Teaching learners how to learn

Mr Jason Ng Bak Huat raised a critical concern on the relevance of today's education for future employment (Take bold steps to impart skills, prepare youth for future, April 17).

Many other writers have raised this issue, but it seems the focus has largely been on content and teachers' ability to impart knowledge.

Focusing on content, especially in this era of rapid innovative change, is courting obsolescence even before starting. Except for very few disciplines, most people do not use much of what they were taught in formal schooling.

Regarding teaching abilities, a radical change to methodology does not happen overnight and requires a drastic culture change that few teachers are prepared to venture into because old habits die hard.

American adult educator Malcolm Knowles researched adult learning approaches and discovered that relevance motivates learning. Learning how to learn is the primary skill that all learners must acquire.

If we want to be future-ready, we need to focus on teaching students to acquire skills in learning how to learn, whatever the content.

This would require retooling our teachers and equipping future ones to cultivate their own critical thinking skills so that they, in turn, can become innovative educators that march with the times.

Are those in charge of education prepared to do this?

The current preoccupation with fake news and its related legislation seems to indicate that we may be spending resources betting on the wrong horses to educate our people to think. Punitive actions and prohibitions have never completely worked to achieve the outcomes intended. The period of US history on the prohibition of alcohol is instructive.

Beyond legislation to get people to toe the line, we need leaders who are brave enough to encourage dissent and to debate diverse views in order to make lives better for people. Then, I think our teachers may be embolden to take risks and change for the better.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2019, with the headline 'Teaching learners how to learn'. Print Edition | Subscribe