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‘Proper education produces creative thinkers’

May 02,2017 - Last updated at May 02,2017

His Majesty King Abdullah’s recently published seventh Discussion Paper dealt with the issue of education. Among many other significant matters relating to education and the need to revise and to radically modernise existing methods in our schools, King Abdullah warned against rote education.

The paper calls for fostering an education environment that permits students at all levels to think, to be creative and inquisitive and makes them eager to explore what lies behind the static packages of basic knowledge often offered by their teachers.

Not only should they be allowed to ask questions, they must in fact be encouraged to do so.

In the Arabic language, the difference between the verb “ask” and the verb “question” is difficult to observe, though in fact the difference is striking. 

While asking may only seek straightforward answers to specific questions, or explanation of certain phenomena by those who know better, questioning is mostly associated with casting doubt on the validity of matters taken for granted.

Not only in schools, but in many other environments, the young are often discouraged from questioning aspects of their surroundings.

In some extreme cases, the young may not be allowed to ask simple and normal questions, as in the view of their elders, they have no right to engage in discussions reserved to their seniors.

The tendency to patronise largely starts at home, but moves quickly to the school, where teachers take over from parents the undue task of suppressing youngsters’ legitimate curiosity to know what goes around.

“Keep quiet, you are too young to ask such questions” is the common trend that needs to be abandoned at home as well as at school.

Curiosity, which is a common feature of all living creatures, is directly linked to survival.

I vividly remember my elementary school teacher, long time ago, explaining that animals rely much more than humans on instinct in avoiding danger while moving around, and that is because humans rely on their elders’ protection while animals do not.

He gave simple examples, saying that infants would fall and drown in water if left unobserved, while young animals do not. That means too much protection has its negative side as well.

But how does that relate to education?

Greatly.

Suppressing our youngsters’ natural desire to discover, to want to know, to ask what we may consider embarrassing or improper questions is wrong, whether at home or at school.

The danger of rote learning is that it limits the scope of permissible knowledge that schools avail to students to measured proportions, indeed very tightly measured portions.

Not only does the phenomenon deprive youngsters of vast amounts of essential knowledge they ought to know and keep up to date with, it also kills their instinct to search and explore.

Such education leads to narrow mindedness and mental laziness. Worse, it creates generations so dependent on knowledge inoculation that they become vulnerable to indoctrination, brain washing, recruitment and radicalisation by most dangerous manipulators; exactly what has been happening in many parts of our region for a while.

The basic feature that distinguishes human beings from other creatures is the ability to think, independently and fearlessly. Such a distinction should never be compromised.

Different societies have understandable constraints with respect to certain issues; contradiction between science and faith, for example.

In the 16th and the 17th centuries, scientists in Europe were severely condemned by the religious authorities for introducing theories that clashed with the then prevailing religious beliefs.

Although over the ages this has vastly changed, and it continues to regularly change, it does remain a considerable concern, and not only in our part of the world.

Under all circumstances, peoples’ religious beliefs and sacred texts ought to be fully respected.

Enlightened leaders from both the religious and the secular communities have long reached the conclusion that science and faith do not necessarily clash.

Their formula is that faith should not be subjected to the tests of science. Faith is an essential spiritual component of human existence. Life does not mean much, if anything, without our spiritual beliefs.

When faith is genuine and strong, no amount of empirical scientific outcome is able to shake it. Faith, on the other hand, can be large enough to incubate science.

At the same time, scientific research, which is vital to the advancement of our lives and the progressive development of our societies, should focus on such goals rather than aim at challenging peoples’ sacred texts and beliefs.

The problem is always in exaggeration and oversensitivity: when any simple innocent question is considered improper, sceptical or even offensive.

Conducting scientific research, or raising questions in the classroom with the objective intention of seeking knowledge and better understanding of phenomena around, and within a framework of respect of communal beliefs and values, should not be discouraged.

While everyone has the right to explore and know, no one has the right to monopolise knowledge, particularly when it comes to religious faith, or impose taboos on others’ freedom of intellectual movement.

No excuse, on the other hand, should allow offence to others’ beliefs, primarily their religious convictions.

Rote teaching produces human copies. 

 

Proper education produces creative thinkers capable of advancing our civilisation as well as enriching our cultural and spiritual beliefs.

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