A baby’s first words are mama, dada, tata. As the baby grows older and develops her (his) communication skills you will notice these simple words replaced with the more complex why, what, who and where. It’s not that he wants to know the mystery behind the sky or why he cannot fly. The baby only wants to communicate with his parents. Asking repeated and pointed questions about something and having a parent answer them makes the child happy. He feels that the adults around him are paying attention to him.
Questions at home
As parents, when our children ask us questions we answer as truthfully as we can. But there are times when their questions stump us. I was once visiting a temple situated at the top of a mountain with a friend. My friend’s young daughter wondered why the temple was on a mountain top. My friend asked her daughter to come up with an answer herself. And the daughter said, “The higher the temple, the nearer we are to god since god stays in the sky!” In another instance, a child once asked me, “If a fly does not fly, what should we call it?” How does one answer such questions? Parents have to practice patience and learn the knack of giving smart and quick answers. Any delay arouses suspicion in a child. Are you making up an answer or telling them the truth? And beware, children are smart enough to catch you lying. Kanmani Buddhi, a professor and mother of two, says, Grandparents or other elders in the family can play an important role to satisfy the curiosity of the child. This helps the child connect with people other than his own parents.
Questions at school
Unfortunately this enthusiasm for questions dies when the child starts school. At school he/she is expected to answer all questions from the teacher. He is hardly given the opportunity to question when he has doubts. He is afraid of the reaction his questions may evoke in the class. And he is unsure of the teacher’s response. Often the teacher has limited time to complete the syllabus and she does not want to waste it by answering questions. Some students are shy and though they may have doubts, they prefer to ask their classmates or their parents instead of the teacher. Though the Internet can satisfy curiosity, this should be an option only in higher classes.
The teaching-learning process
Teachers are trained to frame questions for the lessons they teach. These questions test comprehension skills, analytical thinking and reasoning. A teacher judges the child’s intelligence by his capacity to answer these questions. And when she doesn’t get appropriate responses, she understands that the lesson has not been properly understood. If students are given the freedom to ask question as the lesson proceeds, the teacher can clear the doubts. With students participating more eagerly, the class will become more interesting. First, curiosity should be evoked by the teacher. And when the lesson is over, students should be encouraged to ask questions to know more about the topic.
According to Nandini Nayar, children’s writer and parent, “Asking a question not only requires the intelligence to recognise a lacuna in knowledge and seek to fill it, it also requires the courage to stand up in front of the entire class and voice it.” When there is a positive reaction to the question, the child feels happy. Not only is his curiosity satisfied, he is encouraged to ask more questions. When a child is brusquely told to sit down and his question is ignored, it can make him feel small. This also conveys the message that his questions are unimportant and unless he is a very determined child, it is more than likely that he will not voice any more questions in the future.
The teacher’s role
The teacher has a big role to play in ensuring a child’s intellectual growth. He or she has to encourage the child to question. When a child asks a thought-provoking question, the teacher should acknowledge it. Sharada Ramachandran, a primary school teacher, says, “When a student asks a question, I challenge the student and also the class to come up with an answer. I always appreciate a good question. There are some students who tend to ask irrelevant questions. For them I emphasise good listening skills.” Let us not label any student who constantly questions as a trouble-maker. Instead, help him understand that he cannot interrupt the class. Only when a paragraph is over and the teacher pauses can the student seek permission to clear his doubts. Cheryl Rao, a writer and a former teacher, says that a question hour should be set aside every week for the students; a question box to drop in questions will also help the very shy students clear their doubts.
Spirit of enquiry
In today’s scenario, skills such as communication, self-confidence, leadership, etc., are the need of the hour. A quiet student who doesn’t open his mouth may be in the good books of the teacher, but that quality may not lead him anywhere. Constant questioning will open and widen his horizons. Gone are the days when children who questioned were looked upon as rude. Today’s children are intelligent and cannot take things for granted. Teaching should be an interactive session of give and take. Some of the world’s greatest discoveries started with an innocent question, “Why does an apple fall on to the ground and not go up?” Who knows, a budding Newton may be sitting right there in front of you with questions popping up in his mind. Don’t discourage him. Let him question.
The author is a freelance writer and conducts soft skill programmes for school students in Hyderabad. She can be reached at [email protected].