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Cognitive Science Explains Why Students Don’t Like School

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: December 4, 2019

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: December 4, 2019


Most people in the world enjoy to constantly learn as a natural factor of living a fulfilling life. However, during the school-age years, many students have an anathema towards learning, which brings us to the question: Why don’t students like school?

There are many reasons that are inherent in the education system which makes school undesirable for many students around the world. Here, we will look at some of the reasons why students may consider school to be a negative experience, rather than a positive, uplifting and gratifying one.

Empty classroom chairs

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

Why Don’t Students Like School?

1. Conformity and Constriction

Classes are not directed toward each individual student, but rather curriculums are designed and delivered to an entire class regardless of the student’s ability, which ultimately leads to boredom and frustration.

Additionally, schools often develop a system of time restriction, which means that the teacher is expected to be at a certain point of the curriculum at a specific time with no leeway given for either struggling or advanced students.

2. Lack of Freedom

Cognitive scientist Daniel T. Wilingham published a book called Why Don’t Students Like School? In it, he shares his thesis that students don’t like school because teachers don’t understand cognitive principles, and in turn, they don’t teach as well as they could. However, he doesn’t pay much attention to the aspect of freedom, or lack thereof, when it comes to school. Students are expected to be in the same place at the same time, day in and day out. They don’t have a choice of when they begin and end learning, when they can eat a snack, when they can do exercise and more.

Although this structure is beneficial at a young age because there needs to be some layout for organization, it gets less productive as students get older. On the other hand, when students enter college, they often enjoy the experience much more because they have more freedom. However, traditional college campuses still require that students be at a certain place during a certain time to attend scheduled lectures, office hours and discussion groups.

To counteract these feelings of constriction, one of the most free ways to learn, in nearly every sense of the word, is to attend an online university. University of the People is not only tuition-free, but it also benefits students who want to design their own schedule and continue to take care of their responsibilities outside of school, like work and family. With online education, students have the freedom to access course material and discussion groups whenever they want to.

3. Memorization Over Understanding

Many schools still expect students to memorize facts that won’t be useful in their life, but instead, the instructors use this as a tool to test students. Then, students are expected to regurgitate the same information with no actual comprehension and critical thinking. However, in life, memorization is less important, especially as digital technology continues to expand. Rather, problem solving, communication and critical thinking skills are of utmost importance.

4. Standardized Testing

More often than not, school systems use standardized tests to measure a child’s intelligence. This is often a faulty indication of a child’s intelligence due to various reasons. It is apparent that oftentimes the students have not learned what is being questioned, and multiple choice questions require less cognitive thought than response work, which engages the child in the need to understand the material, gain interest, and interpret the material by using inferential thinking and high-level critical analysis in order to better process ideas.

5. Interest Levels

Another aspect of learning involves the success level that can be achieved by a student, which is highly linked to age-appropriateness of the material being taught and then tested. Additionally, a child needs to have some interest in the material in order to benefit from learning and retaining what is learned. Learning cannot be isolated but must be delivered in context in order for a student to learn and apply Bloom’s Taxonomy to produce higher-level skills like the acquisition of factual knowledge to process thought.

It is essential to understand new ideas in the context of what has previously been learned. Learning is continuous and as we grow, so we process ideas better from previously learned concepts. In other words, an adult thinks completely differently to a child when presented with material since an adult is more likely to process the ideas from a different and more mature point of view.

6. Outside Factors

It has been discovered that both genes and one’s environment play a role in learning. Intelligence occurs from taking risks and remaining persistent in the desire to achieve, as well as genes. In studying the role of nature and nurture, psychologists have found that hereditary genes do impact one’s intelligence. However, genes are not the only impactful determinant of intelligence. Environmental factors like nutrition, formal schooling, toxic substances and more do impact one’s ability to learn and retain information.

Benefits of School

Regardless of some students’ contempt or dislike of school, there are many benefits to attending school, especially to earn one’s higher education degree. These include:

  • Networking: School is where many people make lifelong friends. As students get older, they also have the ability to network with peers that could lead to business opportunities and more.
  • Learning: Naturally, schools are designed for learning and educational purposes, and therefore, it is where most people learn both basic and specific information that helps them in jobs and in life.
  • Socialization: Students learn from being around people their age, as well as older and younger students. These socialization skills prepare people for the workplace, becoming a parent and more.
  • Life Skills: There are many life skills that are honed during one’s educational lifetime, which are transferable both in jobs and at home. These include time management skills, communication skills, organization, responsibility and more.

Students on laptops laughing

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Benefits of Online Learning

When it comes to higher education, the freedom to choose one’s learning environment only expands. This means that students from anywhere in the world can choose to earn their higher education degrees with nothing more than an internet connection, thanks to online schools like the University of the People who believe in education as a human right.

These benefits include:

  • Freedom and flexibility to choose when to learn by logging on
  • Democratization and accessibility for people all around the world to quality higher education
  • Lower cost college that is tuition-free and still supports scholarships and financial aid
  • Big benefits like increased job prospects and salary expectations

The Bottom Line

After some consideration, it becomes more clear why students don’t like school. But, at the same time, it’s easy to see why school becomes more desirable as people grow up and gain more freedom to choose their own learning environment. Although people have different ways of learning, school does offer a good starting point for socialization, networking, education and the opportunity to instill a lifelong love of learning.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.