Author’s Note: I’m going to mainly focus on student experiences in India for this. But I think at least some of these examples might apply to the rest of the world too. If not, you have my apologies (and my envy.)
It starts at school.
As they get to higher and higher grades, here’s how students are instructed to write exams: “Write a lot. If it’s 5 marks, write more than a page; maybe more than two. By-heart the headings; don’t write your own. And, if possible, by-heart the textbook too.”
Basically, students are told to cram facts into their heads in as short a time as possible, and to write sheafs worth of papers in as short a time as possible.
In fact (at least, it was true when I was a student) I don’t think a single student escaped the experience of — at least once — having his or her answer sheet snatched away from them while they were still in mid-write at the end of an exam.
Well. Then came college.
Here, students aren’t limited to textbooks. Instead, they get reference books — which may only cover half the topics they really need to learn (if they’re lucky, that is). For the rest, they must scour the college library or the Internet for notes.
Plus, they still need to write as much as possible during exams, regardless of whether the questions only facilitate short answers or not.
So again — like a video game that has the same steps but gets more intense when you reach a higher level — in college, students have to cram in at least 3 times more information than they ever did in high school; and in a much shorter time too (there are only 6 months in a semester).
As a consequence, to accommodate this new need, students pick up skills like speed-reading and skimming content at top speeds. They figure out that watching a video will let them cover more ground than reading a book. They learn to browse a number of books at once and a number of online sources at once. They learn to pile their daily schedules and just run.
Finally, they just get used to doing things fast; to fill in their time all the time, and to produce and do and learn a lot in increasingly short amounts of time.
(A lot of the time, they also get used to quantity over quality too.)
And then, when they finally graduate . . . those habits stay.
The fact that technology and video games are a normal part of everyday life for them has contributed a little, yes. But honestly, with this kind of study-lifestyle, a student’s capacity for “patience” and “focus” was already dying anyway. And it’s not fair to blame their short attention spans on technology or impatience — (granted, there are those kinds of students/graduates too, but they’re not the only kinds) — when they were only encouraged to be so with their work when they were still students.
(Oh, and a comment from a friend made me realize I should mention this:
I wasn’t a poor student in my student-days, and this is not a rant to justify how warped the education system is simply because I couldn’t cut it.
I was actually a very good student who scored pretty well, maintained a rank, and always submitted assignments on time. And I’m a teacher myself now too.
It’s rather because I’m a teacher now, remember what it was like to be a student like that, and still see students being affected this way — and then later being blamed for their short attention spans and lack of focus — that I wanted to write this.
Because success at being a student doesn’t take away from the fact that this kind of study-lifestyle actually messes with your ability to concentrate on one thing for a long time and forces you to get used to constantly shifting your focus. ‘Cause if a student doesn’t adapt this way, it shows in their scores.)