When in doubt…

Students should have the right to ask questions. File Photo   | Photo Credit: Monica Tiwari

Here is an encounter between a parent and a child:

Child: Why do you ask me to go to bed at 9? Can’t I go to bed a little later?

Parent: Why do you ask so many questions?

Child: Do I? Is it good or bad to ask many questions?

Parent: Yes, you do. Tell me why you ask too many questions.

Child: Why? Could it be my nature? Could it be due to …?

Parent: That’s what I want to know.

Child: Can I find out and tell you later? By the way, why do you want me to go to bed now?

Assume that this child who demonstrates her inquisitive mind goes to a school where teachers do not encourage students asking questions. The child who is blessed with the gift of curiosity will cease to ask questions and as a result will reduce exercising her thinking abilities. Most children are born with an inquisitive mind but, unfortunately, our education system does not provide the children with opportunities to develop it. As the well-known educator Ken Robinson raises the question, “Do schools kill creativity?” Today we should ask these questions: “Do schools kill curiosity?” “Does our education system produce thinking individuals or blinking individuals?”

The novel Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder celebrates doubting and questioning. Sophie Amundsen, the main character of the novel, munches over many questions: Who are you? Where does the world come from? How was the world created? Is there life after death? Is there any purpose? How can we answer these questions? How do we ought to live? Can we ask such questions? In the process, she realises the importance of asking questions and thus gains insight into life. Jostein Gaarder says, “children have naturally inquisitive minds and are therefore easily able to ask meaningful questions to which they should get serious and insightful replies.”

Learn through scepticism

Doubting refers to the condition of being sceptical and the act of asking questions and seeking answers based on reason and evidence.

The biblical expression ‘doubting Thomas’ refers to a person who is skeptical and refuses to believe something without proof. When learners become doubting Thomases, they enjoy learning and find learning meaningful.

Doubting Thomases can become good thinkers. Good thinkers can become good learners. Good learners can become good problem-solvers. Problem-solving is one of the major learning skills students are expected to possess.

The four major learning skills listed in the Framework for 21st-century learning are the 4Cs: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking. Educational institutions have the moral responsibility of preparing students for the future by enabling students to develop these skills.

In many different ways, teachers can help students develop an inquisitive mind. Here are some suggestions:

Tell the students that it is their right to doubt anything and to ask questions. The unhealthy practice of keeping students obedient should be done away with.

So, the first step the teacher should take is to convince the students that it is their right to doubt anything and raise questions.

Bringing it out

Make the class interactive. Teachers who think that they are the source of knowledge and students are mere sponges enjoy giving lectures and delivering monologues. Only when students are given opportunities to interact with the teacher and fellow students, can they raise doubts and get their doubts cleared and learn better.

Don’t spoon-feed the students and make them robots. As the present education system encourages students to memorise concepts and score marks, teachers are forced to spoon-feed the students. As a result, students use only their memory skills and not their cognitive skills.

Teachers should be revolutionary enough to break away from the spoon-feeding system and train students to become autonomous learners. Give projects that demand the use of cognitive abilities. Project-based learning helps learners raise many doubts and seek answers based on reason and evidence. It helps students to carry out investigations and strengthens the inquisitive mind.

Encourage students to raise questions. Normally, when teachers give assignments to their students, the latter do not ask these questions: Why should I do it? What am I going to benefit from it? Will I lose something important if I don’t complete the assignment? When the students are encouraged to raise questions, they will start thinking on their own and take responsibility for their own learning.

Make your class reflective. Students should be allowed to think about what they do in the classroom, question the relevance of what they learn, and critically review what they have learnt. This helps them become reflective learners. Students can be assessed based on the reflective essays or reports they have written.

Allowing students to raise doubts in the classroom, celebrating doubts by helping them get insightful replies, providing them with more opportunities to develop their inquisitive mind and thus enabling them to acquire knowledge is achievement and this process is called educating.

The focus of schooling should be educating young minds and not just producing results. When the focus is on educating, educational institutions will produce thinking and not blinking citizens.

The need of the hour is to produce creative and critical thinkers. This can happen only teachers start celebrating doubts in the classroom.

The author is a professor of English and Head, Higher Education Cell, KCG College of Technology, Chennai. Email:

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 3:58:20 PM |

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