Times of Oman

Help university students regain their innate curiosity


MUSCAT: Experts have the theory that true learning begins with curiosity and that children learn so much so quickly because we humans are born curious.

Curiosity is about the urge to understand and make sense of something (call it a problem, a challenge) that happens out there in the natural world. It begins by observing about a given phenomenon. That is followed by a question and a search for an answer, which often leads to another question and another answer, and the cycle of learning goes on until a satisfacto­ry answer is found. That final answer is what we call a theory.

Of course, a theory remains valid as long as it continues to explain uncovered observatio­ns about the same phenomenon.

University professors need to constantly remind themselves that curiosity is at the heart of learning. As such, it is important that they learn enough about the history of their course material so that they can explain to their students why such and such prob- lems (questions) were introduced in the first place and what purposes did their solutions (answers) serve when they were first discovered. By doing so, professors help their students regain their innate curiosity so that they may learn better. Unfortunat­ely, we observe many situations, where professors emphasise the answers more so than the questions, and by doing so, they unintentio­nally create an environmen­t where learning is bound to memorise facts rather than learning how to think.

I invite university professors to ponder the following questions: How many questions does your average student ask per class? On the average, how many questions do you ask your students per class where the answers to your questions are readily available in your lecture notes? If your answer to the latter question is much larger than your answer to the former, then you may need to reconsider your teaching style.

This is true because you have been emphasisin­g the answers more so than the questions, and that is not the way for your students to truly learn your material. In the extreme, when your students stop asking questions, they literally stop learning. The writer, Fouad Chedid, is currently the deputy vice chancellor for academic affairs at A’Sharqiyah University. He has taught at several universiti­es in the USA, Japan, Lebanon and Oman.

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