Science - September 23, 2004

Chinese students want more help from tutor

The Chinese bachelor students are having difficulties passing their exams. They say they have to learn a new way of thinking here, and they cannot do this if they are separated from the other students.

‘We spend a lot of time studying, but it is still very hard for us to pass the exams,’ says Yu Ru. He is one of the Chinese students who arrived in Wageningen last year to complete the last two years of the bachelor programme. A fellow student explains: ‘It is difficult for us to understand what the teacher wants to hear. We understand what they ask, but we do not know what to answer. They should give use more examples, so we can learn to understand the questions.’

The problems appear to have become worse as a result of the measures some teachers have taken. ‘Sometimes the teachers separate the Dutch and Chinese students, but the Dutch students also help us a lot. We have a different logic and those students can show us how we need to think.’

Cynthia, who only wants to be mentioned by her first name, has only been in Wageningen for a week, but has already had a similar experience. ‘Maybe teachers think it is better for us to be in a Chinese group, but talking in Chinese does not help us. It is better to mix us with Dutch and other international students, so we can improve.’ Mixing with other students, however, turns out to be difficult. ‘We can learn a lot from the other students, but it is hard for us to communicate. During the week the Dutch students are often not available, they are not always there. And in class there are too many students, so if we have a problem, we cannot ask questions. We would like to have a tutor so we can get the help we need.’

The students did ask for assistance before the summer vacation. Ru: ‘We have talked to people from the DSB (Student Counselling Service) about our problems, especially regarding our study. We have asked for handouts of the lectures, and to be given the model exams at the beginning of our course. That way we can better prepare ourselves for the exams, but since then there has been no significant change.’

Student dean Jan van Bommel of the DSB acknowledges the problem: ‘We did talk to these students in some detail at the time. When we talked to them in groups of three for at least an hour one of things that became very clear was the difference in ways of teaching and learning.’ The intention is to deal with these problems in the coming year. ‘Today we are discussing the report on these talks, and this will be the basis for further action. But some of the problems cannot be solved from one day to the next.’

Tutoring by other students seems to be one solution, although Ru has a different experience. ‘The university gave us tutors, but they have not been of much help. They have taught us about life in Wageningen, but not so much about our study, and now I have not seen my tutor for more than six months.’ Study coordinator Theo van Lexmond of Environmental Technology, one of the programmes with Chinese bachelor students, argues that that more time is required for supervising these students. ‘Ten-minute talks with a tutor are not enough for this group. Not only do they require supervision especially tailored to the course they are doing, but which also takes into account the considerable differences in requirements of the students.’

Despite the difficulties the students are positive about the progress they are making. Ru: We still need more time to adapt, and of course we arrived late due to SARS. But with some help we still hope to finish the whole programme in two and a half years.’

In addition to their study problems, the Chinese students are having trouble getting their Dutch identity cards. They have been told that it may take up to six months before the cards are ready. At present therefore they cannot leave the Netherlands and see more of Europe. / JH

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