Teaching and learning are not a question of knowledge
acquisition and skill enhancement anymore. They are
about creating challenging, engaging and authentic
educational experiences that produce lifelong learners. The
debate on effective teaching and learning has existed since
early civilisation but this issue occupies the centre stage
in most intellectual discourse among educationists and
researchers till today.
Previously, teachers were viewed as gurus, derived
from the term “mahaguru” which originated from Indian
civilisation. It portrayed a teacher as someone who knew
everything in a field while a good learner was one who
followed the teacher and learned religiously.
With such a paradigm, the common questions that played
in teachers’ minds were: Are we teaching the right things?
Are we teaching enough? Is the environment suitable for
effective teaching? These led to the emergence of various
methods for effective teaching. One example was rote
learning, which was the main method used by gurus to teach
Later, there emerged a spate of “new” curricula and calls
for inquiry-based pedagogy that facilitated learners to think
rather than to simply regurgitate knowledge learned. Many
educationists said the only method for acquiring genuine
understanding was through self-motivated independent
The effect of globalisation intensified the debate on
teaching and learning. This debate will continue as long as the
human race exists. Thomas Friedman (2007) metaphorically
stated that “we live in a flat world” and went on to explain
the changes in the worldview on education brought about by
global economic, educational and technological forces. He
succinctly put that the emphasis now was on empowering
people to compete, connect and collaborate. Thus, there was
a need for learners who were well rounded, equipped with
the necessary knowledge and skills, and more importantly,
the right attitude.
Globalisation has opened the floodgates of information,
so learning needs to be redefined. The focus should be on
meaning creation rather than regurgitation. The concept of teachers being gurus and learners being obedient followers
belongs in the past. Content knowledge is necessary but
insufficient. Teaching time is finite but content is virtually
infinite, so what need to be taught are the skills that allow
one to continually learn and construct knowledge. Simply
accumulating information without learning to apply it
results in what Alfred North Whitehead (1929) called inert
ideas that remain stale or dead unless put to good use.
Learners need to be taught to make sense of information,
apply knowledge and think across disciplines. The kind of
learning that stimulates the imagination and teaches how to
construct meaning and make disparate information coherent
is paramount in developing effective self-directed learners.
This involves the ability to think critically, solve problems
creatively and make decisions wisely.
Learning needs an appropriate state of mind. The essence
for one to become an effective learner faces three common
barriers in terms of: 1) competency, 2) emotions, and 3)
beliefs. In order to become an effective learner, one needs
to break the barriers. We always say learning is the onus
of learners. What is the role of tutors then? If we can be
instrumental in helping learners to break these barriers, it
will be a great service to education.