The role of an educator is not simply to transfer knowledge but to inspire positive beliefs in students so that they have better thought and judgement.
THE universe, as we know it, is governed by four fundamental forces of nature: the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravitation.
Of all these, gravity is the weakest.
By comparison, the strong nuclear force is an undecillion, orseveral billion times stronger than gravity.
Yet, gravity reaches out into space the farthest that it is the one force responsible to shape the entire cosmic structures of the universe: planets, stars, and galaxies.
It pulls in the molecular clouds produced after a supernova explosion and binds them together to form a new star system of which planets and moons are born, akin to what we have in our solar system.
The lesson to learn here is to not underestimate things that seem insignificant, but which could turn out to be critical in building important foundations at the biggest scales.
What about us? What is the foundation that governs our behaviour, builds our communities, shapes our societies, motivates our discoveries, and drives our inventions?
What persuades parents to act in certain ways to their children, Why do teachers teach the way they do? Why do teenagers copy or follow the latest trends?
Here is a clue. It seems to be the most intangible, but pervades quietly beneath our subconscious minds. The answer is: our beliefs.
Our beliefs certainly set the paths we take in life. I’m not talking about the labels of which religion we belong to, which have sometimes been used to create divisive fault lines between people.
It is about the deeper belief in our sense of being: of whether we believe there’s a purpose in life, or if we matter at all, or if life is fair or not.
People don’t talk that way these days. Those questions are either deemed philosophical (a euphemism of being unrealistic and pointless), uninteresting to the general public, backward to the fast-paced thinking of today’s “technogeeks” who are more concerned about facts and figures, or just plain lame to the younger generation.
Nobody dares to do so at the risk of being labelled idealistic.
But in truth, our beliefs form the basis that inspire our thought and judgment.
What one aims for in life depends on whether one believes that true happiness lies in material wealth, or if one subscribes to the notion that life is worth living, if earned with sincerity and balance.
Whether a student is going to learn well or not depends on whether he or she believes that true education leads to wonder, success, and self-worth or that education is just another dreary phase in life, where the joy of other issues and happenings, triumphs over learning.
There are way too many examples but with space constraints, it is not possible to mention them in this column.
Adolf Hitler as an extreme case, had led the Nazi movement with an intense belief of racial supremacy that finally culminated in the death of more than 60 million people in World War II.
On the positive side, the scientific works of Albert Einstein were profoundly driven by his belief in the natural harmony and beauty of the laws of the universe.
Closer to home, the struggles that our founding fathers faced to achieve independence from the British 56 years ago, could not have been surmounted without a firm belief that freedom was possible.
These individuals had no complete evidence to support their beliefs, but having faith was about seeing beyond the obvious.
Evidently, beliefs are powerful mental forces and the impact of those beliefs can be either disastrous or virtuous.
Former British Prime Minister the late Margaret Thatcher had said: “Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits for they become your character. And watch your character for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.”
The question to ponder in this context is: what should we watch for before it becomes our thoughts?
But, what has all that talk about beliefs got to do with education? The answer is: everything.
True worth of learning
Student learning, school teaching, parental expectation, and governmental implementation towards education are all driven by their beliefs in what education means to them. Students will learn better if they believe the everlasting values of knowledge amidst the hardship to acquire it.
Teachers will teach better if they believe the powerful influence their profession has on future generations.
Parents will inspire their children with hope if they believe education can bring families to greater heights. And definitely, a government will behave more responsibly if it believes the critical role education plays in uniting a nation towards a greater destiny, not just a medium to implant loyalty.
Yet, knowledge can be used or misused to inform or mislead people’s beliefs.
It is thus imperative to continuously scrutinise our education system through open debates and research.
The paths of our education cannot be set by authoritative voices alone.
We must realise that schools are not places to gather knowledge, meet friends, or just for exams.
It is at these institutions that young people form their beliefs about the world around them and their roles in the society. Ultimately, their attitudes, good or bad, are later built upon these beliefs.
At the very least, the universal values of equality, fairness, and social responsibilities must be inculcated early at our schools.
Have we done enough in these areas? Educators cannot afford to be ignorant about their roles of inspiring positive beliefs into students.
That’s not an easy task, but doable if done with genuine intentions and sincere effort. As a final thought, pause for a moment and think: what beliefs are we instilling at our schools?
Have we ever asked our kids what they believe about their lives, friends, teachers, or even their own parents? We might not be ready with the answers, but it is a start. If change is needed, it can only happen if we believe in it.
The author teaches aerospace engineering at Universiti Sains Malaysia. He believes that there are many elements still missing in our early education system, primarily its competency to build flexible, exciting and relevant learning environments that focus on various aspects of development. The Star Online Home News Education 27/10/2013