In traditional Knowledge-Oriented paradigms of education, teachers ask questions whose answers they already know. Their purpose is to find out if the learners know those answers. And when learners ask questions, they assume that the teacher knows the answer. In the absence of a teacher, they consult a documented source of knowledge, such as a textbook or an internet site.
In Inquiry-Oriented Education, teachers ask questions whose answers even the teacher may not know for sure, but would trigger the process of a search for answers. In this paradigm, learners are nudged to arrive at answers through their own observation, thinking, reasoning, and judgment.
Inquiry is the investigation of questions whose answers we want to find out. And learning to inquire is learning to find ways of arriving at satisfactory answers to those questions.
Inquiry is ‘rational’ when it is in accordance with reason. Rational inquiry is committed to accepting the conclusions that logic leads us to, even when they go against our intuitive sense. It is also committed to avoiding logical inconsistencies; asking for rational justification for the claims and conclusions presented before us; and above all, doubting and questioning ourselves, our peers, teachers, and other authorities.
The process of inquiry involves several intricately connected parts. It often starts with an idea triggered by curiosity, or by an intuition or speculation based on experience, and crystallizes into a question during the process. We then have to:
- identify and formulate the question;
- think through appropriate ways to look for answers, and implement them;
- arrive at conclusions, based on the answers;
- critically evaluate the conclusions, our own as well as other people’s; and
- justify the conclusions such that the inquiry community is convinced.
ThinQ’s journey of inquiry may begin with an example from a given area like mathematics, but would soon move to examples from biology, sociology, or philosophy. We would explore the core ideas, whether classifying, defining, or reasoning, across the boundaries of these subjects and subject groups. Our hope is that such a ‘lingua franca’ of academic knowledge would help teachers and learners develop an appreciation of inquiry from a trans-disciplinary perspective.