Curiosity: Some thoughts @ Big Bend

I was standing at the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon, staring at the huge wall of rocks in front of me, wondering how on earth all this happened. I was eager to know what exactly happened. I became curious. 

Where did all the rocks come from? How did all these sedimentary rocks suddenly pop up on a flat piece of plain land 600 miles away from the ocean? How did the Rio Grande River carved a canyon out of this ENORMOUS piece of rock?  

I was telling Stone & Wong, I will probably be able to answer these questions 9 years ago. In fact, the answer would not be very much different with my peers, word per word. A Textbook Answer to a Ten Year Series Question!  

Suddenly we realized that we were memorizing textbooks to answer exam questions. Was it just me and some of my peers? Or is this a common phenomenon in Singapore or Malaysia? 

I probably did understand the answers that I memorized. But why did I simply accepted and memorized the information my teachers fed me? Why didn’t I seek for answers? Why didn’t I ask questions? Why didn’t I appreciate learning about “Normal Faulting at Tectonic Plate Boundaries”? Why wasn’t I excited? Why wasn’t I curious? 

Looking at the bigger picture, let’s make 2 assumptions.  

Assuming that Education is a place where the primary purpose is for learning. 

Assuming that Curiosity helps a person to learn better.  

Question 1: Why is learning driven primarily by scoring in exams instead of curiosity? 

During my generation (man, I sound so old), university students that I know of (mostly Engineering Students) are not taking time of to be curious, to question and to search for the answers themselves. Instead, students are opting to collect lab reports & past year papers from outstanding seniors to provide model answers to get high scores. 

Let’s challenge the first assumption. Is Education’s primary purpose to encourage learning? What if Education is part of a System whose main purpose is to create skilled “products” to sustain the System? What if the System needs a majority of “products” to be Hardworking, Completes Assignments on time, Usually Obedient (High Achiever Category)? What if the system could not accommodate a majority of Daydreaming, Independent, (probably less obedient) and unconventional Idea Generators (Creative Thinkers Category)?  

Imagine a manufacturing plant (Education System), Production manager (University) receives Sales Forecast (expected GDP growth) on graduates belonging to the “High Achiever Category”. He passes the specification HAC (exam oriented learning) to the Production Engineers (Teaching Staff) to proceed for production (schooling semesters). Using Control Charts & Inline Inspections (Examinations), QC Engineers (Marking Scheme) separate the Products (Graduates) into Grade A, B, C product (First Class Honors, etc).

When the System is upgrading, instead of focusing mainly on the Manufacturing and Service industry, the System aspires to diversify into the Technology & Design industry, this is when we need more Creative Thinkers. So Production Managers need to give another set of specifications. And coincidentally, we see a change in the education system – “Teach less, learn more”, “Project Work”, “Learning Outside the Classroom” etc.  

Anyway, Question 1 is not so important. (I was just curious) Maybe learning driven primarily by scoring in exams is just a primitive education system which requires upgrading (learning driven by curiosity). Or maybe not. I don’t know.

So, should we encourage our kids to be curious & excited when they open up their Geography textbooks? If yes, how? 

Learning, that is driven by the urge to find out more, the obsession to get to the bottom of the mystery, to challenge what you have been told, *WOW* I believe this is when passion kicks in. And in my opinion, Passion seems to be a good thing to have. 

As to how to instill curiousity. I find it quite challenging. Parenting & Teaching could well be the most challenging and important job in the world!!! 

-Just some thoughts when we were lying beneath the clear sky filled with stars-


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