It is curiosity that makes humans a special species
‘Curiosity killed the cat’ is an English proverb that infers problems and lack of trust when people tend to nose around other people’s lives. The truth, however, is that it may be true for the cat, but truly misleading for humans.
Curiosity is a very good thing for humans. The psychoanalytic theorist Melanie Klein, coined the term ‘epistemophilic instinct’, which is based on humans’ curiosity to discover more about the all the things that make up the world and the universe. Without curiosity there would be motive to study any phenomenon. Thus it may be observed that certain animal herds tend to migrate, even in areas where there is extreme danger, year after year, without any attempt at exploring new safer avenues.
Fostering a curious mindset in the Maltese
The Maltese population is facing a decisive moment in the economic future of the country. There is agreement across the Political spectrum, as well as the Constituted Bodies, that in light of the global upheavals, the Maltese need to put an emphasis on education, since people with higher levels of education had access to more economic opportunities, and greater opportunities lead to higher income.
According to Eurostat, tertiary education, provided by universities and other tertiary educational institutions, are seen to play an essential role in society, by fostering innovation, increasing economic development and growth, and improving more generally the well-being of citizens. Some European universities are among the most prestigious in the world, offering a wealth of knowledge to their communities.
Many commentators predict that in the coming years there will be increased demand for highly skilled people. Driven by digital technology, jobs are becoming more flexible and complex. This has resulted in a growing number of employers seeking staff with the necessary capacities to manage complex information, think autonomously, be creative, use resources in a smart and efficient manner, as well as communicate effectively.
Upgrading the Maltese Education Sector
It is now time to drop the verbal hype, and get into action. Malta can adopt a multifaceted approach to align its economy with 21st-century requirements.
The national education system must be restructured to fit current and future needs which require critical thinking, creativity, innovation, and digital literacy from an early age. Prioritize the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and embed soft skills and digital literacy into the curriculum. Focus on lifelong learning initiatives and vocational training for older workers not to cause a population divide of haves and have nots.
Educational institutions should be encouraged to implement inquiry-based learning approaches to foster critical thinking. This method encourages students to ask questions, explore, observe, formulate hypotheses, experiment, and then draw conclusions from their findings, rather than the current pedagogy of information indigestion to be learnt by rote. The development of innovation labs within the education sector to allow students to learn hands-on via experimentation and innovation, will give students the ability to apply what they are learning.
The inclusion of visual arts, music, dance, drama and creativity into the curriculum enhances students’ creativity and problem-solving abilities. Such exposure to the arts will tie in beautifully to entrepreneurship taught as a subject at every level after compulsory education, encouraging the pursuit of innovation. This would include learning about the diverse business models, developing business plans, or even starting mini-businesses at the higher education institutions.
Strengthen the digital infrastructure of the country (which is already one of the most advanced in the EU) to further the development of a digital economy. Encourage the use of digital technologies in both the private and public sectors. This includes embracing smart city technologies, promoting e-governance, and supporting startups in the tech industry.
To reach these goals, teachers need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to teach 21st-century competencies. This must include training on the latest digital tools and platforms, as well as teaching methods that promote critical thinking and creativity.
Skills Training and Upskilling
Invest in targeted skills training for adults, particularly in areas of anticipated growth. Collaborate with all tertiary education institutions of sound reputation to ensure that programmes are suited to future market needs. By encouraging ongoing education and learning beyond compulsory schooling through community-based programs, online courses, or partnerships with universities and vocational training centres, academics and researchers will have exposure to adult learners who will bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise into the lecture theatre and thus the opportunity for discussion and exploration of the best way forward.
So many students say ‘I work so much better on my own’. Well that is not good, because in any place of work, it is always a collaborative process to get anything done. A new education system must encourage group projects and team-based learning to help develop communication, cooperation, and leadership skills, all important for the 21st century. By partnering with industry to expose students to real-world problems and innovative solutions via site visits, guest speakers, internships, or project-based assignments related to industry challenges, students of all ages are able to get a hands-on experience of the world of work they may have an interest to pursue.
Innovation and Research
Encourage R&D activities by offering incentives for research in higher education institutions and industries in order to forge partnerships with global institutions to gain from their knowledge and research acumen. Through further participation in EU programmes such as ERASMUS+ and the Horizons research initiatives, relationships with EU member countries and other international communities for collaborations, technological exchanges, and international funding opportunities will be enhanced. But prior to this, the Government needs to give financial and moral support to the few higher education institutions that are seriously pursuing research and innovation as a key factor in their curricular development.
Social Inclusion, Equality & Global Citizenship Education
Promote social inclusion and equality in the workforce. This includes ensuring gender equality, equal opportunities for people with disabilities, and policies that allow for a healthy work-life balance. Students should be exposed to global issues, encouraged to develop cross-cultural understanding, and learn about sustainability. Hopefully this will foster critical thinking about the many complex global issues that humanity faces.
The key to successful implementation of these programs is through consistent investment, teacher training, involving parents and communities in the education process, and by regularly assessing and refining the strategies based on feedback and performance metrics.
One of the most successful methodologies developed and implemented in top economies in the world, is the Inquiry-based learning methodology.
How does Inquiry-based learning work?
Inquiry-based learning is a pedagogical approach that places students’ questions, ideas, and observations at the centre of the learning process. It’s structured around the premise of students exploring and investigating, promoting curiosity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
Following is an ordered sequence of how this pedagogy is adopted by educators.
Develop a Question
The process starts with students, either individually or as a group, asking an open-ended question related to a particular topic, which cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.
A prediction or hypothesis is communicated about what the answer to the question may be. The hypothesis does not need to be correct since this is a starting point for the investigation.
Plan and Conduct the Investigation
Students, together with their mentors, decide how to investigate the question and test the hypotheses. This might involve experiments, research, observations, surveys, or other methods of data collection. The teacher’s role is to facilitate and guide the process, but not to dictate it.
After gathering data, students analyse it to see if it supports or contradicts their initial hypotheses. This step requires critical thinking and may involve charting or graphing data, looking for patterns, comparing results, or discussing findings with peers.
Draw Conclusions and Reflect
Based on the analysis, students draw conclusions. They discuss whether the data answered their original question, what they learned from the process, and what new questions it raised. They also reflect on their inquiry process: What worked? What didn’t? What may have been done differently next time?
Finally, it is the time to communicate the findings. This could take many forms, from formal reports or presentations to class discussions or creative projects. This step allows students to learn from each other’s investigations.
Why inquiry-based learning?
The beauty of inquiry-based learning is that it’s not a linear process. A new question can arise at any point, leading the inquiry in a new direction. It’s a dynamic, student-centred method of learning that helps students develop a deep, conceptual understanding of the topics they are studying.
Apart from this advantage, it is a technique that is life changing for the students. It is a methodology that will forge an individual’s career prospect with the ability to learn new things as these emerge through the lifetime of work. This pedagogy prepares individuals on a life-long learning journey.