Sunday, April 6, 2008

Learning to Think

I am someone who believes in the power of education. As a product of the public education system in Ontario, I believe that public education can be successful and can provide results regardless of the situation from which a child comes. But more important than any system or method of education, I believe in learning how to think. Empowered with the ability to think and reflect, people have the ability to improve not only their lives but the people around them.

It seems in Bangladesh that learning to think is not high on the priority list. Rote memorization, an important stepping-stone in education, is the goal to which all students aspire. Students here understand that with enough memorization and money for a tutor to explain what to give, exams can be passed quite easily. Standardized exams provide a benchmark, but a benchmark for what? I do not believe that the benchmark set by standardized exams is the ability to think critically or truly understand the material.

The ability to ask questions and discover new answers, exploration and discovery, these skills are virtually ignored in the education system here. Creativity and innovation are brushed aside for the all important memorization of when to use "thee" instead of "thou" (a rule which is all but antiquated). And this in a country rife with inventors and creative minds. In a country where they can make anything with wheels into a method of transportation, where they can use a single square of fabric in a hundred different ways; in a country where creativity as a product of daily life is so important; the education system seems designed to destroy that creativity and create a society of like-minded followers.

When I look around me at the many challenges facing Bangladesh, and I talk to Bangladeshis with experience beyond Bangladesh, they are often very skeptical of this society and the ability of Bangladeshis to improve their own lives. "They will do as they have always done, that's how they were taught," is a line that sums up the predictions of some. They claim that Bangladesh needs international aid, that Bangladeshis could not improve their own lives, that Bangladesh needs handouts, but I do not believe this needs to be the case. What Bangladesh and Bangladeshis need is to be taught how to think; to be taught how to address their own needs as they see them, and if they do not wish to change them, who are we to tell them otherwise?

Bangladeshis may not be ready to address their own challenges today, and they won't be tomorrow, but unless the system is developed to teach them how to think, they will never have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

In Peace.

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