Fostering a Questioning Attitude in Children

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                                   Fostering a Questioning Attitude in Children

                                                    Rachana Misra, educationist

 The purpose of education is to make human beings capable, competent and wise so as to meet the challenges of life. In a world that is dynamic, entropy and chaos quickly enter the picture as pace of life becomes faster, demands on an individual’s mental, physical, and emotional resources increase and flexibility and adaptability become the buzz words. To accommodate all these factors, one needs to be innovative, creative, able to work collaboratively, communicate effectively, think critically and be proactive.

It necessarily follows that education too must adapt and shift focus to teaching-learning methods that are based on inquiry, information creation and knowledge construction – life skills that help in problem solving and decision making.

Our conventional education system lays stress on:

·         Information gathering

·         Quantum of information stored in memory

·         Evaluation based on memorized material

·         ‘imparting’ education

·         Chalk and talk method

·         Focus on LOTS (Lower Order Thinking Skills)

·         Questioning attitude is not encouraged, making students passive information recipients rather than proactive knowledge creators.

We need to work upon each of the areas outlined above in order to bring a meaningful change in the education system.

Of all the above, fostering a questioning attitude in children is perhaps the area that needs maximum qualitative and attitudinal change on the part of the educators. A questioning attitude is not just about ASKING QUESTIONS. It involves investing oneself in the experience of learning in order to create/construct meaning through research, effort, application of mind using HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills).

When asked to list traits that characterize children who are 2-3 years old, teachers consistently list inquisitiveness and curiosity as being the defining traits for this age group. Thus, Inquisitiveness and curiosity are traits possessed by all children even at this age and form the foundation of the learning experience. Children use these traits in order to make sense of the world around them.

To illustrate, consider that for the topic ‘Fruits we eat’, a group of 3-4 year olds are asked to identify all the fruits that have been used to prepare a fruit salad served to them. Consider the method they would  adopt in order to arrive at the answer. You will find that they are regular little scientists who intuitively follow the scientific approach in a perfectly logical way. They will incorporate the following steps:

·         Enquire

·         Explore

·         Experiment

·         Experience

·         Evaluate

·         Extrapolate

·         Express

By observing the children it can be inferred that constructing meaning is a PROCESS involving logical steps. It follows that learning also is, therefore, a PROCESS, facilitated greatly by teaching. We can thus conclude that constructing knowledge involves a meaningful Teaching-Learning process.

Infancy is a stage in child development in which the child receives plenty of input from his surroundings using his senses and tries to make sense of the world around him through exploration and experience.  Young children are propelled by inquisitiveness and curiosity, the need to explore, question, discover and interpret.

To allow inquisitiveness and curiosity to flourish, the 7 ‘e’s listed above are indispensable. For the 7 ‘e’s to develop, a questioning mind and a questioning attitude are must.

As children grow, the very traits that characterize early childhood and which are central to the learning experience, shrink and peter out instead of developing more fully. The result is that children are unable to invest themselves fully in the experience of learning. They  become ‘passive information sponges’. The outcome of this entire series is that the creative and critical thinking skills are stunted, HOTS are limited, and the child is ill-prepared to face the demands of the real intensely competitive world.

This analysis brings us to a very pertinent question: Why do the traits central to learning and which all children inherently possess from a very early age, show regression? There are a number of reasons educators will list, the favourites being lack of time to complete the syllabus leaves little time for anything other than lecture method to be adopted, lack of facilities and teaching aids to support and supplement the topic, disturbances in classes due to extra-curricular activities, large number of students in the class, burden of duties over and above teaching, etc.

Unfortunately, the tendency of passing on the buck is pathetically apparent here. This is not to say that the above are not issues of concern, but certainly they are not so insurmountable as to not have any solutions at all. In every school there is a breed of teachers who will complete the syllabus on time, who will use innovative pedagogy, who will find resources and turn routine things into learning aids and who will be loved and respected by the students to go that extra mile. Coming back to the question as to why children show regression in traits central to learning, we would do better as educators to introspect and pin a large part of the blame where it belongs, that is, with us. It is the teachers’ attitudes and behaviours that are largely responsible.

Now, how do we develop the traits central to the learning experience instead of allowing them to peter out? The obvious answer is:

·         Address the ATTITUDE of teachers towards questioning by students

·         Modify the BEHAVIOUR of teachers towards nurturing a questioning attitude in children.

This will provide a big boost to preserving the traits central to learning. There is no denying that the role of the educator is of paramount importance in fostering a questioning attitude in children. Now that we have zeroed-in on what we as educators can do to stop the down-slide, we have to evolve strategies to remedy the situation without coming in direct confrontation with the education system. The system has its positive points, we don’t need to turn it on its head; only modify it steadily and carefully towards efficiency.

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