Embra­cing the curiosity of today’s youth

Embra­cing the curiosity of today’s youth

The Great Importance of Curiosity in Education

Infants and children seem to be fascinated by everything around them. Babies, for example, regularly stretch outwards to feel new textures, and often investigate objects with their mouths. Youngsters naturally have an inherent curiosity in their surrounding environment; a defining characteristic that enables a child to learn. However, during adolescence, the behavior and interests of an individual appear to change, with inquisitiveness being replaced by subjective opinions. For the natural sciences, which aim for objectivity, it is necessary that a curious mind is employed in order to understand more about the natural world. It is apparent, therefore, that the modern education system should strive to foster curiosity within the younger generation. By propagating this childhood wonder into adulthood, it will help ensure the next generation of scientists are equipped with the attributes required to further science. A key scientist who passionately supports this view is 82-year-old Professor Ji Wen Teng from China, who recently expressed his hopes and concerns about the future of modern science and scientists.

Disseminating Wisdom

Born in 1934, Ji Wen Teng has become one of China’s leading earth science professors and is a prominent member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. During his childhood, the octogenarian stated that he was aware of the major changes occurring to his nation, which prompted him to join the military service. However, Teng later realized that a country’s prosperity is intimately linked to its rate of innovation and the development of new technology. Following this realization, the 82-year-old rekindled his innate interest in the wider world by developing a strong sense of curiosity in the sciences, and particularly the movements of the Eurasian plate along the continental fault lines in China. In addition, Teng believes that teachers and educators need to consider how they can inspire curiosity in their students and safeguard their innate inquisitiveness to enable the next generation of scientists to pioneer their various specialties and help their country to prosper.

Teng is a world renowned figure in geology and geophysics and provided an important role in determining the rate of continental movement in Eastern Asia, and the distribution of earthquakes and other seismic processes in China. Yet it wasn’t just good grades at school coupled with a professorship post that enabled him to excel in this field. Teng also embraced his natural curiosity to further his understanding of the physical earth, which ultimately allowed him to succeed in his career and obtain his professorship in geology. Today, the professor is an advocate for encouraging teachers to promote the importance of curiosity at educational institutions, and especially in the teaching of science and engineering. No doubt, the 82-year-old geologist wishes to encourage more students to follow in the footsteps of Jie Hu and her contemporaries, who won the China Youth Science and Technology Award in 2016 and who are themselves advocates of embracing curiosity in science.

Should schools focus on promoting their students' curiosity next to regular classes and tests?

Yes

No

91% Yes
9% No

Young Inventors of the Future

Just a look around the home will reveal all manner of new inventions that were developed by scientists who had harnessed their innate curiosity for life, and Teng is keen for students to continue being inquisitive and become future inventors.Yet Teng is not alone in his views. Dr. Kunlin Wei, leading professor of psychology and cognitive sciences from Peking University in China, uses Sternberg's triarchic theory of intelligence when approaching methods of pedagogy. The theory divides intelligence into 3 areas: analytical, creative and practical. In pinning down the role of standardized exams in China (which are by far the most common means of evaluation in the region) Dr. Wei identified significant shortcomings in the approach. He states “standardized exams in China leave two types of intelligence unchecked in our educational system – essentially, these standard exams and the educational system in general emphasize excellence in analytical intelligence. The other two types of intelligence, creative and practical, are neglected, or at least, not emphasized. This skewed emphasis in formal education is often at the detriment to a child’s innate curiosity.” Currently, many education institutes and schools focus on examination results, which encourage students to learn via parrot fashion, rather than by questioning what they are learning. Such students often accept information that is spoon fed to them, and devise techniques to pass exams, rather than asking how or why something happens.

Teng and his contemporaries are well aware of the potential treasure trove of knowledge that is hidden all around us, and that scientific breakthroughs arise via exploration during our daily lives. Teng expresses his views with the following quote: “Give children ample time to run wild with their imagination – even if it involves daydreaming – because it is more important to raise a question than to resolve one.” Together with the triarchic theory, championed by Wei, the views of Teng could be utilized to implement new methods of teaching and assessment into future schools in China and beyond. Such methods would not only focus on analytical intelligence, but also on developing new practical skills and, in line with what Teng believes, harnessing creativity and curiosity within students. An educational movement of this kind could help ensure China’s youth are well-equipped for developing the labor-saving inventions of the future, and bolster China’s economy and reputation. Considering his world-wide respect in the earth sciences, it is difficult to falter Teng’s views. Hopefully, educational institutes in China and beyond will also listen and make efforts to allow future students to embrace their innate childhood curiosities in order to develop tomorrow’s inventions.

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