Archive for the ‘Thinking skills.’ Category

HOTS must start with teachers

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019
Dr Maszlee (centre) sharing a light moment with Jasni (second from right) while ministry official Jamil Mohamed and seminar participants look on.

Dr Maszlee (centre) sharing a light moment with Jasni (second from right) while ministry official Jamil Mohamed and seminar participants look on.

TEACHERS are superheroes but their power does not come from an iron hammer or body armour.

It comes from the purity of heart and the ability to guide our children, said Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik.

He said the ministry would continuously monitor the teachers’ workload to make sure that they were not bogged down by administrative duties that hamper productivity.

“We must make sure they continue to be educators and heroes to our kids,” he said, adding that a discussion would be held with them on the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS).

“It’s important to engage with teachers as they can give us feedback from the ground.

“Teachers are an important part of the Education Ministry’s big family.”

Since 2013, HOTS questions have found their way into national level examinations. And they’ll gradually be increased until 2020.

This is part of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 plan to develop students who can think critically and creatively The Star reported in April last year.

“I sympathise with teachers having to prepare HOTS questions and answers because it’s stifling them.

“It’s no longer HOTS if it has become restrictive. HOTS cannot be schematic. It’s about critical thinking and how you see the world.

“You can’t just look at things in black and white.”

He said teachers must practise HOTS themselves before they can pass on the skill of thinking creatively and innovatively to students.

He was speaking at the West Malaysia Malay Teachers Union (KGMMB) seminar in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 23.

Recommending that participants watch “Laskar Pelangi”, and “Sang Pencerah”, he said these movies about exemplary teachers, were his favourites.

As for books, he singled out “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari as a good read.

“The author predicts that what our children learn today will become irrelevant two or three decades down the road.

“And, 60% of jobs created then will not even be things we can imagine now.

“So, teachers must adopt a futuristic approach to ensure that our students are competitive.”

Teaching kids about technology, he said, could come later. Many are already more advance than adults.

“Teamwork, decision-making skills and knowing how to solve problems, are what’s needed.”

In his address, KGMMB president Jasni Md Kechik said the seminar provided a platform for teachers to understand current policies and facilitate the sharing of ideas between educators and the ministry.

It was also aimed at promoting administrative excellence in the union while ensuring efficient and progressive implementation of education policies.

He said it was vital that teachers and the ministry were on the same track.

Urging young teachers to be part of a union, he said it was not only to ensure their welfare but also to raise the standard of the teaching profession.

“Young teachers are not keen on joining unions because they are in the comfort zone.

“They feel that they are better off compared to their seniors.

“So, they’re not interested in championing issues related to the profession.

“But the main reason for joining a union or association is to protect the welfare of civil servants. “This is in line with the teachers’ code of ethics,” he said, while requesting that the Government allow high grade civil servants to continue contributing to the union.

By Christina Chin
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Future of thought

Sunday, January 13th, 2019
In future, technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics and other digital algorithms will aid in man’s thought process. Pix source:

MAN’S thought process is the result of a combination of his biological, hereditary neuro mechanism, the environment, belief system, educative process and technology.

The biological neuro mechanism refers to the human DNA, which at its inception is made up of the parents’ chromosomes, thus inheriting their behavioural traits and known as the genotype.

When the genotype interacts with the environment it becomes known as phenotype. Its DNA would mutate for the organism (Man) to survive in the specific environment.

The environment, both natural and man-made, plays an important part in shaping man’s thought process which manifests in his behavioural pattern.

The natural environment was the dominant determinant of man’s thinking process and thought patterns in the early stages of human evolution.

His thinking was developed through experiential learning by way of interacting with the natural forces. Initially, his reactions were determined by the dictates of the forces for he was ignorant of their working mechanisms.

In reacting to the physical environment, man thought of ways, consciously or intuitively to adapt or to surmount the challenges.

Whether he was at the mercy of these environmental challenges or able to cope with them depended on his level of thought process and thinking capacity.

Thus, to rationalise his existence he ascribed spiritual supernatural powers to these natural phenomena.

As his main preoccupation was with survival, he had to create the ecosystem to enable him to exist and bring meaning to his life.

He did this by developing a matrix of harmonious interaction between himself, his surroundings (environment) and his animistic belief to create a conducive lifestyle using the basic primitive technology at his disposal.

Besides the physical and cerebral aspects of his ecosystem, man’s thought process is also influenced by his belief system, values and knowledge.

The interplay of these factors formulates his organisational set-up.

Depending on the prowess of his thought process, his organisational set-up ranges from the rudimentary to the complex.

Through time, man improves his thought process from cumulative experiential learning that provides him with the thinking to develop mechanical technology to utilise the natural resources for his benefit.

From the original thinking for survival, man creates and develops scientific and conceptual thinking aided by the technological tools he created.

Such tools or technology have become a crucial and integral part of his ingenuity to create a conducive living environment.

The level of man’s ingenuity as an expression of his thought process creates his tangible and intangible ecosystem.

With this he engages in the process of discovery and rediscovery to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct the ecosystem to advance the comfort of his existence.

Once man become organised in a societal matrix his man-made ecosystem influences his cerebral dynamics.

He places priority in utilising environmental natural resources to serve his needs.

The preservation of the natural environment becomes secondary to his need to create the infrastructure to suit his lifestyle that invariably results in the depletion of the natural resources.

Man’s material greed factors prominently in this destructive equation, sacrificing his moral and ethical integrity.

With an advanced thought process, the result of having accumulated knowledge that allows man to be creative and innovative in using the environment for his physical needs as well as creating expressions for his spiritual and aesthetic needs, the nature of his organisation becomes sophisticated and civilised.

His civilisational progress and advancement parallels his development of technology, which services his needs and creates new ones.

His thought process creates the technology which forms the basis of new technology, which constructs his ever-changing existence.

Currently, the scientific thought process is given prominence by way of computational and innovative thinking for they develop the technology that generates man’s materialistic lifestyle.

Literary, creative and abstract thinking that are the domain of the fine arts, humanities and social science, though pertinent, are only given secondary emphasis.

For they could not produce the kind of technology that could produce man’s material needs. What would man’s thinking process be in the future and how will it affect his existence?

In future, technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics and other digital algorithms will aid in man’s thought process.

It enhances the thinking process by taking over mundane tasks and even computational and conceptual thinking allowing man to be more innovative and to explore the quantum and the metaphysical realm.

However, these technological advancements will also adversely affect man’s traditional skills as well as subvert his imaginative capabilities as in the case of virtual reality.

Further, most housework, transportation, manufacturing and service industries, educational and health services employ a range of semi-automated or fully automated digital and/or robotic appliances.

What is the prognosis of man’s future thinking ability and thought process?

Will it regress to a level of subservience to machines or will it evolve into a higher level of cerebral conception and perception beyond the normal physical conscious confines in which the mind expands the thought process exploring the uncharted recesses of man’s creative and innovative dimensions.


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Using common sense to build critical thinking skills

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019
TOC tools can be used to facilitate change in students to think at a higher and more critical level. FILE PIC

AFTER years of studying, researching and publishing on matters concerning Moral Education, I was invited to be a trainer-of-trainers in the 1990s.

It was a national in-house training for selected Moral Education teachers who would then train their respective states and districts. The first workshop I was given to handle was on “Using Theory of Constraints (TOC) to Teach Moral Education”.

Being a novice trainer, I had no idea what TOC was about, but I took the challenge to read up, research and prepare my materials.

I have no regrets doing this. I later learnt that none of the trainers wanted to take up that topic as they found it theoretical and complicating.

It was one of the best workshops I had given to the six zones in different parts of Malaysia because the whole TOC focused on common sense. If one had common sense, one could apply that theory in Moral Education which could be expanded to their daily lives.

TOC creator Dr Elihayu Goldratt (1947-2011) said: “Every improvement is a change but not every change is an improvement.” Three main questions guide this philosophy:

WHAT to change;

WHAT to change to; and,

HOW to cause the change.

TOC is a thinking process that originated in the business world and was later adapted in the education scenario.

The idea is to apply common sense methodologies to logically identify and overcome key limitations that inhibit a person, group or organisation from achieving their goal.

Three tools introduced in TOC are cloud, ambitious target and branch. Cloud helps identify solutions to internal and external conflicts, ambitious target creates a plan to overcome the obstacles that are hindering success and branch identifies how the consequences of decisions lead to positive or negative results.

And all it needs is common sense to think through the whole process of resolving issues and dilemmas. It’s part of training students to achieve higher order thinking skills (HOTS)

There is no need for long sentences or bombastic words to resolve moral dilemmas. Students can use the diagrams in the tools to think through and resolve issues or come up with suggestions.

Even preschoolers can be taught to apply TOC by using pictures and symbols. One does not need to have excellent reading skills as what is expected in the current process of teaching HOTS in schools.

I was shocked to see Year 1 language books which expected 6- and 7-year-olds to read to apply HOTS. We have got HOTS totally wrong, again.

HOTS is not about merely using intellect to read and having the ability to resolve based on the reading process. By using the TOC tools, HOTS can be achieved. It is a matter of using common sense.

Each of the TOC tools can be used to facilitate change in students to think at a higher and more critical level.

Most educators want their students to become responsible and productive. In spite of their good intentions, dedication and best practices, there are obstacles that limit their progress.

By Dr Vishalache Balakrishnan.

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Cultivating a thinking culture

Sunday, January 6th, 2019
At the heart of the Genosis Programme lies cooperative and collaborative learning, with a strong leaning towards Higher Order Thinking Skills and Inquiry-Based Learning.

At the heart of the Genosis Programme lies cooperative and collaborative learning, with a strong leaning towards Higher Order Thinking Skills and Inquiry-Based Learning.

WE REFER to the report, “A move in the right direction” (StarEdu, Dec 16).

Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM) would like to thank Dr Gan Siowck Lee for her invaluable feedback and input as a seasoned curriculum and instruction specialist on the Genosis Programme.

The points brought up regarding efforts to ensure the Genosis Programme’s success – comprising its planning, implementation, stakeholders’ involvement and inclusion of a truly eclectic section of the schooling population – are at the core of AIM’s education team’s roll out initiative for this programme.

Rest assured that the AIM team has continued to work very closely with the Education Ministry and other relevant stakeholders, to ensure there are no misalignments between the Genosis Programme and any of the current national education enhancement programmes and initiatives. This makes the programme easily understandable and implementable with a clear focus on the significant improvement of learning and teaching in schools.

At the heart of Genosis lies cooperative and collaborative learning, with a strong leaning towards Higher Order Thinking Skills and Inquiry-Based Learning. With the provision of comprehensive professional development, teaching tools and learning resources, we believe teachers would be able to support students in successfully acquiring the full range of 21st century aptitudes.

In order to ensure the successful implementation of the programme, the AIM team will work with the school leaders and other stakeholders to closely guide, support and monitor the progress of each school.

Both on-site visits and remote consultations will be conducted at each school with the intent of being supportive assessments for the school to enable them to celebrate successes, identified strengths as well as to sharpen their focus on areas for development.

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Striving for creative learning

Thursday, October 25th, 2018
Manyin striking a gong to open the international conference on education transformation in Kuching.

Manyin striking a gong to open the international conference on education transformation in Kuching.

KUCHING: Sarawak plans to set up model classrooms next year to introduce the concept of cluster grouping of students.

Education, Science and Technological Research Minister Datuk Seri Michael Manyin said the cluster concept formed part of the 21st century classroom to encourage creative learning among students.

“If we want our boys and girls to be creative and have critical thinking, we cannot use the present classroom setup.

“In the ideal classroom for the 21st century, students will be in clusters of four, five or six. This encourages creativity, critical thinking and questioning

Manyin said the new classroom concept was based on what he saw in schools during visits to Finland and Beijing, China, earlier this year.

Manyin (second from right) looking at a display of students’ work at the international conference on education transformation in Kuching. — Photos: ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

Manyin (second from right) looking at a display of students’ work at the international conference on education transformation in Kuching. — Photos: ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

He said his ministry would start with one model classroom in each of the state’s 12 administrative divisions, equipped with desks and chairs grouped in clusters and computers for teaching and learning.

“We’re going to start next year. We will have to get the desks ready and distribute to some of these schools.

“We have not identified the schools yet but there will be schools accessible for others to visit and have a look,” he said, adding that model classrooms will also be set up at the Batu Lintang Teacher Education Institute here as it had the required space.

In his speech earlier, Manyin said conventional teaching methods such as rote learning were no longer appropriate in today’s world.

He said educators must prepare students for the requirements of Industry 4.0, including teaching them to think and be creative.

By Sharon Ling
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Creative, critical thinking is key

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018
Johor UiTM students demonstrating an environmentally-friendly product for a creative and critical thinking course.

EDUCATION Minister Dr Maszlee Malik has given the assurance that the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 and the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) are here to stay. This is a relief.

The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) incorporates elements to tackle the uncertainty of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). As such, the Higher Education Framework 4.0 has been established to address the issues and challenges of 4IR. The framework is more specific compared with the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education).

Universities have been instructed to change their curriculum and delivery system to ensure that students have jobs upon graduation. One of the measures is to produce holistic, balanced and entrepreneurial graduates who can adapt and fill jobs.

To face the challenges of 4IR, with its complex environmental, social and economical pressures, young people need to be creative, innovative, enterprising and adaptable with the motivation, confidence and skills to use critical and creative thinking meaningfully.

Critical and creative thinking gets students to think broadly and deeply by using skills, behaviours and dispositions, such as reason, logic, resourcefulness, imagination and innovation, in learning, both on and off campus.

A thinking process that is productive, purposeful and intentional is at the centre of effective learning. By applying a sequence of thinking skills, students develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the processes they can use when they encounter problems, unfamiliar information and new ideas

Critical thinking is at the core of most intellectual activity that involves students learning to recognise or develop an argument, use evidence in support of that argument, draw reasoned conclusions and use information to solve problems. Examples of critical thinking skills are interpreting, analysing, evaluating, explaining, sequencing, reasoning, comparing, questioning, inferring, hypothesising, appraising, testing and generalising.

Creative thinking involves students learning to generate and apply new ideas in specific contexts, view situations in a new way, identify alternative explanations, and see or make new links that generate a positive outcome. This includes combining parts to form something original, sifting and refining of ideas to discover possibilities, constructing theories and objects, and acting on intuition.

Critical and creative thinking involves communicative processes that develop flexibility and precision. Communication is integral to each of the thinking processes.

We should reflect whether our education system is steering children away from their passion by creating test-taking robots whom we think will become working stiffs rather than visionary thinkers, creators and innovators.

When an educator gives a test, he is trying to measure students’ ability to recall and apply information learnt over a period of time. The exams make it relatively straightforward: did the student get an answer right or wrong? Was mastery of skills demonstrated?

The process of teaching and learning has to change. Under Learning and Teaching 4.0, there are four aspects: learning spaces should be redesigned; different kinds of pedagogies are needed; curriculum must be fluid and organic; and, all the aspects should incorporate the latest learning and teaching technologies.

To face the challenges of 41R, educational services need to be radically improved. In particular, we need to inculcate creative and critical thinking, and drive greater innovation and competition in education.

A sound creative and critical thinking process is imperative to social progress.


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“Think tanking’ vital for nation

Monday, June 4th, 2018
Tun Daim Zainuddin heads the Council of Eminent Persons, which will provide advice on issues, as well as input on the economy, institutional reforms and other policy matters. FILE PIC

MUCH has happened since the 14th General Election (GE14). Many are waiting to see how Pakatan Harapan’s election promises will be delivered.

One interesting initiative is the establishment of the Council of Eminent Persons.

The members are made up of prominent Malaysians, who are experts and have served the country.

The council will provide input on the economy, institutional reforms and other policy matters.

Although many professionals have retired, the nation can tap their experience. It would be a waste if their knowledge and expertise were not used.

The council is one platform where these professionals can contribute to the country.

There are a number of think tanks. Some are established by universities, while others are initiated by non-governmental organisations.

The Institute of Strategic and International Studies must count among the more established ones.

The Academy of Sciences Malaysia, established more than 20 years ago, has earned itself a name as a leading advisory group on science.

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs also has made its presence felt.

In many countries, think tanks are valued as a source of ideas that can be harnessed to support nation building.

Ideas can include strategies on boosting the economy, policies to motivate science and innovation, and policies on sustaining social integration.

But they can be useful only if they are independent, objective and above politics.

Their views should not be silenced just because they do not agree with the mainstream views.

Great ideas of the past are rooted in dissenting views. This is what critical thinking is about. Such thinking should be nurtured at an early age in the education system. The school curriculum should consider incorporating “think tanking” lessons for students.

The nation is entering a new era. For the academic community, the most welcome news is the promise by the government to revive academic freedom in universities.

There are signs that the universities and University Colleges Act 1971 will most likely be done away with. If not completely, at least parts of the act that stifle freedom of expression will be removed.

Many agree that research and development (R&D) is a critical investment in the innovation-led global economy.

R&D is not only for the development of knowledge to invent technologies and products. It is also for the development of knowledge to support policy formulation.

Think tanks can be considered as institutions that conduct research to contribute to policymaking.

This means “think tanking” is an important investment for the country.

Many are relieved that the new administration is undoing rules that suppressed the freedom to communicate ideas.


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Knowledge reproduction: The value of criticism

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Should we teach university students to be critical of the nation and society?

THERE seems to be a natural fear of criticisms. At the same time, we evoke the rhetoric upon our society — the public, teachers and pupils in the school system, and scholars and students in the universities — to be critical. And, of course, a critical opposition in our political culture. And journalists to be critical of.

Some years ago when I was teaching journalism, there were occasions when colleagues posed the question: “Should we teach journalism students to be critical of journalism itself — as a profession, as an institution and as a vocation?” The answer is if students of journalism are critical of the practice, they will not be able to function as a journalist. There will be too many questions to ask and reflect on themselves and their role in society and the nation.

On the other hand, should we teach university students to be critical of the nation and society? The rhetoric would be a “yes”. But have we? Even our academics give lip service to being critical. And at another level, many are territorial and avoid criticisms of their own fields and academic disciplines. Assumptions, concepts, theories and methodologies in their fields are taken as a given, perhaps descending from heaven and must not be desacralised. The turf is sacred.

Dissent is frowned upon and delegitimised. While rummaging through books and papers in my cluttered library at home, I chanced upon a publication. The Dissenting Knowledge Pamphlet Series has been around for more than a decade since 2004. The bad news is that the publication has been poorly circulated and not consumed by those who should. The series, published by Citizens International in Pulau Pinang and Multiversity in Goa, India, from 2005, “seeks to furnish intellectuals, scholars, activists and serious readers, and especially those who rebel at the idea that the university should be the sole site of the life of the mind, with a more public and accessible forum of informed and dissenting opinion than is customarily available through scholarly monographs and learned journals,” said New Delhi-based scholar Vinay Lal, its founding editor.

The Forward was for series no. 9 titled Ignorance and the Durability of Religion: A Parable by James Carse, Emeritus Professor of Religion at New York University. Lal’s Forward referred to how we have reconstructed religion in a template informed by the early modern history of Western Europe, specifically Protestant Christianity. In context, it was a critique on globalisation and essentially a plea to recognise that what had been effectively affected are our knowledge production systems. Our universities should assume their institutional obligations as knowledge production systems, and our academics should see themselves as integral to the system. But which system? And what knowledge?

This is where being critical comes in. The knowledge production system that we are operating within — transmit, construct and theorise — is issued forth from a crucible that was to dominate, colonise and determine our worldview. In the modern guise of globalisation, it has captured and monopolised our imagination.

The Forward, in emphasising the ramifications of globalisation, looked at history as the principle determinant in regimes of colonialism, which some of us, and all of our forefathers, lived in for a few hundred years. We see the world, as I have repeatedly said in my earlier writings, from the prism of the West. We understand the world as we know today almost entirely through categories that are largely the product of Western knowledge systems and the academic disciplines. These have been charged with codifying, disciplining, organising, institutionalising and transmitting knowledge, not only about our physical and material world, but also about our various social, scientific, cultural, political, economic, religious and legal institutions and practices.

We have not broken our (false) consciousness. Within a knowledge-producing environment, being critical necessarily has political and epistemological consequences. And this means decolonising our academic disciplines. What we are engaged in as teachers and researchers of our “territory” was established and formalised against a past that later came to dominate us in their own image. The subjugation of the other, peoples of non-white and coloured races, has been accepted with a benign posture by our society and academic fraternity.

After almost 61 years of Independence, our universities and academics are still captive. We consume the great game of colonialism, in absolute awe of the European Enlightenment’s categories. We ignore Europe’s claim to universalism and are oblivious of the resulting extinction of our lifestyle, culture and knowledge. And so we respond with our category of what we have termed as “local knowledge”. But is this “local knowledge” that we have inadvertently and falsely celebrated — as to its sociological, historical and epistemological foundations — an adjunct to the mainstream knowledge production system? Thus far, local knowledge has been associated with the non-western, described condescendingly as ethnic, or tribal, and not within the geopolitics of the Western world. Is Europe not also local? Must “local knowledge” remain and assumed to be local, and is the past and not universal, as Europe and the west have constructed their beliefs and society to be? Colonialism has obscured a common, and often intellectual awareness of our histories.

The pamphlet series is part of the initiative to create an awareness and a consciousness amongst academics, scholars and the intelligent conscious public. It, of course, can come in many forms and platforms viz the integration with digital technologies and used in the social media. The social history of pamphlets, seen in the modern period, has led to consciousness and the democratisation of knowing. The concern is that our campuses develop an uncritical stance in the teaching and learning process. Our slogan of democratising higher education contradicts the democratisation of knowing and consciousness.

By A Murad Merican.

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Key to higher order thinking skills

Monday, April 9th, 2018
Nawal says a lively classroom means the students are actively taking part in the teaching and learning process.

Nawal says a lively classroom means the students are actively taking part in the teaching and learning process.

SINCE 2013, Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) questions have found their way into national level examinations.

And they will gradually be increased until the year 2020.

This is part of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 plan to develop students who can think critically and creatively.

Ultimately this is to create generations of resilient students that can face the challenges of the working world in the future.

Despite being around for the past few years, there are still teachers struggling to teach their students the skills needed to tackle these types of examination questions.

“Teachers are not prepared to develop HOTS among their students,” says the former director of the Examination Syndicate Datin Nawal Salleh (pic).

She adds that teachers need to develop HOTS first before they can impart their knowledge to their charges.

This year, the Leaps of Knowledge Conference had fun and engaging workshops to help parents and teachers understand education through gamification and how HOTS can be incorporated into teaching and learning.

“What we are trying to do now is to develop HOTS in the classroom,” she tells StarEducate.

Although not easy, Nawal offers a few ideas that are easily implemented.

She says that teachers can kickstart a student’s curiosity the moment they enter the classroom by asking questions.

Curiosity is a key requirement to develop HOTS.

She says an example of a HOTS question is “Why do you think leaves are green?”

This thought-provoking question has many answers such as “because of the chlorophyll” and also “because the leaves reflect green light.”

An open question like this requires the student to think critically and creatively to come up with the answer, she adds.

HOTS questions need to be opinion-based as well, she explains.

“We are actually trying to stimulate the thinking process.”

Nawal says a sign a child is using HOTS in the classroom is when they ask questions.

Teachers should encourage the children to voice their thoughts and queries, she says.

“If you want to develop their critical thinking skills, you have to provoke and encourage the students to ask questions,” she adds.

Assuming students ask a difficult question, the teacher should not just brush it aside.

Instead, Nawal says the teacher should act as a “facilitator” and help the students find the answer on their own.

She also says a classroom should not be “too quiet” as it is a clear sign that one-way teaching is going on.

A lively classroom means the students are actively taking part in the teaching and learning process.

Nawal stresses that HOTS questions are now necessary to break the cycle of rote-learning and develop students who are creative and critical-thining problem-solvers

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IP undermines equity, progress

Monday, February 26th, 2018
A lab technician demonstrating DNA testing at the Puntland Forensic Centre in Somalia. The World Trade Organisation rules disallow Indian generic manufacturers from exporting their medicines to Africa and other poor countries. AFP PIC

OVER the last few decades, people in the developing world have been rejecting the intellectual property (IP) regime as it has been increasingly imposed on them following the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), including its trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPs) regime.

IP rights (IPRs) have been enforced through ostensible free-trade agreements (FTAs) and investment treaties among two or more partners.

Despite their ostensible rationale, the IP standards that rich country governments insist on have never been intended to maximise scientific progress and technological innovation. Rather, the IPR regime serves to maximise the profits of influential pharmaceutical and other companies by conferring them with exclusive monopoly rights.

In the pushback, initially led by Nelson Mandela soon after he became South African president under the new dispensation in 1994, developing countries have targeted access to essential medicines. Thus, the 2005 Indian law to conform to WTO’s TRIPs safeguarded access to generic equivalents, as allowed for by the public health exception to TRIPs.

However, WTO rules disallow Indian generic manufacturers from exporting their medicines to Africa and other poor countries lacking the necessary pharmaceutical manufacturing capacities and capabilities. Even if the African countries could produce the drugs domestically, they would be more expensive as they would lack the economies of scale required to lower costs in their relatively small economies.

In Innovation, Intellectual Property and Development, Joseph Stiglitz, Dean Baker and Arjun Jayadev have shown that the economic institutions and laws protecting knowledge in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development economies not only poorly govern economic activity, but are also ill-suited to developing countries’ needs, especially the global commitment to achieving universal health care of Agenda 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ironically, while the case for more openness in sharing knowledge is compelling, “neo-liberals”, who typically claim the moral high ground in opposing monopolies and related market distortions, have effectively served to extend and strengthen property rights and attendant monopolies.

From an economic perspective, knowledge is considered a global public good, as the marginal cost of anyone using it is zero. Growth of knowledge can presumably improve wellbeing.

Despite lack of evidence, the IP advocacy argument has been that market forces “undersupply” knowledge owing to the poor incentives for research and innovation. The usual claim is that this “market failure” is best corrected by providing a private monopoly through property rights for new knowledge, for example through enforceable patent rights. Private IP protection is presumed to be the only way to reward, and thus encourage research and innovation.

The trio argue that the IP regime has been much more problematic than expected, even in rich countries. They show how the 2013 United States Supreme Court decision that naturally occurring genes cannot be patented has shown that the IP regime impedes, rather than stimulates research by limiting access to knowledge.

Following the ruling, innovation accelerated, leading to better diagnostic tests (for example, for genes related to breast cancer) at much lower cost. Stiglitz, Baker and Jayadev focus on three alternatives to motivate and finance research in the US context. First, through centralised mechanisms to directly support research. Second, by decentralising direct funding, for example via tax credits, government bodies or research foundations or institutions can reward successful innovations or findings.

The patent system rewards legal ownership of innovation, but impedes the use of that knowledge by others, thus reducing its potential benefits. Having a creative commons, for example open-source software, will maximise the flow of knowledge.

The authors recommend that developing economies use all these approaches to promote learning and innovation. They view the gap between developing and developed countries as involving a gap in knowledge comparable to the gap in resources.

Hence, to improve economic welfare in the world, they urge diffusion of knowledge from developed to developing countries, as conventional social scientists have urged as part of modernisation theory for more than half a century.

Often, dense “patent thickets”, requiring many patents, are increasingly stifling innovation. Payments to lawyers and patent investigators exceed those to scientific researchers in such cases, with research often oriented to extend, broaden and leverage monopoly rights due to patents.

One perverse consequence has been patent “trolling” by speculators who buy up patents, which they think has a chance of being necessary for any product or process innovation. Thus becoming gatekeepers like the mythical trolls, they effectively block innovation unless their price is met.

Ironically, while the case for more openness in sharing knowledge is compelling, “neo-liberals”, who claim the moral high ground in opposing monopolies and related market distortions, have effectively served to extend and strengthen property rights and attendant monopolies.

Powerful corporate and developed economy government lobbies have influenced the IP regime, for instance by opposing competing rights associated with nature, biodiversity or even traditional knowledge.

Hence, recent ostensible FTAs have extended IPRs to cover “biologics”, i.e. naturally occurring substances, such as insulin for those suffering from diabetes, which is derived from mammals.

Thus, over the last few decades, the evolving IP regime has erected more barriers to widespread use of new knowledge. The current IP regime serves to maximise profits for a few monopolies rather than the progress and welfare of the many.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram.

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