “It was also difficult to sustain efforts to broaden a school’s academic focus with initiatives such as bilingual education, critical literacy, and innovative math curricula” (Lipman, 2005, 2).
The given availability of career opportunities, though, mixed with extremely high rates of competition, not only in the career sphere, but also in education, leads to rather upsetting results. Accustomed to striving for achieving complete perfection, students of the urban schools are used to treat their future job as a continuous source of money instead of considering it a way to express themselves, upgrade professional skills and become recognized in the chosen sphere. As a results, urban life changes priorities in students’ motivation for studying, reducing these motivations to mere money-making instead of encouraging their professional and personal growth.
When employment options cross with the students’ dreams
Discussing the way in which the urban setting influences the education process and shapes students’ idea of studying, one must mention that in cities, students have much more career options. According to the existing evidence, urban schools not only provide the students with an opportunity to acquire up-to-date skills and knowledge, but also create an opportunity for students to enroll into a college that will help them train their skills to become professionals. According to the statistic data recently conducted on the topic, the students that have graduated from urban schools have much bigger chances of continuing their education and upgrading it, taking it to the college or university level.
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Motivated to reach for the top: the downsides of urban education
One of the downsides of the phenomenon specified above is that some students might get upset about their relatively low chances to enroll into a college and, thus, decide to stop their education. The phenomenon of dropout should also be mentioned when speaking about urban schools (Jordan & Kostandini, 2012). Weirdly enough, the concept of reaching for the top as the life’s top priority and the idea of enrolling only into the top-class higher educational establishments appear to be easily combined with high dropout rates among urban school students. The given phenomenon, however, can be explained as a downside of perfectionist idea of getting the best higher education possible. According to what psychologists say concerning the reasons for dropouts in senior classes, as soon as a student realizes that (s)he is unable to get higher education, (s)he is likely to consider the whole idea of education as a waste of time.
With that being said, it cannot be denied that most of the negative influences of urban lifestyle on education and students comes from its doubtless advantages. In contrast to urban schools, where the career options are quite low from the very start and where students take education as something to strive for, urban students tend to hope that certain privileges are going to be handed to them and lose their spirit when they bump into harsh reality.
Concerning the Positive Aspects: The positive Aspects of Urban Life
Much to the credit of city dwellers and their culture, it must be admitted that urban life also has its positive effects on the education system. To start with, as it has been specified above, in urban areas, the rates of diversity are much higher than in the rural areas, which contributes to shaping the students’ idea of culture and acceptance. Therefore, in the realm of education, in the urban areas, the rates of tolerance towards the representatives of other nationalities and ethnicities is quite higher than in the rural ones, as statistical data shows.
Indeed, when it comes to analyzing the reports on the rates of discrimination against minorities in education, it becomes obvious that urban areas have much higher rates of discrimination, which supposedly occurs due to the lack of diversity in schools and other educational establishments (Dauter, 2011).
Another obvious positive effect of urban life on education is the motivation for career opportunities. There is no secret that in cities, career options are much more versatile than in the country; with more career options to choose from and, therefore, having more opportunities for choosing the job that they are going to enjoy, students are far more eager to acquire the necessary knowledge (Shabbir & Mohsin, 2013).
To make the issue even clearer, it has to be mentioned that urban life presuppose being in touch with the academic life and, therefore, being able to access the latest innovations in a specific field. Thus, teachers in urban setting have more access to the latest educational theories and concepts, as well as more chances at practicing these theories at schools. The given issue, however, can be seen as a double-sided sword; often, the application of half-baked theories results in education can backfire immensely, leading to the students’ confusion and inability to embrace the issue in question.
In Search for the Solutions: Addressing the Issues from Different Perspectives
With all due respect to the advantages that lifelong learning includes, it is necessary to admit that the principles of lifelong learning have to be accepted by the students. Unless the latter realize the necessity in lifelong learning and accept it as the guiding principle of their academic and professional life, progress is impossible. There are many teaching techniques that can help students realize the benefits of lifelong learning, yet the principle of shared responsibility must be the first idea to introduce to students (Findley, 2006).
Shared responsibility as the key to most urban problems
Speaking of the techniques that allow for shaping students’ attitude towards learning and help adopt the principles of lifelong learning, one must mention the concept of shared responsibility. According to the existing definition, shared responsibility in learning involves the realization of one’s ability to control the learning process to a considerable extent (Carter, 2002). Applied to the given problem, sharing responsibilities means students’ realization of what they study for, as well as what they are responsible for in the learning process (Wagner, Hassanein, & Head, 2008). To be more exact, it is necessary to make students aware of the fact that they are responsible for making conclusions and learning to think analytically by using the knowledge provided by their teachers.
Introducing an example for students to follow: teachers and mentors
Shaping the existing education system and changing the way in which students see education is only one side of the solution; the other one concerns the people who are nonetheless closely related to the education issues, i.e., teachers. While it is understandable that teachers are the same people as everyone else, it is necessary that teachers at schools should be role models for their students at least in terms of the attitude towards the idea of learning (PaStarr, 2006). Being taught by a person who does not take ideas of successful studying seriously is most disheartening for young people.
Overcoming the Possible Obstacles: Students’ Motivation in Urban Areas
Because of a number of obstacles standing in the way of the evolution of education, it will be rather hard to introduce changes into the current system. To apply the aforementioned ideas of shared responsibilities and lifelong learning, educators and students will have to know what problems they are most likely to face. According to the recent researches, the most obvious issues concern the students’ motivation, as well as the fact that they will doubtlessly be most unwilling to change (Harde, Sullivan & Roberts, 2008).
Shaping students’ attitude towards learning
Even though the economical issues that most schools face in the urban setting are truly upsetting, these are the social and the academic issues that demand urgent solution. Lifelong learning can be used as the means to reinvent students’ perception of education. Lifelong learning is one of the principles that the students living and attending their schools in urban areas must be told about. By following the principles of lifelong learners, most students will be able to avoid the stereotypical vision of education and their further career as a means to make money beyond their wildest dreams. Instead, they will be able to learn new skills on their own and be their own mentors (Godfrey, Partington, Harslett & Richer, 2001).
Thus, for the urban students to use the opportunities that urban schools and colleges provide and avoid the traps that most city students fall for, they will have to accept the principles of lifelong learning. It can be assumed that, with due effort and by applying the corresponding teaching strategies to achieve this goal. Presupposing teaching students to manage their information resources and process information the proper way, lifelong learning must be the key principle that will help the students attending schools in urban setting achieve progress.
Reinventing the students’ idea of learning: new theories applied to practice
The methods described above, however, are not going to work instantly. It is important to keep in mind that changing the way in which people think is much harder than changing an entire education system, which is why it will be required to give both students and teachers some time to get used to the idea of shared responsibility and lifelong learning (Dvir, 2011).
When applied to practice thoughtlessly, the latest theories are inevitably going to backfire. However, by having the access to the sources of the latest trends in the education field, the residents of the urban area are able to evaluate the efficacy of the latest educational theories, such as the aforementioned principle of lifelong learning, and use it effectively (Benseman, 2006).
Conclusion: From Urban to Suburban and Back. Educational Options
In most cities, schools seem to be suffering not only from the lack of funding, but also from careless planning of the school budget and the indifference of both teachers and students towards the learning process. While it is important to put the emphasis on the economical aspects of the problems that schools in the U.S. cities are facing at present, it is necessary to realize that, for these problems to dissolve, both teachers and students will have to adopt a completely different attitude towards the learning process and the education system. As soon as the teachers and the students realize that the effects of the learning process depend as much on the effort that they put into it, as, if not more than, the funding provided for the school budget. Due to extreme diversity that most urban schools deal with, in contrast to the suburban ones, it is crucial that each student should be motivated in a unique manner and that the principles of shared responsibility should be introduced to students and teachers.
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