Thinking skills need to be taught and our columnist is confident that local students can become engaged learners and thinkers after speaking to an expert trainer on the subject.
IT IS enlightening to discover how much you can find yourself thinking, when you listen to the right person talk to you for a given hour.
That’s what happened to me when I met Sir Dr Peter Low, in Raffles Place, Clifford Centre, Singaporea few weeks ago. I won’t blame you if you don’t know who he is. Two years ago, I didn’t but my interest in lateral thinking made our paths cross, albeit by e-mail.
For your information, he and his wife, Linda Low, are the first two persons in the world to be awarded the status of Lifetime Master Trainers for the Edward de Bono Thinking Systems.
In case all this is Greek to you, Dr Edward de Bono is the leading authority on creative thinking and the direct teaching of thinking skills. It may interest you to know that he is so respected that a planet was named after him. (Planet DE73 is now called Edebono).
Since 1992, both Dr Low and Mrs Low have presented more than 2000 seminars on De Bono’s methods and are personally acknowledged by de Bono as his “best trainers” at an international level.
I found in Dr Low a man given to think before he spoke. His face radiated his willingness to share both his time and knowledge. He talked about various matters including his love for music. As an alumnus of Royal Academy of Music in London, I was not surprised to learn that he is the Music Director and Master of Choristers at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore.
He showed me a photograph of the choir performing in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. I could see how proud he was of the performance.
Asked about the ‘Sir’ before his name, he told me simply that he was conferred (in 2003) the ‘Knight Commander with Star’ of the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II. He is the only Singaporean to be awarded this rare distinction.
Although he is now on the “Who’s Who” list in Singapore, he is so approachable that I felt as if I was with an old teacher friend.
He is, by the way, a former teacher.
“I told my wife, if we retire as teachers, we will still have a mortgage to our name and perhaps, even have to cut back just to enjoy our old lifestyle.”
“Why not,” he asked, “go the De Bono way, visualise a new future and choose not just to retire, but to retire well?”
And, that’s how their journey began. Influenced by de Bono, theydecided: “It’s not important what is – it’s more important what can be.”
A new beginning
Starting with this basic desire to have more quality in their future, they ditched their respective jobs and began afresh.
“It was a trying time, filled with uncertainty, worrying about failing, struggling … but we made it. If you don’t try, you don’t get ahead … it was as simple as that.”
He ascribes much of their success to his dynamic wife, Linda, who went all out to “make things happen”. She is reputedly one of the six most sought after speakers in the Asia Pacific. It’s a pity she was out when I arrived because I would have loved to have met her.
Anyway, for all the initial struggle they endured, the de Bono way proved to be a beautiful journey for both of them, giving them the opportunity to “touch lives” by teaching people the value of exercising their mental muscles and going against the normal grain of the brain.
I found it personally inspiring that despite the demands of being the President Director of the Edward de Bono International Network Official Regional Centre (ASEAN), he and his wife, also find time to run a school (the Edward de Bono’s Asian Academy) on Saturdays that actually trains students in a step-by-step manner to first master basic thinking skills before being inducted into de Bono creative and lateral thinking patterns.
Called the “Critical Thinking and Creative Programme”, it employs the best of certified teachers to engage six-year-old children in questioning and creative challenges over a term that lasts for four weeks.
As they grow older, these students will progress forward through fresh stints (lasting eight weeks) in which they are taught how to use CoRT (Cognitive Research Thrust) tools formulated by de Bono to practise practical, clear and focused thinking.
By the time they are in upper primary, the Think, Note and Write (TNW) programme will expand their writing skills in three phases: Generate output and ideas (Think), flesh out their ideas (Note) and relay their thinking (Write).
Graduation from the TNW programme is necessary before they are deemed ready for their first Junior Lateral Thinking programme.
While corporate training programmes will offer you insights on the thinking tools such as the “Six Thinking Hats”, there is currently no licensed de Bono school in Malaysia which expands the creative consciousness and teaches students (from young) on how to think systematically.
Passion and creativity
de Bono, with his background in medicine and psychology believes that good thinking does not occur naturally. It has to be taught.
Dr Low is firm about it too. “It is never too early for children to be taught the most fundamental of human skills - to think!”
I taught Biology to many teenagers over the last two decades. I can assure you that while they can write an essay or two, only a handful have commanded my respect in terms of writing coherent, well-thought out answers.
The average student of today will offer descriptions but rarely includes details or examples. As for questions requesting discussion or explanation, he will offer short slap-dash sentences.
With the paucity of good teachers who teach thinking, writing and speaking skills these days, I fear that we are creating a “cut-copy-paste” generation of students who ignore what plagiarism means simply because they don’t know any better.
The new education blueprint promises that students with excellent academic results will be earmarked for teaching. May I advocate caution? Good teaching comes from people with passion and intelligence who reflect often on their work practices and who constantly think of creative ways to make their students think and learn!
There are, for instance, students who may not be top academic performers but who have the creativity and the wherewithal needed for them to become teachers who are impactful communicators.
Students need to be taken from being passive, disinterested non-participants to becoming proactive, independent and engaged learners. This requires, on the part of the teacher, analytical, critical and lateral thinking (and I might add, lots of emotional and spiritual investment in the process).
In fact, I have consistently found that people with high emotional intelligence and a sincerity to serve almost always make better teachers than straight-laced, stereotypical, self-interested thinkers.
The need for training
In the new blueprint, some RM500 million has been set aside for teachers to upgrade themselves. I wonder how much of this sum has been allocated for “follow-up” assessment and post-training monitoring and coaching?
On paper, a lot of suggestions look great but we have to be conscious of the fact that with hardly any follow-up, training programmes often go to waste because they do not translate into tangible improvement in work-practices.
As Dr Low puts it, “What you know is not important. It’s what you can do with what you know, that is important.”
Meanwhile, some teachers laud the fact that they have enough training course attendance certificates to fill a whole folder file.
It is not uncommon to find that they believe they “have” something extra. What some of them don’t realise is it is not what you have that matters, but what you do with what you have.
In Dr Peter Low, I saw a man who has done a lot with what he had, and continues to do a lot with what he has.
I did ask him a question that meant a great deal to me personally. Years ago, I attended a course during which the facilitator encouraged us to promote the use of lateral thinking and Edward de Bono’s thinking tools to raise the learning bar among students in class.
I thought it a great idea. In particular, I requested that my students use the open-ended, descriptive PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) approach to appraise my teaching.
I inquired of Dr Low whether I had done the right thing.
He thought for awhile, probably considering all factors (CAF), and then finally said, “All students should be encouraged to use it. It requires them to think.”
Be it in a country or in an individual, a lot of good comes out if informed decisions, and the right actions are implemented in a measured manner.
It is the thinking, progressive teachers who have the most impact on society.
The STAR Online Home Education Sunday, 2 December 2012