I cringed as our class teacher divided us into groups to do a project. And if you’re a student yourself, you’ll know why.
Group assignments may seem like a good idea but the reality of what happens BEHIND the scenes in these groups is far from the ‘picture-perfect’ ideal of bringing people from diverse backgrounds together; brainstorming and coming up with new ideas and solutions; and having them make new friends and enjoy their time working together.
People in professional environments may achieve great heights when working in teams but to say that the same applies to student project groups in educational institutions is simply an illusion. NOTHING could be further from the truth!
Do you want to know why?
Well, to put it simply, in school and college, while a project or an assignment might be assigned to a ‘group’, it generally ends up being completed by one or two hardworking and obedient students while the rest of the group members have NO IDEA what the project was all about! In most cases, there is NO serious exchange of ideas or discussions and even in the rare cases this happens, it usually ends up in disagreements and arguments followed by the group being divided into two.
In all honesty, student groups are a complete waste of time where the group members have no interest in working together and even when they do, no unanimous decision is reached without a fight. It is rare for a group to exist in which ALL team members dedicate themselves to their project; participate in constructive discussions; and where the entire project is completed without any major fallout between team members.
And yet, teachers and educational institutions put great emphasis on group projects and assignments. Why, you ask?
Well, if you asked a teacher, I can bet their standard reply would be that in a professional environment, great work is done when people work in teams and hence, student group projects help train students to work with others so that they get used to teamwork and collaboration when they step into their professional life.
But the fact is that in a professional environment, ALL team members contribute their expertise to a project to make it a success and each one is held accountable for what they did (or didn’t do) in that project. However, in an educational institute, it is, more often than not, the hard work of one or two group members that results in the ENTIRE group being appreciated for their work, in spite of the fact that there may be members who did absolutely NOTHING to deserve that praise!
In fact, the ‘goody two shoes’ group members often end up explaining all their hard work to their ‘good-for-nothing’ team members just before presentations and vivas simply to make the teacher believe that the project was a team effort. And in the worst of cases, if the project is not liked by the teacher, these ‘free-riders’ blame their ‘serious’ counterparts for not getting it right!
While I understand that student group projects are good for teaching students skills like teamwork and cooperation, there needs to be a system of accountability and checks and balances, just like in the professional world, so that hardworking and diligent students are not taken advantage of by the slackers.
Don’t you think?