Humanising the learning experience

  • Education
  • Sunday, 18 Oct 2020


EVERY society needs a certain philosophy of education and its quality defines the progress of a society.

For any government and educationist, the central question challenging them is about the relevant and appropriate type of education that promotes certain idealistic goals for society.

In Malaysia, the broad goals of education include fostering democratic citizenship, leadership and character formation, achieving social and national integration, nurturing moral and spiritual values, and building social capital.

In this context, how we humanise the student experience in our education system should be a priority objective.

Education is more than studying for examinations for ultimate employability and satisfying industry needs.

My view of education is to stress the 3Cs –character formation, competency in leadership, and competency in a profession. The three must function in unity but ultimately character is priority.

In education, teachers must ask: What are we teaching for? What do students have, after graduating, for the rest of their lives? It will not be knowledge per se, as most of it will be obsolete if not forgotten.

Even competencies become irrelevant as workplace requirements change.

What a student probably retains for the rest of his life are metacognition and problem solving skills, the art of effective communication and self-reflection.

These are the skills that are useful for future uncommon environments.

The Covid-19 pandemic has indeed highlighted this.

We do not just need IQ and EQ, but also RQ (Resilience Quotient).

Building character

As the core component of character formation, intellectual character development cultivates certain dispositions that focus on our patterns of thinking, behaviour and decision making.

How do we approach this? What do we expect educators to have and how do we help them?

First, teachers must understand how to set expectations for students’ thinking and learning.

This is more than just imparting knowledge for examinations.

We need to develop all aspects of a student’s talent potential by focusing on a broader learning experience.

It is also crucial that in all learning interactions there is trust and mutual respect.

To achieve this we, as teachers, must conduct ourselves properly with decorum.

Some of us think that we must always demonstrate that we know everything.

However, having humility and empathy, and even some vulnerability, makes us more personable and trusting.

In this way, we close the emotional gap between students and us and they will readily accept us as their leader-mentor.

Speak up

We must remind ourselves that every moment in class or a public forum is an opportunity for a powerful learning experience. If students do not challenge teachers then there is no learning experience.

How do we then create learning and thinking routines for students?

A teacher must be reflective in different ways. In my case, I do my own thought experiments and adopt a pragmatic approach. I learn to tolerate uncertainty, suspend judgment, see things anew, and urge myself to deliberate consciously.

I learn to ask the right questions:

> Is it a fact, a concept, or a value?

> Am I thinking at a personal or general level?

> Am I using the deductive, inductive or abductive approach?

> How do I generate ideas to get a solution?

> How do I structure my ideas in terms of causal, conceptual, creative or critical thinking?

When I am clear about my own thinking routine then I am in a better position to help my students.

In my own learning journey I give emphasis to the humanities and philosophical thinking of the East and West.

I share with my students what I consider as the most fundamental of all skills – thinking.

I get them to examine the thinking approaches used by great thinkers in various disciplines and circumstances.

With mastery of thinking, we can have dialogues on philosophy, humanities and the natural sciences. I alert the students to the different ways of thinking conceptually, creatively, and critically.

The questions are not a test of knowledge or even a search for the right answers.

In life, most problems are now not technical: they are puzzles and paradoxes.

I then ask them to explore the use of the conventional tools of deductive and inductive reasoning, and consider the use of abductive reasoning, but remain mindful of their limitations.

What I want the students to have are questioning skills and the ability to appreciate and practise the art of conceptualisation, the science of organisation, the skill of application, and the craft of generalisation.

In most education systems, the focus is on the scientific and technological, while the humanist part is marginalised.

As a result, education becomes utilitarian with the main objective of training humans for employment. Moral education is peripheral. The irony of our education is that what we are doing is impoverishing the potential of the students.

We celebrate students who score distinctions but we forget they are rewarded for solving structured problems.

We do not ask questions that may have multiple views and no clear answers. However, this is what life is about: there are few clear answers because we are encountered with “wicked problems.”

Unfortunately, students are not educated to understand this reality. How do we help students to learn to make decisions about life’s issues?

To liberate oneself, existentialists believe that education should help students to learn to be discerning and to have the courage to make choices.

Decision about right and wrong is about making choices.

This is inescapable as life is a process of making choices, whether for oneself or for others.

They must understand responsible self-hood.

We should teach students to be self-responsible for the decisions they make and the consequences they get.

To make decisions is a lonely act and it needs courage.

Often, we do not know the long-term outcomes of our choices.

Prof Datuk Dr Paul Chan is the co-founder, vice-chancellor and president of HELP University (Malaysia). The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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HELP University , Live&Learn , classroom , teaching


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