Students need a dose of curiosity
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Students need a dose of curiosity

Photo file shows teachers at Surao Mai School (New Mosque School) in Soi Onnuch 39 in Suan Luang district in Bangkok, try to engage their students in on-line learning as schools were asked to close to contain Covid pandemic. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul/Bangkok Post).
Photo file shows teachers at Surao Mai School (New Mosque School) in Soi Onnuch 39 in Suan Luang district in Bangkok, try to engage their students in on-line learning as schools were asked to close to contain Covid pandemic. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul/Bangkok Post).

Students need to be curious to engage and learn. Therefore, tertiary education in Thailand needs to focus more on curiosity to produce the quality of professionals society needs. However, from my experience in the Thai tertiary system, student engagement and learning are limited except for only some elite programs. Sometimes deliberately so. Wander around universities and listen to the discussions. Ask a few penetrative questions in the hallways and cafeterias around using what is taught -- note the responses. Few would reach applying or analysing levels in Bloom's Taxonomy. Rote learning requires little effort by lecturers and learners. Academics could focus on research and other jobs while students focus on passing exams.

Lecturers are to empower students to think using knowledge, information and wisdom. There is, however, the question: how to stimulate curiosity? A mixed-method is suggested, with no one way being superior. A myriad of combinations means that there will always be learners that feel dissatisfied. Getting the pendulum to lean towards the most satisfying category is thus the aim. Classes need to be engaging, meaning that students should relate to or interact with the material to learn more and use it outside the classroom. Thus, resulting in wise and productive adults.

How to get the students to engage then becomes the big question.

Some educators suggest making the classroom "more fun" by including jokes and using a casual approach to classes. Others have suggested using a variety of material and activities in lessons. With online learning becoming a more prominent component of general education, the challenge is more dynamic. As a result, some lecturers have taken a more cautious approach in focusing on what material is delivered or not ("select your classes well").

As there is no one-size answer, what can be done?

There needs to be an awareness campaign among teachers and students of expectations. Setting clear expectations of lecturers and students help in the delivery of material and students' work requirements. These expectations are set in a dialogue process involving administrators, faculty and student representatives. Engagement is a two-way process, like most relationships.

Peer learning is also crucial at all levels of education; thus, giving voice to varied opinions and understanding requirements are needed. Feedback may be a culturally sensitive issue in Thailand but feedback is a requirement. Lecturers learn best practices from each other. Students encourage each other with conversations around educational topics. Students need to reconsider the phrase "I am helping my friend" when the "friend" is not doing or unable to do the work. Many students are in programs they are unfit for. Learning from each other builds curiosity.

Unfortunately, rote learning persists in many schools in Thailand, even at the tertiary level. I have seen lecturers give students prescribed sheets; thus, engagement becomes a stage play. Students repeat the lines with each other and then take this expectation out of the classroom. Therefore when faced with unfamiliar situations, they cannot respond. Students have not truly engaged with the material; instead, they have memorised a series of responses. Curiosity is disengaged. Nevertheless, the students feel good in that they did something and pass the class. Lecturers feel okay in that the students are happy and exposed to the material. Faculty are happy that role plays, and other active learning approaches, appear to be used. A facade, unfortunately.

Measuring engagement is challenging with many factors involved.

Curiosity is one way of measuring engagement. Curiosity is not featured on most engagement lists, probably because an in-class rubric is complex, and most results happen after graduation. Curiosity promotes students' interests in the material and why the material is essential, what other material exists, why the material was chosen, what else could be done with the material, and more. Curiosity is a sign of learning, and the class has been a success. After all, one of the purposes of teaching is to stimulate students to explore.

Examples of current results

I asked a dentist in Ladkrabang, Bangkok, why my root canal procedure was so different (five visits, two doctors) from my procedure outside Thailand (two trips and one doctor), and she had no idea why. How things are outside of Thailand and how these procedures can be adapted to Thailand did not cross the supposedly educated professional's mind. A Google search would return the standard is two. Keeping up with one's international professional body by reading news items, following research and contributing to publications is a must to say one's work is of global standards. Yet, the awareness or desire to know, partake and stand out is not there. The curiosity to measure oneself against an international cast is required to lift standards and improve. Critics in professional areas have mentioned that students in Thailand are not aware of their environment, inside or outside of Thailand. Hence, potential for innovation and business growth cannot be realised when human resources lack relevant knowledge about the world outside.

So, student engagement should encourage learning by stimulating curiosity in students. Tertiary classroom discussions must be student-led, with the lecturer being a moderator and instigator. Conversations should revolve around what things are done and where, when, and how else it can be done. Engagement aims to build students and hence society, thus; it should involve stimulating curiosity continuously.

Dr Mariano Carrera is a business lecturer at The International College of Dhonburi Rajabhat University in Bangkok.

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