How to Arouse Curiosity of the New Generation?

Curiosity, which urges children to learn, must be promoted in education.

Since the fact that ‘curiosity is the teacher of knowledge and need is the master of advancement’ can not be really understood today, genius minds don’t awake, inventors are not raised and ideas cannot be generated. For this reason; officials usually cannot resist giving in to big problems we face about technology and methodology, the trouble of being dependent on the West and abroad, and terror issues. The educational system, which does not create demand while  not giving any right to choose and to take initiative, cannot raise persons with high character and free will.

Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi talks about opening a door for the mind to enter and not taking away the free will. And he supports his idea by saying ‘curiosity is the teacher of knowledge’ and ‘need is the master of advancement’. Well said! If you are not curious, you cannot learn anything. Take a look at what we have learned! Almost all of them, the knowledge and the skills, are result of our curiosity.

Those words are recipes for salvation in today’s educational system and in our daily life. And they are very valuable words that should be hanged on a few walls of every school. Today the main drawbacks of the education system are ‘not opening the door for the mind’ and ‘not allowing for thinking and researching.’ It is, in other words, depriving people of their free will. Because education system in our country has had such an understanding and an approach that it almost says “This is how it works, you learn it this way because it is so; do not ask why you learn!” We are imposed what to do and how and when to do it in this educational system which teaches us the answers of everything.

Geniuses do not reveal themselves at that case. Intelligence is a talent that develops an extraordinary style and produces a new idea. That is why we owe all innovations and inventions to the genius.

I do not know if there is a machine that measures our curiosity level; but we can learn how the state of our curiosity is with the help of an imaginary scenario:

“There are two teachers in a school. Their students’ profiles are very similar to each other in every aspect. However, when we observe, we see that the students of one of the teachers are very curious and ask questions while the other’s students lose their curiosity and interest in learning along the path of learning.” Then, what do these two teachers do differently that makes the curiosity of their students at different levels?

I have read an article of Özgür Bolat which includes findings that corroborate the subject. I share a part here:

Prof George Loewenstein from Carnegie Mellon University asks questions to a group of university students in an fMRI machine and then gives the answers of the questions. Then he asks the same questions to a second group; only there is a difference. He wants students to guess the answers before he gives them. At that moment the brain activities of the students are observed. A big difference appears.

Curiosity gives pleasure

There is not much activity in the ‘striatal’ part of the brains of the first group when they learn the answers. But there is an intense activity in the second group. That is, while learning the answers does not give pleasure to the first group, it exhilarates the second group. But why? Is this related with curiosity?

What is curiosity?

Curiosity is the hunger for knowledge. When there is an information gap in a person’s brain left by the lack of knowledge, that person feels hungry for knowledge. If this information gap is not formed, a person will not need new information. Therefore, the curiosity wouldn’t be stimulated. For this reason teachers should first form an “information gap” in a student’s mind. But how?

How to arouse curiosity?

Man structures a schema where he puts his experiences “as a whole.” He gives meaning to life through schemas. Every new experience is added to a schema or forms as a new schema. Everything is fine until here. But, what happens if teacher does not form a schema (completeness) in learner’s mind? He (the learner) will not be able to know what he knows in which context and what he must know. In other words, if there is not completeness, there will not be a gap. In this case the learner will not need new knowledge and his curiosity will not be stimulated.

For instance, if I give you 10 pieces from 10 different jigsaw puzzles, so you will have 100 pieces which do not fit together at all. You would not even wonder about the missing pieces. But, if I give you 90 pieces of a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle, you would wonder about the missing 10 pieces; and you would ask for the missing pieces.

Shortly, a schema must be formed in order to arouse curiosity. Then the person must be aware of the missing parts and strive to complete them.

Urging people to guess arouses curiosity

The researchers made exactly this thing in the aforementioned test by urging them to guess. Students first formed an opinion by guessing. That is, they activated an existing schema. They wondered whether the answers will complete that schema or not.

In the other group of students, however, no schema was activated. For this reason, no need to fill the “schema gap” was felt. Therefore, learning the answers did not give that much pleasure.

But why is that activity (of learning answers) delightful? With the law of Allah (swt), the brain makes that activity delightful to urge people to discover and learn. If that activity were not delightful, the civilization would not advance and develop.

Different pedagogy

The first step for the curiosity is to form completeness (schema). How to form that completeness then?

Actually the difference between two teachers is exactly this. One of them says “Today our topic is this…” and starts the lesson. He teaches knowledge that is out of completeness. And students get bored.

But the other teacher paves the way for an active learning in his class. For instance, they do not solve math questions; they ‘explain’ the formulas. Since we cannot explain something that we have not put in a total schema, children form schemas while making explanations (about formulas).

How to raise individuals with free-will and identity

Let’s return back to the words “Curiosity is the teacher of knowledge” and “Need is the master of advancement.” This is the issue of generating demand and need for learning at the beginning of the learning; in other words, allowing for the opportunity to ask the question “Why should I learn?”

If the student does not want to learn, this must be accepted with respect, and the reason behind is to be searched and revealed. Since this delicate issue is not paid much attention in our education world, education is no longer a feast of science (it is in fact a feast for the human intellect), rather it turns into a patient with no appetite who eats meal forcefully. “Learning reaction” and “science products” cannot be obtained today, for “curiosity catalyser” does not step in.

In short, human must wonder and ask, “What am I? Where did I come from? What is this universe? Where will we go? And etc.”

Eating, drinking, sleeping etc are the common features we have with many living beings in this world. It is only the intellect that includes us into human category, gives us authority over all living creatures and helps us use them according to our needs. Human must use this intellect to wonder and understand the unique position he has. Otherwise, there will be no difference between us and the other living beings.

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