Tertiary students must strive to be self-taught learners

The University Town at National University of Singapore (NUS).
The University Town at National University of Singapore (NUS). PHOTO: ST FILE

Mr Garry Lim Zhi Zhe has highlighted the dynamic tension between faculty members' ability to do research and the ability to teach ("Increase focus on teaching at universities"; last Friday).

It is true that some excellent researchers may not be as good at teaching, and students may find themselves in a frustrating situation where they cannot follow what they are being taught.

But that is only half of the story.

What is more critical and challenging is for students to overcome the inadequate teaching skills of otherwise outstanding research faculty members.

Can students learn without being taught?

It seems that throughout our school life, we rely on excellent teachers rather than on learning to become agile, self-taught learners.

This is where the change in pedagogy has to focus to foster an environment where students learn to learn by themselves.

While it is an excellent idea to establish a tenure track for innovative and capable teachers, students in institutions of higher learning must also have the ability to learn how to learn.

Learning by doing might be one approach we can further explore. It is an age-old idea that is also known as apprenticeship.

A researcher may not be as effective in explaining things to the satisfaction of a student who relies on being taught didactically, but may be more effective in show-and-tell.

Apprenticeship and mentoring are two sides of a dynamic learning relationship that we can actively foster.

We need to wean our students off relying too much on being taught by teachers.

Instead, they need to learn how to self-teach by honing skills to keenly observe, inquisitively question and practically correlate evidence and hypothesis.

This is where we will find the future innovators and inventors.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Tertiary students must strive to be self-taught learners'. Print Edition | Subscribe