Learning to know
This type of learning is concerned less with the acquisition of structured knowledge than with the mastery of learning tools. It may be regarded as both a means and an end of human existence. Looking at it as a means, people have to learn to understand the world around them, at least as much as is necessary for them to lead their lives with some dignity, develop their occupational skills and communicate with other people. Regarded as an end, it is underpinned by the pleasure that can be derived from understanding, knowledge and discovery. That aspect of learning is typically enjoyed by researchers, but good teaching can help everyone to enjoy it. Even if study for its own sake is a dying pursuit with so much emphasis now being put on the acquisition of marketable skills, the raising of the school-leaving age and an increase in leisure time should provide more and more adults with opportunities for private study. The broader our knowledge, the better we can understand the many different aspects of our environment. Such study encourages greater intellectual curiosity, sharpens the critical faculties and enables people to develop their own independent judgements on the world around them. From that point of view, all children - no matter where they live - must have a chance to receive an appropriate science education and become friends of science throughout their lives.
However, since knowledge is multifarious and capable of virtually infinite development, any attempt to know everything becomes more and more pointless. In fact, after the basic education stage, the idea of being a multi-subject specialist is simply an illusion. The initial secondary and university curricula are therefore partly designed around scientific disciplines with the aim of giving students the tools, ideas and reference methods which are the product of leading-edge science and the contemporary paradigms.
Such specialization must not exclude general education - not even for future researchers who will work in specialized laboratories. A truly educated person nowadays needs a broad general education and the opportunity to study a small number of subjects in depth. This two-pronged approach should be applied right through education. The reason is that general education, which gives pupils a chance to learn other languages and become familiar with other subjects, first and foremost provides a way of communicating with other people. If specialists rarely set foot outside their own scientific circle, they are likely to lose interest in what other people are doing. Regardless of the circumstances, they will find working with others a problem. On the other hand, general education, which forges spatial and temporal links between societies, tends to make people more receptive to other branches of knowledge. While the history of science is written by historians, scientists find it useful. By the same token, lawyers, sociologists and political scientists increasingly need basic economics. Lastly, some breakthroughs in the advancement of human knowledge occur at the interface of different specializations.Learning to know implies learning how to learn by developing one's concentration, memory skills and ability to think. From infancy, young people must learn how to concentrate - on objects and on other people. This process of improving concentration skills can take different forms and can be aided by the many different learning opportunities that arise in the course of people's lives (games, work experience programmes, travel, practical science activities, etc.).
The development of memory skills is an excellent tool for countering the overpowering stream of instant information put out by the media. It would be dangerous to conclude that there is no point in people's improving their memory skills because of the vast amount of information storage and distribution capacity available. While some selectivity is undoubtedly required when choosing facts to be "learned by heart", there are numerous examples of the human memory's ability to outperform computers when it comes to establishing connections between memorized facts that apparently have very little to do with each other. The specifically human ability of associative memorization is not something that can be reduced to an automatic process; it has to be carefully cultivated. Furthermore, specialists in this field agree that memory skills have to be developed from infancy and that it is dangerous to discontinue various traditional exercises in schools simply because they are considered to be boring.Thinking is something children learn first from their parents and then from their teachers. The process should encompass both practical problem-solving and abstract thought. Both education and research should therefore combine deductive and inductive reasoning, which are often claimed to be opposing processes. While one form of reasoning may be more appropriate than the other, depending on the subjects being taught, it is generally impossible to pursue a logical train of thought without combining the two.
The process of learning to think is a lifelong one and can be enhanced by every kind of human experience. In this respect, as people's work becomes less routine, they will find that their thinking skills are increasingly being challenged at their place of work.
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