More than ever, individuals need to learn how to collect, synthesize, and analyze information. Learners need to be technologically savvy to communicate as well as work cooperatively with others to respond to the rapidly changing social and economic challenges.
These changes are not solely obvious in Western countries, but throughout the South East Asian market driven societies as well. Recognition of these facts is vital for survival, and institutions charged with preparing learners for the work place must provide opportunities for their learners to build meaning and refine understanding, preferably through structured inquiry.
So what is inquiry?Inquiry begins with an assessment by the teacher of the pre-existing knowledge, understanding and awareness of the learner, and leads the learner to ask questions when curiosity is provoked by exposure to authentic experiences. Learners make discoveries in the search for new understanding upon which they construct meaning and build further connections. It allows all involved in the learning process to understand the world in a way that is unique to them – and that has not been force fed by an instructor.
In this learner centered approach, participants are actively involved by exploring, and take responsibility for their learning in an authentic context. Structured or guided, purposeful inquiry is open-ended and democratic and provides the learner with choices. Inquiry based teaching takes into account the learner’s age, development, interests, as well as the specific learning situation. Successful inquiry leads to responsible action initiated by the learners themselves.
Inquiry and DiscussionIt is important to recognize that inquiry cannot happen in isolation nor can it happen in a teacher dictated or centered environment, and participants in this learning process need to have discussions in non-threatening pairs or small groups. As in the old and familiar adage of “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand”, the learner’s own and authentic life experiences are fundamental to true inquiry.
Inquiry in a South East Asian hierarchical societyInquiry based learning takes as its fundamental basis the belief in learner centered instruction, which requires learner empowerment by the teacher. In a society where one’s societal standing is primarily based on age, family name, and position held in the community, and one’s position is clearly defined, teachers generally do not see the intellectual empowerment of students as a global step towards a better educated citizenry but as a threat to existing cultural values and mores, and therefore teachers often prefer to refrain from pursuing such a teaching style. There are however, more and more occasions when instructors at Thai schools are encouraged to improve students’ critical thinking skills (through learner centered instruction and empowerment), and this is certainly a reassuring beginning.
English Solely a Lingua Franca?If we believe that teaching the English language also includes familiarizing our learners with Western values such as critical thinking and problem solving skills, then the teaching of such values can become part of the English language curriculum. If, however, we believe that the English language is simply a lingua franca and does not come with a certain cultural value set attached, then we can disregard what the future demands of our learners.
So what is the good news?The good news is that the Thai Ministry of Education has clearly stated that the teaching of critical thinking skills should be an integral part of the English language curriculum. While the Ministry stopped short of issuing insights as to how such teachings can be combined with the Thai cultural values that have been taken as the foundation for a long time, this may just be the big question that schools can address themselves, thereby preparing their learners for the demands of the 21st century economy
To learn more about learner centered teaching or inquiry based learning, contact us directly or explore the options of a US graduate level TESOL course or US Master degree, taught in Bangkok, Thailand. Become a teacher, and help your learners progress through education!