Keynote 1

  • Willing to learn: being a student in an age of uncertainty

    Ronald Barnett 
    Institute of Education, UK

    Keynote address

    Wednesday 5 September 12.00–13.00

    There is an extraordinary but largely unnoticed phenomenon in higher education: by and large, students keep going with their studies. How do we understand this? How do we account for students generally persisting in their studies, over three, four or even more years? After all, students are living in uncertain times and often experience anxiety, and yet they press forward with their studies. My argument is that we should understand this propensity on the part of students to keep going through a will to learn.

    In my talk, I shall explore the structure of what it is to have a will to learn. In these explorations, a language of being, becoming, authenticity, dispositions, voice, air, spirit, inspiration, passion and care may come into view.

    The will to learn, though, is fragile. It can dissolve. This is a crucial matter, for if the will to learn dissolves, the student’s commitment will be liable to falter. Accordingly, more than encouraging an interest in the student’s subject or in the acquiring of skills, the primary responsibility of teachers in higher education is precisely to sustain and develop the student’s will to learn. This is a radical thesis, for it implies no less than a transformation in how we understand the nature of teaching in higher education.

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