Teaching students to think and analyse

Teaching students to think and analyse

An overcrowded class room with a desperate teacher trying to get across through the fog of noise and chaos pervading the atmosphere, coupled with the absence of appropriate quality teaching-aids to supplement the class lecture, is only an all too familiar – and in most cases the tacitly accepted norm – in Indian schools and colleges.

 Year after year, scores of students enrol and graduate from schools and colleges of repute. From conventional degrees to contemporary and fancy diplomas, Indian education beckons and promises youngsters the one-way ticket to the domain of knowledge and erudition, from where one is expected to soar through life with ease and self-confidence.

Yet, in stark contrast to this belief and assurance, Indian education as it stands today, is nothing more than a promissory-note to pay the holder of the bill with cognitive skills, that is returned dishonoured and void due to lack of funds in the bank of learning. Indian education has evolved into a mere mechanical, programed and grade-oriented system that is marred by the inadequacy of thinking caps for students to enable and empower them to dwell deep into the realm of mind power.

Predominance of knowledge

Asians in general and Indians in particular, have always excelled at subjects that are knowledge based as opposed to those that are modelled on creativity and innovation. 

In his essay, “We should cherish our children’s freedom to think,” Kie Ho, based on his Indonesian learning experience, points out that American schools tend to teach students how to develop their creativity more, rather than try to stuff their heads with knowledge. He highlights how his son, at an early age of only six years had studied creative geography where he was asked to draw a map of the route that he travelled to get to school, including the streets and their names, the buildings and traffic signs and the houses that he passed.

He rightly believes that the ability to think for himself, that his son derived from this system of education, was far superior to the training, or the lack of it, that dominated his Indonesian schools.   

Memorising and mugging word-to-word has always been an integral part of our curriculum.  From math to social studies, definitions and explanations take precedence over creative work.  The child who is astutely bent in committing the subject matter to memory is considered superior to the one who may not possess a high acumen for memorising.

This dichotomy categorises students from an early grade, creating a climate of studying lessons with the objective to memorise the book language as against assimilating knowledge and using it creatively in day to day school/college life.

Parents, teachers and academicians all contribute towards this flawed method of insisting students to memorise information that they may never use effectively in their thinking.  A majority of teachers still believe in dictating notes during their lectures, instead of investing that time in getting the students to think deeply on the concept dwelt with and encouraging them to form their own interpretations.

Besides the modern day scramble for admissions to professional institutes has reinforced the fact that deducing patterns and deciphering a sequential order to quantitative problems could be a more beneficial skill than the ascendency of training the mind to ‘think’.  Our culture is strongly routed in acquiring knowledge at the expense of inducing the mind in creative thinking.

Arduous human attribute

It is true then that thinking, either superficially or deeply, is seldom acquired, trained or practiced by the average man.  It is so much easier to assimilate and digest facts and figures than to dwell deeply upon its connotations and find uses for them through the process of interpretation and inference.

Thinking  is hard and painful work. It requires care, concentration and creativity.  But most importantly it is strengthened only through constant use. Putting mental faculties to work as an occasional exercise will not make one a thinker.

Training the mind to think must be an on-going, day-by-day workout, one which is currently lacking in our curriculums. 

Undue importance to knowledge, stress on memorising and underplaying the importance of creativity has collectively relegated the process of effective thinking to the background.

Importance of thinking-education

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell throws light on the importance of thinking. He cites the example of two students, one who is academically proven to be brilliant with the highest IQ in his school and another ‘average student’.  The two were asked to write the different uses that they could think of for the object “Brick”. The one believed to be brilliant came up with just two ideas – building things and throwing.

Compare this with the answers from the average student – to break windows for robbery, to determine depth of wells, to use as ammunition, as pendulum, as practice carving, wall building, to demonstrate Archimedes Principle, as part of abstract sculpture, ballast, weight for dropping things in rivers, as a hammer, keep door open, foot wiper, use as rubble for path filling, chock, weight on scale, to prop up wobbly table,  paperweight, as fire hearth and to block up rabbit hole.

  In the wake of the above illustration, it is clear that thinking becomes important as it does not necessarily spring from high IQ levels. It must be consciously imbibed, mastered and sustained. Thus an education that trains students to think must be integrated into its system to ensure its ease and mastery.

Gateway to a thinking education

If we as a nation need to usher quality, thought-based education for posterity, tuning our children’s minds to think ought to form the crux of all our education programs. 

It becomes imperative to instil in our young minds the importance of creative thinking. To achieve this end our teachers and academicians must themselves first lead by example. Conventional lectures must give way to thought-provoking styles of teaching. Going beyond text books, syllabus and structured agendas, school and college faculties should equip themselves with adequate teaching aids to supplement and compliment their daily lessons.

The role of the school, college and institution must be clearly defined in the objective of making today’s students into tomorrow’s thinkers. As John M Mason put it eloquently, “The aim of education should be to convert the mind into a living fountain, and not a reservoir.  That which is filled by merely pumping in will be emptied by pumping out!”

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