Events

Preserving the Art of Thinking

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After a recent regional conference the education ministers of ASEAN announced a shared policy to encourage independent thinking, critical judgement, and individual creativity during the educational process. Later, after a major conference summarized in the ‘Hefei statement’ of October 2013, the leading research universities of the world embraced a policy that included the following points:

  1. activities to make universities meet narrow national objectives put research universities in danger of losing what makes them unique;
  2. these unique features make major contributions to national well-being
  3. much of what the broader community prize in universities derives from their deeper capabilities and more intangible outcomes
  4. these intangibles can be devalued or even lost with too instrumental an approach  (AAU,LERU,GO8, and C9 2013, 2).

They further argued that graduates contribute to growing richer, more resilient, often more diverse, and humane societies; as well as through technical creativity stemming from education and scholarship, universities make significant contributions to the artistic and performance culture of their local communities, their nations, and internationally.

Such statements present the essence of an increasingly tense debate, and for some observers a crisis. The debate is held against the background of increasing costs and increasing demand, especially in higher education. On one side of the debate are those who say that education should supply the needs of the labour market for useful skills. This accompanies a global trend for industry to rely increasingly on more complex knowledge. On the other hand are those who say that a university should produce responsible citizens. The resolution will always be something of both. The point at issue is the balance in the mixture.

In the background lie two other major questions: Is the ideal of democracy contained within the cultures of most societies via the notion of public reasoning? If so then skill in reasoning becomes necessary to the society’s quality. And secondly how can reasoning at the local level be geared up to the total societal level without a great deal of intervening societal infrastructure evolving to magnify the reasoning and leave it free of political interference? A third condition, which is not a question but a statement, is that all education is cultural transmission and as such is a moral exercise founded in a society’s core values. These are the broad issues behind what is now considered.