Schools Must Teach Pupils to Think

Iwan Pranoto
August 5, 2004

It has now become very difficult to make predictions about our future with a high degree of precision. In the industrious age human beings might easily have predicted what the future might look like in the subsequent 30 years. However, at present, we do not have that luxury anymore. We cannot foretell precisely what kind of world and existence we will have in 30 years from now. In today’s digital era, some jobs we see today may be gone in less than 10 years from now. No one can guarantee the existence or availability of a particular job in the next five years.
Hence, if we have a very uncertain future, how should we prepare for it? In particular, what kind of preparation should we provide for our children?

What kind of schooling do our children need for their future?

One definite implication of the vast acceleration in our civilization is that modern schooling cannot provide practical skills for certain jobs. If a school teaches specific practical skills, when its students graduate and enter the real world, the skills they have obtained may be useless: We may not need the skills anymore tomorrow.

The particular software one uses at college or school today may be obsolete when one graduates next year. Hence, if one focuses on teaching the practical skills for using highly specific software, for example, that would be unwise. The practical skills of today may become impractical tomorrow.

The skills necessary for certain occupations today may be worthless tomorrow, because once students finish their formal education their skills may be replaced by machines. Indeed, the occupations we train our students for today may no longer exist when they graduate.

Therefore, educators should ponder the objectives of modern schooling. The vocational studies provided by formal educational institutions nowadays are challenged by the training centers from industry. Some training centers in developed industries or companies are far superior to the vocational studies
in tertiary education institutions. This poses questions about the practicality of vocational studies. Indeed, do practical skills relevant to our modern life exist?
I strongly believe that, more than ever, schooling and general education in this modern era should assist students to become intelligent human beings.

This means that the most important objective of modern schooling should be to make students learn to think. The more our children learn to think, the more human our children will become. Hence, by allowing and facilitating our children to develop their minds, we help our children to become more human, and that is the primary objective of our present and future education.

PM Goh Chok Tong of Singapore reasons clearly why learning competencies are very important for his country. He said, “A nation’s wealth in the 21st century will depend on the capacity of its people to learn.” Moreover, in 1997, he stated the vision of Singapore’s future education in a strong and clear message: “Thinking schools, learning nation.” He argued that the nation could be sustainable only if workers thought and the people of the entire nation learned continuously.

Our children need reasoning tools and skills for facing an uncertain future.
To overcome or solve uncertain problems in an unclear and fast-moving tomorrow, one needs abilities to learn and relearn, more than ever before.

The ability to think and to learn will become very handy and practical for the world of tomorrow. Thus, one may conclude that thinking and learning are the two most versatile skills of tomorrow for our children.

This may seem paradoxical. On the one hand, pragmatic people see that the ability to think and learn is rather impractical. For some people who condone a quick-fix culture, this view is, of course, correct. Yet, from the experience of our own civilization, we observe that thinking and learning are indeed the truest practical competencies we can provide for our children who face an uncertain future.

Now, if we accept that thinking and learning are the two most important competencies for the future, educators have some homework to do. Educators should think deeply about how to teach our children to think and learn. This implies that the subjects learned today in school should be seen as vehicles for achieving the competencies to think and learn. The subjects themselves are not the primary objective of schooling, but the ability to think and learn is.

Around the world, educators and governments should make essential national standards for school systems that stress thinking and learning skills. As the main objectives of schooling are to think and learn, learning processes in schools should promote and foster the development of thinking process and lifelong learning. School standards deemed essential should make curricula lean and assessments relevant to modern life. Hence, our children and teachers could focus on the development of reasoning processes and learning skills.

Another important requirement to realize the enrichment of the thinking process in schools is the teacher factor. There should be systematic development programs in pre-service and in-service professional development programs for schoolteachers.

Developing countries, in particular, should recognize that while the human resource development of schoolteachers is difficult to measure, it is one of the most practical and feasible solutions for the present education situation.

Thus, at present, our children call for the leadership of educators and governments to retool school systems so that they promote thinking and earning capacities.


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